What Is Coronavirus (Covid-19)?
Coronavirus is the reason behind the pandemic that the world is facing right now. It is a new strain of the coronavirus family responsible for causing problems like the cold. Scientists named this virus the Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus-2 or SARS-CoV-2. It causes coronavirus disease, also known as COVID-19, and triggers a respiratory tract infection, and affects the upper respiratory tract, including nose, throat, and sinuses. It also causes problems in the windpipe and lungs (the lower respiratory tract).
While coronaviruses are not new themselves and are known to cause diseases like sudden acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) or Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), before December 2019, no medical professional has seen this strain of the virus in humans. After the initial reporting of this virus in the Wuhan province of China, it spread fast. From a local problem in December 2019, COVID-19 became the full-blown global health catastrophe in a few months, and not long after that, the world health organization, in March 2020, declared it as a worldwide pandemic.
Public health organizations like the WHO and the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are closely monitoring the pandemic and making all the latest information available on their websites. These organizations also work with local health authorities to issue guidelines to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
How It Spreads?
Medical experts determine that the primary way for the COVID-19 to spread is the human-to-human transmission. The following are how a person can come in contact with the coronavirus:
Droplets or aerosol
The virus transfers through the droplets a person expels from their body while coughing or sneezing. If these droplets land in someone’s mouth or nose, the virus makes its way into their body’s inner parts and starts to infect their cells. The risk of catching this virus is high when the person who is sneezing or coughing is within 6 feet radius of a healthy person.
The respiratory droplets containing the virus are tiny. Research shows that the virus in these droplets can remain suspended in air and be alive for upto 3 hours. If a healthy person passes through the air exhaled by an infected person, they can breathe it in and run the risk of getting COVID-19.
Touching unclean surfaces is another way to get COVID-19. If a person infected with it coughs or sneezes on their hand and makes contact with something or sneezed or coughed directly on a surface, it becomes contaminated.
The most common things that might give a person COVID-19 are the doorknobs and tabletops. It is best practice to not touch the eyes, nose, or mouth after coming in contact with an unsanitized object. Coronavirus can live upto 2 to 3 days on things made of plastic and stainless steel.
Several studies find that this virus is also present in the fecal matter of the infected person. Experts are unsure whether someone might catch COVID-19 by coming into contact with an infected person’s feces. If a person with COVID-19 uses the bathroom and does not wash their hand, they can infect the things and people they touch.
Most often, this virus spreads through the people who show symptoms of an infection. Some people get infected with coronavirus but don’t show any signs. These people are called asymptomatic carriers. The risk these people pose is higher to the symptomatic patients, as they do not know about their infection, so they don’t take any extra steps to avoid spreading it to others.
The best way to combat the rapid spread of COVID-19 is to follow all the WHO, CDC, and local health authorities’ guidelines.
Symptoms Of Coronavirus
A person might take somewhere between two to 14 days to develop COVID-19 symptoms after coming in contact with the virus. This incubation period can vary from person to person, but they usually don’t take more than 14 days to show infection signs.
- Dry cough
Less common symptoms
- Sore throat
- Loss of taste or smell
- Aches and pains
- Skin rash
- Discoloration of finger or toes
COVID-19 can result in septic shock, pneumonia, respiratory failure, and death. Most of the complications can result from a condition known as cytokine release syndrome or cytokine storm. It happens when an infection makes the immune system to overload the bloodstream with inflammatory proteins known as cytokines. This protein can kill the tissue and damage the organs, making COVID-19 such a dangerous threat.
If you encounter the following symptoms, immediately get medical help:
- Bluish lips or face
- Can’t wake up fully
- New confusion
- Ongoing chest pressure or pain
- Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
What Is The Difference Between Flu (Influenza) And COVID-19?
COVID-19 shares similarities with influenza or flu. However, these two diseases also have several differences. Both the coronavirus and the virus responsible for flu causes respiratory illness, and their symptoms can be very similar, but they have some significant differences.
It refers to the time between the exposure to the virus and when the symptoms start to appear.
For COVID-19, the incubation period can range anywhere between 2 and 14 days. The median incubation period, as per the CDC, is 4-5 days. In contrast, the average incubation period for flu is two days, and it takes a maximum of four days for the symptoms to manifest in the infected person.
COVID-19 causes the following symptoms
- Shortness of breath
- Loss of taste and smell
- Muscle pains and aches
- Stuffy or runny nose
- Sore throat
- Diarrhea or nausea
Not everyone who contracts COVID-19 will experience the symptoms or only get some mild signs of the infection.
The flu can result in the following symptoms:
- Body aches and pain
- Sore throat
- Runny or stuffy nose
Some people with flu might not have a fever. It is evident in older people or for those who got a weakened immune system. Also, symptoms like diarrhea and vomiting are much more common in children with flu than in adults.
Some difference is also present in how symptoms of COVID-19 and influenza present themselves.
Flu symptoms onset suddenly, while the initial signs of COVID-19 are generally milder and develop gradually.
Severity of disease
About 20% of the COVID-19 confirmed cases are critical or severe. Some might experience worsening respiratory symptoms in the second week of illness, typically after eight days since the symptoms first appear.
In comparison, a typical case of flu usually resolves in around 3-7 days. Some people might have cough and fatigue for a little over two weeks. Only 1% of the people with flu need hospitalization compared to 20% of COVID-19.
Experts still do not fully understand the contagiousness period of COVID-19, but they believe that a person is contagious when they are showing the infection’s symptoms.
In the flu, a person can spread it starting a day before the symptoms being to manifest. The spread can continue for a further 5-7 days after a person becomes ill.
Vaccines and medications
The coronavirus is a new strain that never infected any human before December of 2019, which means that experts don’t know much about it. Therefore, we currently don’t have any vaccine or known medication that can actively fight COVID-19 infection.
In contrast, the virus that is responsible for the flu is old and well studied. We have the seasonal vaccine and antiviral medication that we can use to fight the viral infection caused by the influenza virus.
Some other differences between the flu and COVID-19 include:
The reproductive number (RO) of COVID-19 is higher, making its transmission rate much higher than that of the flu.
The RO refers to the number of secondary infections that a single infected individual can generate. The estimated RO of COVID-19 is about 2.2, while the experts find the RO of flu to be around 1.28, which means a person infected with coronavirus can transmit the disease to a higher number of people than someone who has the flu.
Lack of immunity
Coronavirus or SARS-CoV-2, responsible for causing COVID-19, is a relatively new virus. Before December 2019, both the disease and its cause were unknown to people. While the experts still haven’t figured out the exact source of the new coronavirus, they found out that people don’t have much, if any, preexisting immunity to this virus, unlike the flu.
COVID-19 is an entirely new disease, and if a person gets infected with a new coronavirus, their immune system has to work hard to mount a response to fight the virus. It is also not clear if the people who already recovered from COVID-19 can get contract it again or not. Various studies are in progress to determine the level of immunity people have and to explore other aspects of this new virus.
Mortality and severity
The severity of COVID-19 is much higher than that of the flu. Data indicates that about 20% of the people infected with coronavirus require hospitalization. Some critically ill patients might also need the administration of oxygen or mechanical ventilation. In contrast, millions of people catch flu in the United States each year, and only about 1% require hospitalization.
The exact mortality rate of COVID-19 is hard to pinpoint as different studies conducted so far show varying results depending on location and population age. The estimates range between 0.25 and 3%. A study conducted in Italy puts the mortality rate of people over 65 at 7.2%. From the currently available data, it is clear that the COVID-19 mortality rate is much higher than influenza, which only has an estimated 0.1% mortality rate.
How To Protect Yourself And Others from COVID-19?
It is easy to minimize the risk of getting infected or spreading coronavirus by taking some necessary precautions.
- Washing and thoroughly cleaning your hands regularly with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer can help fight the spread of COVID-19. When you wash your hands by rubbing them with soap and water or hand sanitizer, you kill it on your hands.
- Stay a minimum of 1 meter or 3 feet away from other people. It helps you avoid getting into contact with their respiratory droplets, which are a significant source of spreading COVID-19. When a person sneezes, speak, or cough, they spray tiny liquid droplets from their nose and mouth. In infected people, these contain the virus. If you go too close, you might breathe in these droplets and get infected with the coronavirus.
- Refrain from going to crowded places. Places, where crowds gather, are among the most likely to facilitates the spread of COVID-19. It is hard to avoid close contact in crowded places, and if you get near a person with COVID-19, your chances of contracting the disease increase tremendously.
- Stop yourself from touching your eyes, mouth, or nose. Your hands touch different surfaces all the time and can pick up the virus from any of these surfaces. Once the virus sticks to your hands, it can quickly transfer it to your mouth, eyes, or nose, from where it can quickly enter the body and infect you.
- Make sure that you and the people around you follow good respiratory hygiene. It includes covering the mouth and nose with a tissue while sneezing and coughing and disposing of it immediately, or in the absence of a paper or cloth, sneezing or coughing in the bent elbow. Those who don’t follow good respiratory hygiene can contribute to spreading the virus through droplets.
- Avoid going out unnecessarily. If you have to visit somewhere where you expect to run into a crowd, wear a mask. Wearing a simple cloth mask can drastically reduce your risk of getting infected with coronavirus, and it also protects others if by stopping the spread of droplets if you have COVID-19.
- Be in touch with the world health organization’s websites, disease control and prevention centers, and your local health authorities. You can easily follow these sources of information on the internet or news channels. Keeping in sync with the local health authorities’ guidelines is the best way to ensure that a person is taking the necessary steps to protect themselves and others from COVID-19.
What To Do If You Are Sick?
Take the following steps if you get infected with COVID-19, or if you think you might feel the symptoms of this illness. Doing this can speed up your recovery process and help protect others at your home and community.
Stay at home
The essential thing to do if you get infected with the COVID-19 is to self isolate yourself and not leave your house. Once you start experiencing the symptoms, remove yourself from public places, only venture out when you have to get medical care. People with mild symptoms do not need hospitalization. They can recover at home without needing extensive treatment.
Monitor the symptoms
If you have mild symptoms, you can self-isolate and take over-the-counter medication to relieve discomfort. However, you should monitor the signs, and if you notice them becoming serious or their intensity is increasing, it might be time to visit a doctor.
Inform the doctor before visiting
If you finally decide to pay a visit to the medical facility, inform the doctor ahead of time about your symptoms’ type and severity. Telling them will let them better protect themselves and other patients from the potential risk of COVID-19.
Wear a mask
If you must be around other people, make sure to cover your mouth and nose with a simple cloth mask. There’s no need to wear it if you are alone, and if for some reason, you are unable to wear a mask, try maintaining at least 6 feet (1 meter) distance from others.
Focus on hygiene
Stay clean by regularly washing and sanitizing your hands. While coughing or sneezing, use a tissue, or if it is not available, sneeze or chough in your bent elbow. Also, avoid touching your nose, eyes, and mouth without cleaning your hands.
Avoid sharing personal items
Keep your things separate. Don’t share dishes, drinking glasses, eating utensils, cups, bedding, towels, etc. with anyone. Don’t forget to wash these items with soap and water to minimize the infection risk.
Clean frequently touched surfaces
Disinfect the surfaces you often touch with an alcohol-based sanitizer, detergent, household disinfectant, or soap and water. You should clean after yourself, especially in the room you are isolating in and the bathroom. If someone else is cleaning the place, they should make sure to wait as long as possible before cleaning the bathroom or bedroom after the infected person has used them.
Wear gloves while cleaning the possibly contaminated surfaces to protect yourself from catching COVID-19.
Who Is At An Increased Risk Of Getting COVID-19?
The new coronavirus, responsible for causing COVID-19, can infect anyone regardless of their age. However, data collected so far suggests two groups of more vulnerable people to get the severe illness from catching this virus. These groups are – older people and people with preexisting medical conditions. The risk of facing severe illness from COVID-19 gradually increases with age. After reaching 40 years of age, people get more susceptible to viral infections and other diseases. COVID-19 poses the highest risk of severe illness in people aged 85 or older.
Having an underlying medical condition makes significantly increases your risk of catching and experiencing severe symptoms of COVID-19. The strain of coronavirus responsible for causing COVID-19 is new, and not much data is available to say which condition increases the risk by how much.
Based on the research conducted so far, experts concluded that the following medical problems play a significant part in making a person more vulnerable to severe illness:
- Type 2 diabetes
- Sickle cell disease
- Chronic kidney disease
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease – COPD
- A weakened immune system from organ transplant
- Coronary artery disease
- Heart failure
- Cystic fibrosis
- Type 1 diabetes
- Liver disease
- High blood pressure
Testing For COVID-19
A person can currently get tested for COVID-19 by using either a viral test or an antibody test.
This type of test of COVID-19 looks for the presence of the virus in the body and simply tells the person if they currently have an infection.
Doctors use an antibody test to check for signs of a past infection. It cannot tell if the person is currently infected or not because your body takes about 1-3 weeks after getting infected to make antibodies. The presence of antibodies to new coronavirus in the system indicates the previous infection and may protect from contracting COVID-19 in the future. However, the level of protection the antibodies provide and how long they remain effective is still unknown.
How to get tested?
The viral test is the primary method to check if a person has the virus that causes COVID-19. Most people with mild signs of disease can recover at home without treatment. The decision about testing someone lies with the state and local health departments or healthcare providers.
If you experience the symptoms of COVID-19 and want to get tested, contact your healthcare provider. Those who have the symptoms, but have not tested for the virus infection should self-isolate at home.
If your result comes positive, your doctor will prescribe a further course of action depending on its severity.
If you test negative for COVID-19, that means you don’t have the virus infection, but that does not mean you cannot get the disease in the future. Try getting in touch with a healthcare provider if you encounter the symptoms of COVID-19. You might be free from the infection at the test time, but you catch it later on.