Coronavirus FAQs answered

What are the symptoms caused by the Covid-19 virus, how does it spread, and should you call a doctor?

CREDIT: This is an edited version of an article that originally appeared on The Guardian

What is Covid-19?

It is caused by a member of the coronavirus family that has never been encountered before. Like other coronaviruses, it has transferred to humans from animals. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has declared it a pandemic – the worldwide spread of a new disease.

What are the symptoms this coronavirus causes?

According to the WHO the most common symptoms of Covid-19 are fever, tiredness and a dry cough; some patients may also have a runny nose, sore throat, nasal congestion,aches and pains or diarrhoea. About 80% of people who get Covid-19 experience a mild case only – about as serious as a regular cold – and recover without needing any special treatment.

About one-in-six people, the WHO says, become seriously ill. The elderly, and people with underlying medical problems such as high blood pressure, heart problems, diabetes, or chronic respiratory conditions, are at a greater risk of serious illness from Covid-19.

In the UK, the NHS identifies the specific symptoms you should look for as either:

  • a high temperature – you feel hot to the touch on your chest or back
  • a new continuous cough – this means you’ve started coughing repeatedly

As this is viral pneumonia, antibiotics are of no use; the antiviral drugs we use against ‘flu will not work, and there is currently no vaccine so, recovery depends on the strength of each person’s immune system.

Should I go to the doctor if I have a temperature or a cough?

No. NHS advice is now that anyone with symptoms should stay at home for at least seven days. If the person with symptoms lives with other people, they should stay at home for at least 14 days, to avoid spreading the infection outside the home. This applies to everyone, regardless of whether they have travelled abroad.

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If you get worse, or your symptoms last longer than seven days, you should call NHS 111. People will no longer be tested for the virus unless they are in hospital. You should look on the dedicated coronavirus NHS 111 website for information and you can check with your local authorities for the latest advice on seeking medical assistance.

Why is this worse than normal influenza, and how worried are the experts?

We don’t yet know how dangerous the new coronavirus is, and we won’t know until more data comes in, but estimates of the mortality rate have ranged from well below one per cent in the young to over three per cent among those who are elderly or have underlying health conditions. Seasonal ‘flu, typically, has a mortality rate below one per cent and is thought to cause about 400,000 deaths each year globally. Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), which broke out in 2002, had a death rate of more than 10%.

Another key unknown is how contagious the coronavirus is. A crucial difference is that, unlike ‘flu, there is no vaccine for the new coronavirus meaning it is more difficult for vulnerable members of the population – elderly people or those with existing respiratory or immune problems – to protect themselves. Hand-washing, thoroughly and often, for everybody, and avoiding other people if you feel unwell, are both important.

Have there been other coronaviruses?

SARS and Middle Eastern respiratory syndrome (MERS) are both caused by coronaviruses which came from animals. In 2002 SARS spread, virtually unchecked, to 37 countries, causing global panic, infecting more than 8,000 people and killing more than 750. MERS appears to be less easily passed from human-to-human, but is more lethal, killing 35% of the approximately 2,500 people who have been infected.

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