It’s tough to ignore the news filled with updates about the spread of the 2019 novel coronavirus, or COVID-19. Many people’s reactions are fearful, and you’ve probably heard stories about people rushing to stock up on food, hand sanitizer and other household goods as the number of infected people climb.
Unfortunately, without accurate or factual information about COVID-19, you won’t be able to keep yourself or your family safe from this fast-spreading disease. Here are some of the most important things you should know.
What is the 2019 coronavirus disease?
The disease that’s currently spreading across the globe and infecting over 100,000 individuals is referred to as COVID-19, a novel form of the coronavirus.
Coronaviruses are a group of viruses that are known for causing respiratory illnesses of varying severity. Previously seen forms of the virus include Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV). COVID-19 is a new form that has not been seen before in humans.
Coronaviruses are zoonotic, which means they can be transmitted between humans and animals. The first report of COVID-19 originated in Wuhan, China on December 31, 2019, and it is believed that this strain of the virus was transmitted through livestock markets in the area. From there, the disease spread throughout Wuhan and other Chinese cities.
Eventually, the disease spread beyond China via travelers and slowly began developing in other countries. Community spread (person-to-person transmission with no single identifiable source of infection) is now occurring in multiple countries.
COVID-19 is a general public health concern due to the rapid rate at which the virus has spread and the limited measures currently available to treat and prevent the spread of the virus. Around the world, government and health experts are working to research the virus, create treatments and vaccines and identify ways to minimize the virus’s spread. For the time being, schools, public events and other gathering places may be closed down to minimize the risk of exposure.
Make sure you are staying up to date on your region’s risk of infection and follow the recommendations put in place by governmental agencies and health organizations like the World Health Organization (WHO).
COVID-19 symptoms and risks
The symptoms of COVID-19 appear to range from mild to severe and almost always affect the respiratory system. Symptoms may include:
- Dry cough
- Runny nose
- Sore throat
- Shortness of breath
- Gastrointestinal upset
- Kidney failure
In the majority of people, COVID-19 has presented similarly to the common cold, and the large majority of those infected have recovered from the virus.
Unfortunately, the disease appears to worsen if the infected person is an older adult and/or is in poor health (such as people suffering from high blood pressure, heart disease, lung disease and cancer). In these cases, the risk of death may be higher. WHO estimates that 1 out of every 6 people will develop more serious symptoms of the illness and may require hospitalization.
From the data gathered, it appears that people of any age can be infected with COVID-19. However, the risks appear to be lower for children and higher for older adults.
The following people are at the highest risk of contracting COVID-19:
- People who have traveled to an area affected by a COVID-19 outbreak
- People who have been in close contact with someone who recently traveled to an area affected by an outbreak
- People in close contact with someone infected with the virus, particularly healthcare workers and family members
How COVID-19 is spread
COVID-19 is capable of spreading from person to person. The main way the virus is spread is through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs, sneezes or speaks.
Experts believe COVID-19 has an incubation period of 2 and 14 days. This means that it can take up to 14 days for the virus to begin to produce symptoms. If you believe you have been in contact with an infected individual, self-quarantine yourself for 14 days. Do not leave the home and avoid contact with others to prevent the potential spread of the virus.
It may also be possible for the virus to contaminate surfaces via droplets. It is not yet known how long the virus can survive on surfaces, and it is possible that the virus can be transmitted from surfaces to your hands and then your mouth, nose or eyes. WHO estimates that, depending on the type of surface, the virus may remain active on surfaces between a few hours and a few days.
Therefore, it is unlikely that the virus is spread through goods manufactured and shipped from China or other countries experiencing outbreaks. However, home and business surfaces should be cleaned regularly to mitigate any potential spread.
If you suspect you are sick
If you have recently been in contact with someone who you know has COVID-19 and you begin to develop symptoms of the illness, stay home. People with mild forms of the virus are generally safe to self-quarantine without going to work or to other public places until the symptoms subside.
If you develop a cough, fever or difficulty breathing, contact a healthcare provider as early as you can. Call your doctor in advance to let them know you may be infected with COVID-19 so they can take the necessary precautions. Until you can be seen by a doctor, remain at home.
Testing kits are being made available worldwide to test for the presence of COVID-19. Your local hospital should have testing kits available. When you visit the doctor regarding your potential case of COVID-19, they will recommend you through the appropriate channels if they believe you need to be tested.
Unfortunately, there is no vaccine for this strain of the coronavirus thus far. Vaccines for other viruses or ones that protect against pneumonia are not effective against COVID-19. Research is currently underway to develop a COVID-19 vaccine.
There are also no defined treatments for COVID-19 aside from supportive care to help support your immune and respiratory systems. Should you become infected, follow your doctor’s specific instructions on how to treat your illness. You may be asked to remain in quarantine at home until your symptoms subside. Some people may require hospitalization for more intense care.
How you can prevent the spread of COVID-19
Our biggest defense against COVID-19 as of now is to slow the spread of the disease through proper hygiene. The following tips are recommended to help you avoid catching or spreading the virus:
- Wash your hands: One of the most important things you can do to avoid getting sick is washing your hands with soap and water throughout the day. Washing your hands or using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer can remove the virus from your hands.
- Avoid touching your face: In case you come in contact with an infected individual or a contaminated surface, avoid touching your face as much as possible to avoid spreading the virus from your hands to your eyes, nose or mouth.
- Cover your nose and mouth while coughing: If you are sick, cough or sneeze into a flexed elbow that covers your nose or mouth or use a sanitary tissue that you throw out immediately after use. This minimizes the spread of droplets containing the virus.
- Avoid contact with infected individuals: If you know that someone has been infected with COVID-19, avoid close contact with the individual by standing at least 6 feet apart and not sharing cutlery and dishware, bedding or other personal items.
- Wear a mask if you are infected: If you have been infected with COVID-19 or you are caring for someone who is sick, wear a mask. It’s important to note that this is only applicable to people who have been infected or are in long-term contact with someone with the virus. Due to a worldwide shortage of personal protective equipment, WHO urges healthy individuals to not wear masks, as there is no evidence that they will prevent you from getting sick.
It is normal to be concerned about COVID-19 and its rapid spread. However, you should not panic! By ensuring the cleanliness of your home, washing your hands and taking protective measures by self-quarantining, you can help minimize the spread of this illness as experts work on developing more advanced treatments.
Stay informed about new research and updates about COVID-19 here.