What to Know About Coronavirus — COVID-19 Explained

Published on Mar 16, 2020
Medically reviewed by Krishan Thiru, MBBS, MHA, FRACGP

What is Coronavirus?

Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that may cause respiratory illnesses in humans ranging from common colds to more severe conditions such as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome (MERS)1.

'Novel coronavirus' is a new, previously unidentified strain of coronavirus. The novel coronavirus involved in the current outbreak has been named SARS-CoV-2 by the World Health Organization (WHO)3. The disease it causes has been named “coronavirus disease 2019” (or “COVID-19”)1,2.

How does the virus spread?

COVID-19 can spread from person to person usually through close contact with an infected person or through respiratory droplets that are dispersed into the air when an infected person coughs or sneezes3. It may also be possible to get the virus by touching a surface or object contaminated with the virus and then touching your mouth, nose or eyes, but it is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads1.

Where has COVID-19 spread to?

As of the March 16, 2020, there are over 150,000 confirmed cases of infection by the virus—and 5,746 of that number have resulted in death. While most cases of COVID-19 infection are in China, the virus has spread to 146 other countries, and the numbers are climbing every day4. For the latest global numbers, visit the World Health Organisation Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) Situation Dashboard.

What are the symptoms?

Similar to other respiratory illnesses, the symptoms of COVID-19 may include fever, cough, and shortness of breath5.

People infected with COVID-19 may experience any range of these symptoms along with aches and pains, nasal congestion, runny nose, sore throat and diarrhoea1. Symptoms can start to show up anywhere from two to 14 days after exposure to the virus3. It may be possible for an infected person who is not yet showing any symptoms to spread the virus1.Older persons, and those with pre-existing medical illnesses like lung disease, heart disease and diabetes, however, seem to be more likely to experience severe respiratory symptoms and complications1.

How to protect yourself from coronavirus

The best preventative action is to avoid being exposed to the virus. You can do this by taking a few cautionary steps—the same as you would if you were trying to avoid getting any respiratory illness1,7.

  1. Wash your hands with soap and water frequently. If soap and water are not readily accessible, use alcohol-based sanitisers.
  2. Avoid contact with sick people.
  3. Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with your hands if they are unwashed.
  4. Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your bent elbow when you sneeze or cough. Make sure to dispose of the tissue immediately.
  5. If you are feeling unwell, stay home.  
  6. If you have no respiratory symptoms such cough, a medical mask is not necessary.  Only use the mask if you have symptoms such as coughing or sneezing or suspect a COVID-19 infection. A mask is recommended for those caring for anyone with COVID-19. 

What to do if you suspect you are infected?

The symptoms of COVID-19 are very similar to those of a cold or the flu, making it challenging to identify the specific cause of any respiratory symptoms.
If you suspect you have been infected by COVID-19, you should seek medical care as soon as possible.

Until you can access medical care, you should follow these guidelines to reduce your likelihood of infecting others7:

  • Restrict your outdoor activities and stay at home as much as you can. If it is feasible, stay in a separate room, and use a different bathroom from others in your household.
  • Clean and/or disinfect objects and surfaces that you touch regularly.
  • Track your symptoms as accurately as possible, so you can provide medical personnel with useful information.

Are there any treatments or vaccines?

There are currently no treatments, drugs, or vaccines available to treat or prevent COVID-19. People infected with the virus should receive medical treatment to relieve and alleviate the symptoms they are experiencing1.

References

  • 1. Q&A on coronaviruses. World Health Organization. Accessed 28 Feb. 2020
  • 2. WHO Director-General's remarks at the media briefing on 2019-nCoV on 11 February 2020. World Health Organization. Accessed 14 Feb. 2020.
  • 3. Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Situation Summary. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Accessed March 2, 2020.
  • 4. Coronavirus disease 2019(COVID-19) Situation Report-45. World Health Organization. Accessed 6 March 2020
  • 5. Symptoms. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Accessed 28 Feb. 2020.
  • 6. Prevention. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Accessed 28 Feb. 2020
  • 7. What to Do If You Are Sick With Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19). The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Accessed March 2, 2020
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