This guide is based on what is currently known about COVID-19 and the transmission of the infection. We don’t know yet how dangerous the new coronavirus is, and we won't know that until more data comes in.
Another key unknown is how contagious the virus is. Unlike the flu, there is no vaccine for the new coronavirus, and this means it becomes more dangerous for the populations at risk, elderly people, or those with existing respiratory or immune problems.
The majority of deaths worldwide from COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, have occurred in people 60 years or older, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). For that reason, in most countries health authorities advise anyone over the age of 65, or those with serious chronic medical conditions, to stay home for the next month.
There are important prevention measures we should follow, and there is information available from scientists and public health authorities that helps us to better understand the actual risk and scope of the virus.
Below is a guide for understanding COVID-19, who is most at risk, and what we should do as individuals to protect ourselves.
What is coronavirus?
Coronavirus is a family of viruses. Infections caused by this type of virus can cause respiratory illnesses that can range from minor to moderate, similar to the common cold. Some coronavirus causes serious illness that can lead to pneumonia and even death.
There are many different types of coronavirus that affect both humans and animals. The coronavirus that appeared a few months ago in Wuhan, China, is a new strain that had not been found before in humans.
How is the virus transmitted?
This new coronavirus may have been passed from animals to humans (studies have found that snakes eaten in China can carry it). Between people, it is transmitted through droplets in the air released by an infected person when coughing or sneezing, or from contact with contaminated surfaces someone carrying the virus has touched. Other possible means of contagion are being analyzed (for example, through air conditioning ducts).
Scientists estimate that each infected person could pass the virus to between 1.5 and 3.5 individuals without effective containment measures. The most common ways the virus is transmitted are:
- An infected person sneezes, coughs, or blows their nose, releasing the virus into the air (infection by airborne transmission).
- A person touches their nose, eyes or mouth after touching a surface contaminated with the virus, such as a toy or handle.
- A person touches, hugs, shakes hands, or kisses an infected individual.
- Eating or drinking from the same dishes an infected person has used.
How to prevent the spread of the virus
Standard precautions for preventing the spread of infection are to frequently and thoroughly wash your hands with soap and water, cover your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing with a disposable tissue or your arm and not your hand (if you use your hand, and you touch a chair, for example, the virus will remain there for hours).
You should also avoid close contact with anyone showing signs of a respiratory infection, such as cough or sneezing, and it’s very important to stay at home if you are ill.
When out of the house, avoid touching your face with your hand, especially your mouth or nose.
Hand disinfectant is advisable, but is not as effective as washing hands with water and soap for at least 20 seconds.
There is no proof that face masks are effective in preventing the spread of the virus. It is recommended for stopping the spread of the virus by people who are already ill or for health care workers who are required to be in close proximity with people who are sick.
Although the virus is spread through droplets in the air when sneezing or coughing, we should be more concerned about spreading the virus through infected items and surfaces, where it can live for hours. Touching infected surfaces and then rubbing your nose is one of the easiest ways to catch illnesses. Shoes are another source of transmission.
Contagion and Symptoms
A person can carry the virus for two days, or even up to two weeks, without having any symptoms.
Symptoms of coronavirus infection usually include fever and respiratory symptoms (cough and shortness of breath or difficulty breathing).
In the most serious cases, it can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, and even death.
But not all symptoms of coronavirus are the same.
Human coronavirus that cause the common cold are spread from person to person. Symptoms usually develop within 2 to 14 days and include:
- Nasal discharge
- Sore throat
- Nasal congestion
- Fever with chills
- Body aches
- Shortness of breath
Serious coronavirus infections can cause:
- Severe cough
Symptoms can be serious in certain segments of the population.
The elderly; people with chronic diseases such as diabetes, cancer, chronic kidney disease, and heart disease; and people with respiratory illnesses such as asthma or COPD are at the highest risk.
Experts warn that the elderly and men may have a higher risk of serious illness and death. Data from China shows that the mortality rate for men is almost double that of women, and that the rate of illness and mortality in the elderly is greater than that of younger people.
China’s National Health Commission reported that around 80% of people who have died from the virus in the country were over 60 years of age. Studies published in The Lancet found that the average age for Chinese citizens who developed pneumonia as a result of coronavirus infection was 55. However, global information shows that the average age would be 45 years.
More than 99% of Italy’s coronavirus fatalities were people who suffered from previous medical conditions, according to a study by the country’s national health authority.
The outbreak of COVID-19 may be stressful for people. Fear and anxiety about a disease can be overwhelming and cause strong emotions in adults and children.
Reduce stress in yourself and others. Sharing the facts about COVID-19 and understanding the actual risk to yourself and people you care about can make an outbreak less stressful.
When you share accurate information about COVID-19 you can help make people feel less stressed and allow you to connect with them.
The antiviral drugs we have against the flu will not work. Recovery depends on the strength of the immune system. As this is viral pneumonia, antibiotics are of no use.
Currently there is no specific treatment for COVID-19. However, it can be treated like any other viral infection. These measures can help:
- While you don't need to stay in bed, you should get plenty of rest.
- Stay well hydrated.
- Doctor could prescribe medications to reduce fever and ease aches and pains.
How worried should we be?
The prevention methods mentioned above are effective and must be taken very seriously in daily life. COVID-19 can be cured in most cases.
Up to this point it is known that the elderly and individuals with a preexisting health problem or a compromised immune system are at a higher risk.
Most people will have a form of the virus that is not severe and will recover. A person who has contracted coronavirus will build up immunity. And it is hardly affecting children.
The response of the scientific community, universities, laboratories and pharmaceutical companies has been overwhelming.
Vaccine prototypes are already being developed. At least four laboratories and a dozen academic groups, including the University of Queensland in Australia, are working on a protective vaccination. But we should not get our hopes up too soon, as it could take over a year to prove their efficacy and safety.
The biopharmaceutical company Gilead Science is working on a drug developed to treat the Ebola virus in 2014, which has also shown to be effective against some coronavirus. Scientists assert that it could help in treating COVID-19.
The antiviral drug Remdesivir is in the testing stage and has still not been approved.
Officials from the World Health Organization (WHO) have been working with China’s Ministry of Health, where the spread has begun to slow. Several reports published have answered many of the initial questions on the virus.
For many of us, the outbreak requires a change in lifestyle and habits that will be beneficial to us individually and the community in general, but it should not paralyze us or in any way promote or worsen discriminatory behaviors.
In the United States several federal laboratories are working on a more precise test to detect the virus.
Johns Hopkins University experts in global public health, infectious disease, and emergency preparedness have been at the forefront of the international response to COVID-19. For the last number of global cases visit the Coronavirus Resource Center.
Source: CDC, OMS, Harvard Medical School, HolaDoctor.com