There’s a lot of scaremongering going on in the media at the moment over ‘coronavirus’ – in particular the strain causing COVID-19 (named because the first instances of the disease emerged in 2019). We’re going to try and cut through the hysteria and provide you with simple, clear facts and ways you can minimise your own risk.
What is coronavirus?
Well contrary to the portrayal in the media, coronavirus isn’t just one contagion, the name actually refers to a large group on viruses which includes the common cold.
The new (or novel) coronavirus discovered in Wuhan, China in December 2019 is the cause of the infectious disease which has been named COVID-19.
Coronaviruses are common in animals and can be transmitted to humans but despite what you may have read in the media, there is no confirmation that COVID-19 was passed to humans via eating snakes or bats. The source of the virus in Wuhan has not yet been established.
What are the symptoms of COVID-19?
This is where it could get confusing because the symptoms of COVID-19 are very similar to those you would experience if you were ‘starting with a cold’.
- A fever, tickly dry cough and generally feeling unwell are the first signs that you may have been infected.
- A runny or blocked nose and body aches and pains have also been reported along with a sore throat.
- So far – very much like the common cold.
For at least 80% of people who contract the virus, this is as bad as it gets, in fact some people can be infected but have no symptoms at all.
About 1 in 6 of those infected may become more ill and may develop breathing difficulties requiring hospitalisation, but again most will recover.
How is COVID-19 spread?
The disease is spread person to person via what the medical profession called ‘respiratory droplets’ – in non-medical parlance, what you expel when you cough or sneeze.
These microscopic droplets land on surfaces, other people touch these surfaces and then their own faces – eyes, nose mouth, thus transferring the virus into their own system.
It is also possible to breathe in these droplets if an infected person sneezes or coughs close to you and doesn’t cover their nose and mouth.
Simple steps to protect yourself
WASH YOUR HANDS…often and thoroughly. That is the single most effective preventative measure.
- Use normal soap and wash for at least 20 seconds making sure your entire hand is well lathered and rinsed.
- Don’t share towels – even amongst family members.
- Antibacterial gels are useful if you are out and about and don’t have access to washing facilities BUT regular soap and water work just as well so don’t panic if you can’t get hold of hand sanitiser!
- Keep your distance from people who are coughing and/or sneezing, try to stay at least 1 metre (3 feet) away.
- Try to avoid touching your mouth, nose and eyes.
- If you do feel the need to sneeze or cough do so into a paper tissue and then immediately dispose of the tissue in a bin.
- If you don’t have a tissue to hand, sneeze/cough into the crook of your elbow – NOT into your hand.
Stay at home if you start to feel unwell. DO NOT visit your GP or go to A&E. If you’re worried about yourself or a family member call NHS 111 for the latest advice.
What about face masks?
According to most experts, wearing the type of disposable masks that we the general public can purchase, WILL NOT prevent us catching the virus. This is because A) the virus is small enough to pass through the mask and B) we would still need to remember not to touch our faces (eyes) even if wearing one.
The World Health Organisation stresses that wearing a disposable mask is a waste UNLESS you are caring for someone with the disease OR if you are ill yourself and are coughing and sneezing.
Who is most at risk from COVID-19?
As we said earlier, most people will only experience mild symptoms and will recover fully. The complications and deaths reported around the world so far have been in older people, particularly those with underlying medical conditions.
If you, or a loved one, have high blood pressure, heart disease, lung disease, cancer or diabetes, it is important that you minimise your risk of exposure as far as is practicable. Follow the advice above, stay away from places that are packed with people and keep a close eye on the way you, or they, are feeling.
Other important info…
The incubation period of COVID-19 (that is how long it takes from initial infection to developing symptoms) is reported as being anything from 1 to 14 days.
This means you could be contagious and spreading the disease around without even knowing it. That’s why some countries have imposed ‘lockdowns’, shutting schools, restaurants, sporting facilities etc and why ‘self isolation’ is recommended should you feel you have been exposed to the COVID-19.
Stopping the rapid spread of the disease is the best way for our health service to ensure they are not overwhelmed with cases. It is accepted that the number of people with COVID-19 in the UK is going to increase – the hope is that it can be ‘delayed’ i.e. managed.
Antibiotics are not effective against COVID-19 so don’t ask your GP for them!
What to do next…
The situation is changing all the time, so the best advice is just to keep an eye on things BUT do not be panicked by what you may see on social media or in the tabloids. There’s a list of reputable websites at the end of this article which we would recommend you check.
If you were planning to travel, on holiday or for business, go to https://www.gov.uk/guidance/travel-advice-novel-coronavirus and also double check your insurance policies.
Department of Health and Social Care Twitter page which is updated at 2pm every day: https://twitter.com/DHSCgovuk