The Coronavirus – or COVID-19 as it’s now known has never left the headlines since the start of the outbreak in December 2019. As the death toll rises well beyond that of the SARS outbreak in 2003 – it’s important to ask all the questions. What is the coronavirus? Why is this outbreak different to the rest? Should we panic? How is it treated? Read on to find out all the latest details.
Headlines have been constantly hitting the news bulletins regarding this new, novel coronavirus outbreak. With worldwide cases doubling approximately every 5 days and the WHO declaring a public health emergency, the outbreak shows no sign of slowing down.
Where did the virus originate and how is it passed on?
The first reported case emerged on the 31st December. It’s likely the virus originated from bats – sold in a market in Wuhan. We now believe this virus is predominantly spread in the air, via droplet infection. We’re learning more about the virus day by day and how it’s transmitted.
Didn’t we know about this before?
The coronavirus family isn’t new – if you’ve experienced the common cold, you’ll have come across this group of viruses. However, they’re constantly mutating – it’s what they do to survive and continue spreading. Mutations have led to this particular new strain which unfortunately we have no cure for.
If there’s no treatment, how serious is the novel coronavirus? Should we panic?
Particularly in countries where good healthcare is in place it’s important to be alert but not anxious. The virus currently has a mortality rate of about 2%. Somewhere between 10 and 20% of patients develop more serious problems like pneumonia as a result of the virus. If you’re otherwise fit and well then encountering the virus won’t be hugely different to a “normal” bout of flu. If you fall into the group that the NHS offers free flu vaccines to – if you’re elderly or have asthma for example, then it may be necessary to take extra precautions. As a general rule, keeping up normal hand hygiene with using alcohol gels where you can will lower your likelihood of catching any virus.
How do I know if I have the virus?
The virus has an incubation period of about 2 weeks – and you’re more likely to develop the virus if you’ve recently returned from China. This incubation period means you may be symptom free for 14 days but still be able to pass the virus around. It’s important to remember that we currently believe you’ll only be able to contract the virus following close contact with an infected person. If you’re at all worried, ring 111 and explain your symptoms. If medical professionals believe someone may have the virus, a sample of mucus is taken from the nose or mouth. We can then carry out a PCR test. This looks at the genetics of the sample to identify a match to the virus.
It’s important to remember that even though there’s no treatment, we can treat the symptoms. As it’s a virus, antibiotics won’t work. We can however treat the symptoms. If you have a fever, there’s medication which can be given to lower your temperature.