In a global pandemic, the only information can be trusted is from reliable health sources.
What is COVID-19?
COVID-19 is a type of coronavirus, which is a family of viruses that causes illness in humans and some animals.
In humans, coronaviruses can cause respiratory infections (as opposed to more sinus-focused illnesses like colds and headaches) with symptoms like coughing, fever and difficulty breathing.
Some other types of coronavirus are Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).
COVID-19 is the most recently discovered coronavirus and it seems to have originated in the Hubei province in China in December 2019. This current outbreak is the first time humans have encountered this specific coronavirus.
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How does it spread?
COVID-19 is a droplet infection, meaning that it is spread by the droplets an infected person produces when they cough, sneeze or talk. These droplets then travel through the air are can be breathed in by other people, therefore infecting others.
However, the droplets cannot travel very far in the air (only around one metre), so if you're not in the immediate vicinity of an infected person, you probably won't catch the virus by breathing in their droplets.
The problem is that these COVID-19 droplets fall and settle on surfaces for an unspecified amount of time (current estimates are any time between a few hours and a few days), meaning if you touch a contaminated surface, and then touch your mouth, eyes or nose without washing your hands, you risk becoming infected.
This is why there is such a huge emphasis on handwashing. It is the single most effective way of protecting yourself and should not be underrated.
What are the symptoms of the new coronavirus?
Fever, dry cough, and trouble breathing are the most common symptoms of COVID-19.
There have been some reports of gastrointestinal symptoms (nausea, vomiting, or diarrhoea) before respiratory symptoms occur, but this is largely a respiratory virus.
Those who have the virus may have no obvious symptoms (be asymptomatic) or symptoms ranging from mild to severe. In some cases, the virus can cause pneumonia and potentially be life-threatening.
Recovery time varies and, for people who are not severely ill, may be similar to the aftermath of a flulike illness. People with mild symptoms may recover within a few days. People who have pneumonia may take longer to recover (days to weeks).
What is the incubation period for the coronavirus?
This refers to the time between being exposed to a germ and having symptoms.
Current estimates suggest that symptoms of COVID-19 usually appear around five days on average, but the incubation period may be as short as two days to as long as 14 days.
Can people who are asymptomatic spread coronavirus?
A person who is asymptomatic may be shedding the virus and could make others ill.
Is there any treatment one can take?
There is no specific treatment for coronavirus. But many of the symptoms of the virus can be treated. Supportive treatments, like oxygen therapy, can be given while your own body fights the virus. Life support can be used in extreme cases.
If you get the virus, your healthcare professional will advise treatment based on your symptoms.
Antibiotics do not work against coronavirus or any viruses.
How do you know if you have COVID-19?
For most people who have these symptoms now, it is more likely to be an infection that is not coronavirus.
You only need to phone a doctor if you have symptoms and any of the following apply to you:
- they are the type of symptoms you would usually contact a GP about
- you have travelled from an affected area
- you are a close contact of a confirmed case in Ireland - if you are, the Department of Public Health will contact you.
Otherwise, if you are concerned for your personal health, the HSE is advising that you call their info line on 1850 24 1850 or 041 6850300 – this service is open from 8am to 8pm, Monday to Saturday.
Am I protected against COVID-19 if I had the influenza (flu) vaccine this year?
No. Influenza and COVID-19 are two very different diseases and the seasonal influenza vaccine does not protect against COVID-19. As the European influenza season is still ongoing, the influenza vaccine is the best available protection against seasonal influenza and it is not too late to get the flu vaccine.
Who is most at risk of complications should they catch COVID-19?
We do not know for sure which groups are most at risk of complications if they catch coronavirus.
But it is likely you are more at risk if you catch coronavirus and:
- are 60 years of age and over
- have a long-term medical condition – for example, heart disease, lung disease, high blood pressure, diabetes or cancer
- pregnant women
Children are least likely to be affected by the infection due to strong immune systems built up over getting repeated common colds in nurseries and classrooms.
Worried about obtaining the disease? You should follow the advice on how to protect yourself and others from coronavirus and other infections like flu.
For more information, please check the HPSC/HSE's frequently asked questions here.
Main image by @tomhanks