What is the Coronavirus? 5 Things you need to know about COVID-19
The Coronavirus is undoubtedly the biggest news story in the world at the moment. From mass hospitalisations to lockdowns all over the world, this pandemic is unlike anything in living memory.
But what exactly is the Coronavirus? Here are 5 important things you need to know about COVID-19.
What is the Coronavirus?
Coronaviruses (CoV) are a large family of viruses. They cause a range of illnesses, including the common cold, as well as diseases such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV), which can be much more serious. This family of diseases are zootonic, which means they are transmitted between animals and people.
The Coronavirus we are dealing with at the moment is called COVID-19. It's a new strain of the virus. Prior to its discovery in late 2019 it had not previously been identified in humans. In most people, COVID-19 only has mild symptoms, however, it can lead to a serious respiratory tract illness, particularly in older patients and those with pre-existing conditions.
How did the Coronavirus start?
Coronaviruses can be transmitted from animals to humans, and this type of coronavirus is no different. It is believed that there are a number of coronaviruses circulating among animals that have not yet transferred to humans. One theory is that COVID-19 originated at a market in Wuhan, China, which saw the unregulated trade of wild animals, including birds, rabbits, snakes, bats and marmots.
Some believed that the first human infections occurred after contact with animals at the market. The exact animal source has not yet been confirmed, but scientists believe the virus may have come from bats.
Another theory is that the Coronavirus was actually synthesised in a lab by humans, most likely in China. However, the latest research seems to confirm that this is a naturally-occurring virus, rather than a human-made one.
Why is Coronavirus worse than flu?
The flu is caused by various strains of the influenza virus, whereas the current pandemic is caused by one particular strain of coronavirus: COVID-19. For people who are in generally good health and are not elderly, the Coronavirus is likely to have many of the same symptoms as the flu: runny nose, sore throat and a cough.
However, COVID-19 can progress to severe respiratory problems, such as pneumonia, at a much higher rate than the flu. This is particularly true in older people or those with pre-existing conditions, but all age groups and demographics are at risk. Although the exact mortality rates are not yet known, they seem to be much higher than those of flu.
This virus is evolving fast and is very unpredictable. In Spain, for example, they seem to be experiencing more serious cases with younger people. Also, countries seem to apply different methods of post mortem assessment, with methods varying between Germany, Italy, and the UK, for example.
This unpredictability is one of the things that makes the Coronavirus so dangerous.
How many cases of the Coronavirus are there so far?
The Coronavirus was officially declared a global pandemic on March 11 by the World Health Organisation (WHO). This reflects its vast global spread, with hundreds of thousands of cases across the world.
As of March 23, 2020, there were 367,000 Coronavirus cases confirmed worldwide. Of these, almost 16,100 resulted in death, and more than 100,000 patients had already recovered.
How does the Coronavirus spread?
Like the flu, the Coronavirus is passed from person to person through contact, but it can also be spread through the air. This means that an infected person can pass it to someone else who is nearby them. That is why, currently, health experts suggest keeping around 2 metres (6 feet) of space between you and others.
When an infectious person coughs or sneezes, tiny droplets of fluid are sent into the air. These droplets can enter another person via the nose or mouth, spreading the infection. It is also possible that people can get sick from touching surfaces that contain the virus and then touching their nose, mouth, or even their eyes.
How long does Coronavirus last?
One of the reasons that COVID-19 has spread so quickly is that it can last for a long time on surfaces. This means that people can pick up the infection even when the infected person is no longer in the area.
New research shows that the Coronavirus can last for hours or even days on certain surfaces or in the air. The study found that the COVID-19 virus remained present for up to three hours in aerosols, on copper for up to four hours, and on cardboard for up to 24 hours. On plastic and stainless steel, the virus was still detectable for two to three days.
What are the symptoms of the Coronavirus?
The most common symptoms of COVID-19 are:
- Respiratory symptoms such as a runny nose
- Shortness of breath or breathing difficulties
In severe cases, the Coronavirus can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome and kidney failure. In these severe cases, the virus can be fatal. It seems that older people and those who have pre-existing health conditions are much more likely to develop severe symptoms.
Because COVID-19 is a new strain, there is much about it that we don’t know yet. We also do not have the antiviral medications required to treat it at this time. For this reason, it is important to keep yourself informed on the latest updates and practice good hygiene to protect yourself from infection.
As a virus that can live on hard surfaces for up to three days, proper hand hygiene is vital. Eliminating the virus from your hands means you will not be able to transfer it to your nose or mouth, or pass the illness on to others. The World Health Organisation recommends washing your hands regularly with anti-bacterial soap, or using hand sanitisers, particularly after visiting public places or touching communal objects.
Other measures you can take to stay healthy and stop the spread of infection include covering your mouth and nose with a tissue or your elbow when coughing or sneezing, and thoroughly cooking meat and eggs. Also, be sure to avoid contact with anyone who has symptoms of respiratory illness.