Coronavirus: what you need to know

Posted on 26 March 2020

Coronavirus: what you need to know

A summary of what coronavirus is, why we should care, the symptoms of COVID-19, who is at risk, what to do if you have symptoms and how to prevent it

What is it?

A virus that causes a potentially fatal pneumonia (infection of the lungs), first identified in December 2019 in Wuhan City, Hubei Province, China [1]. It has thought to have come from animals, possibly a cross-breed between a bat coronavirus and from another animal, as most of the orignal cases have a link to a seafood market where there are live animals [2]. It has now been officially labelled as severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 22 (SARS-CoV-2) as it is genetically similar to the SARS coronavirus but different in the disease it causes and how it spreads [3]. The disease it causes is called coronavirus disease 2019, or COVID-19.

Why is it such a big deal?

People often cite the ‘low’ fatality rate as a reason for minimal concern. This is the number of people who die as a percentage of the total number of people infected with it. As of 26th March the global case:fatality ratio of COVID-19 is 4.5% [4]. Ebola has a 50% ratio [5] so in relative terms it might not seem a huge issue.

But coronavirus spreads fast. Since it was identified in December it has reached every corner of the world, bar a few small islands. As it has spread so far it has the potential to be one of the biggest killers we have ever known and we must therefore take all prevention advice very seriously.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms range from a common cold-like illness through to a potentially fatal acute respiratory distress syndrome. The most common symptoms [2] are:

  • Fever, in up to 98% of cases
  • Cough, usually dry, in up to 82% of cases
  • Shortness of breath, in up to 55% of cases, at around 5–8 days from onset of symptoms
  • Fatigues or tiredness, in up to 69% of cases
  • Muscle aches, in up to 44% of cases
  • Reduced appetite, in up to 40% of cases
  • Phlegm, in up to 33% of cases
  • Sore throat, in up to 17% of cases

Who is at risk?

Short answer: everyone. As you can see here, people have died in every age group except 0–9 and this means more people in every category are in need of intensive care or ventilation:

Screenshot 2020 03 26 at 11.42.20

Anyone who has had close contact with someone with confirmed or suspected COVID-19 is at risk [6]. People at greater risk of severe illness [7]:

  • are 65 and over
  • live in a care facility
  • have a high risk condition, such as chronic lung disease, heart disease, suppressed immunity (sometimes due to medication), obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, kidney disease or liver disease

How does it spread?

Coronavirus is thought to spread by droplets made from sneezing and coughing [8]. The virus has been found in many other body fluids but it is unclear how this affects transmission between people. It can take up to 14 days between being infected and showing symptoms [9] and you can pass the virus on in this time [10].

What should I do if I get symptoms?

  1. Self-isolate, even within your own home to protect others
  2. Use the COVID-19 self-triage tool and follow the advice
  3. If you are unwell or in an at risk group contact your doctor by telephone or video callcallcall callcallcall

What can I do to prevent it?

  • Look at and adhere to all your government’s advice
  • Stay at home and wash your hands regularly
  • Check out all the prevention tips in this shareable infographic:

Infographic - Coronavirus by D K

Dr Dilraj Kalsi uses Lifestyle Medicine and Digital Health to empower patients to reverse disease via his online clinic Hippocrates Lounge. He is a Lecturer in Digital Health at the University of Warwick and publishes regularly on patient empowerment with colleagues from Oxford University. For all his latest health tips straight to your inbox, sign up here!

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