What is the coronavirus?
Coronavirus (also known as COVID-19) is a respiratory illness that produces symptoms like cold/influenza. Like other members of the coronavirus family, the disease originated from animals.
Signs and symptoms
It can be hard finding concrete, accurate information about the coronavirus. There’s a lot of misinformation and myth perpetuated about the virus, including its severity, signs and current contagion level. Symptoms can range in severity from mild to more serious, like pneumonia. Symptoms of the disease may appear between 2-14 days following exposure to the virus. The following list are the most common symptoms linked to the coronavirus, along with their prevalence levels (as of February 2020):
- Nasal congestion
- Vomiting and/or nausea
- Sputum production (mucus)
- Shortness of breath and issues breathing
- Traditional flu-like symptoms, like sore throat, general fatigue and a dry cough
What you need to do if you think you have contracted it
If you believe you might have contracted the coronavirus, the first step is to seek clarification on your symptoms. However, to minimise the spread of the disease, it is advised that you don’t go directly to your local GP or emergency room, as this could pose further contagion risks. Instead, get in touch with an online doctor or call your local testing centre, since this will prevent you needing to leave the house and possibly spread the disease to other members of the public.
What we can do
The team at Instant Consult are highly qualified and experienced, so we can certainly provide the clarification you need. Having said this, we cannot confirm that you have coronavirus immediately, we can only tell you whether you need to be tested or not based off your symptoms during an online appointment, and then if deemed clinically suitable by the doctor, issue you with a COVID-19 swab test. If you need to get checked for the disease, you will need to go to a dedicated testing collection centre in your area, which will be able to formally test whether you have the virus or not. Make sure you contact the collection centre before attending for your swab test.
If you have been diagnosed with the coronavirus (or are waiting on test results), you will need to be isolated in your home. Do not go to any public places, including your place of work/school, shopping centres, university, childcare centres, restaurant, gyms, banks or other public venues.
Ask other people to get food/necessities for you and ask them to leave the items at your front door. You should not let visitors into your home. If you suddenly require further medical attention, then make sure you wear a surgical mask when you leave your home. Better yet, organise to speak to an online doctor or have a medical professional visit your home instead.
How does it spread?
The current evidence on the coronavirus is that it spreads from person-to-person. As a result, the virus is chiefly spread through close contact with a person who has the disease, contact with an infected person’s cough or sneeze or touching objects that an infected person has come into recent contact with (like tables, door handles, rails etc).
Who are most at risk?
This question is where a lot of harmful, misinformation has been spread. From an Australian perspective, the people most at risk of contracting the coronavirus are the following:
- People who have recently been to areas where there has been a major outbreak (for example China, Italy, Iran and South Korea)
- People who have come into contact with someone who has been confirmed as having the coronavirus
How dangerous is the disease?
Like the previous question, this is another aspect of the disease that has been subject to a lot of hoax and inaccurate information. According to the World Health Organisation, the virus affects people of all ages. Having said this, older Australians and people with pre-existing medical conditions (such as diabetes, heart disease and asthma) appear to be more vulnerable. This means that if a person who fits this category were to test positive to the virus, they could be more seriously affected by it. Nonetheless, it is crucial that all people, regardless of age or medical condition, protect themselves against the disease as much as possible.
Furthermore, information regarding mortality rates has been inconsistent. Early research from the WHO suggests that the mortality rate is approximately 3.4%, however, it is important to remember that not all cases have been reported. If all cases were reported, this figure would likely be much lower.
How you can protect yourself
If you are exhibiting no flu/cold symptoms, then your main priority should be prevention and protecting yourself, just in case you encounter someone who unknowingly has the virus. If you don’t have the virus, there is no need to wear a surgical mask. The Australian Department of Health has confirmed that there is minimal evidence supporting the use of surgical masks in healthy people to prevent public transmission.
The most important thing you should be doing relates directly to your hygiene habits. Good hygiene habits include:
- Staying at home when displaying signs of cold/flu
- Avoiding contact with your face, mouth and nose
- Disinfecting things around your home with a conventional cleaning spray or wipe
- Covering your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze (with a tissue)
- Discarding all used tissues immediately (in the nearest bin)
- Washing your hands with soap and water frequently throughout the day (for at least 20 seconds)
- Minimising close contact with other people (especially touching)
Because of the relative infancy of the new coronavirus, there is no treatment option for the disease. Antibiotics will not work; however, medical care can help sooth most of the symptoms. There is also no vaccine as of March 2020, however, early developments have been made in this area.
Have there been other coronaviruses?
Coronaviruses are actually quite common and frequently only cause mild symptoms. The common cold and influenza are both caused by different coronaviruses.
COVID-19 is not the first modern coronavirus to spread globally, nor is it the most deadly – although it is probably the most contagious. Sars, known as severe acute respiratory syndrome and Mers, known as the Middle Eastern respiratory syndrome, are both coronaviruses that stem from animals. In 2002, the Sars strain spread to almost 37 countries and caused similar global panic to what we’ve experienced with the coronavirus. Likewise, Sars has a mortality rate of over 10%, whereas Mers poses the strongest lethality of 34%. As of January 2020, the WHO has confirmed that 862 people have died from 2504 Mers cases since the first outbreak in 2012. So, while the Mers virus is comparatively less contagious, it poses great danger to those who contract it.
Busting coronavirus myths
There are a lot of unhelpful, damaging myths being purported in the public space about the coronavirus. Here is the truth about some of the most common myths being circulated:
Cold weather cannot kill the coronavirus
The WHO has confirmed that there is no reason to believe that cold weather can kill the coronavirus. At the end of the day, the best method is to clean your hands and face often with soap or an alcohol-based sanitiser. As is customary during the winter months, be more vigilant with your hygiene habits – don’t touch your face and be aware of touching things in public places (like restaurants, shopping centres, gyms and public transport).
The virus can’t be transmitted through Chinese manufactured goods
Even though the new coronavirus can stay on surfaces for a few hours (or even several days), it is highly unlikely that it can be transmitted through goods manufactured in China, simply because of time delays. If you come into contact with a surface you believe might be contaminated, do not touch the surface and make sure you wash your hands if you do. Use a cleaner on the surface for good measure.
There is no evidence that pets can spread the disease
There is no evidence that domestic animals or pets can spread the coronavirus, although they can carry it. Nonetheless, good hygiene habits are also essential, so after handling pets (cats, dogs etc), make sure you wash your hands properly.
Has the virus mutated and become more serious?
When people hear or think of the word “mutation”, there is often unnecessary panic and hysteria. The simple fact is all types of viruses mutate and adapt. The coronavirus is no different. Chinese scientists have performed genetic analysis on over 100 samples of the virus taken from Wuhan patients and other patients in other Chinese provinces.
From their analysis, it appears they have found two main strains of the virus, which have been referred to as “L” and “S” strains. While the L strain was more prevalent in cases, the S strain was found to be the ancestral strain. Whether the L strain is a more aggressive version of the disease is pure speculation and nothing concrete has been established at this stage by any recognised medical organisation.
Can rinsing your nose with saline help prevent contracting the virus?
According to the WHO, rinsing your nose with a saline solution unfortunately won’t protect you from the virus. While there is evidence that rinsing your nose with saline solution can help sufferers with the common cold, rinsing your nose will have minimal impact in preventing respiratory infections, like the new coronavirus.
Thermal scanners can only detect those with fevers
Thermal scanners are effective in identifying people who have a fever (higher than average body temperature). However, they obviously cannot detect people who have the coronavirus who aren’t displaying signs of fever. It can take anywhere from 2 and 10 days for the person to develop a fever and by that point, the person might have unknowingly spread the virus to other people. Therefore, as a method of quarantine, thermal scanners have their limitations.
Where the coronavirus began
The new coronavirus was first identified in Wuhan, which is the capital of the Hubei province in China. It is the largest city in Hubei, along with being the most populated city in Central China (with over 11 million people).
In late December 2019, a group of pneumonia cases were reported by Chinese health authorities. At the time, the origin of the cases was unknown. However, authorities were soon able to connect approximately two-thirds of this initial cluster of infected people to the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market, a live animal and seafood market in Wuhan.
How it began to spread
By 8 January 2020, South Korea formally announced the first possible case of the virus coming from China. On January 25, Australia confirmed its first four cases of the virus, one in Victoria and three in New South Wales, while Canada confirmed its first case in Toronto.
By 30 January, the WHO had declared the outbreak of the coronavirus to be a “public health emergency of international concern” which is a formal declaration that the event could pose an international public health risk and could potentially require a coordinated international response.
On February 1, Australia reported several more cases, bringing the total number of confirmed cases to 12. The first two cases in South Australia were also announced. 20 days later, the Australian Government confirmed that four people who were on the Diamond Princess cruise ship had tested positive for the coronavirus. By March 8, there were 74 confirmed cases of the virus in Australia.
How many total confirmed cases of coronavirus are there? Which countries are suffering the most? What are the total deaths of coronavirus to date?
Coronavirus is spreading nationwide – visit the Johns Hopkins University of Medicine Coronavirus Resource Centre to interact with their live global map.
In early February, the Australian Department of Health issued directives that were put in effect instantly. In line with the new restrictions, travel advisory was increased to level 4 and all travellers coming out of mainland China were asked to self-isolate for 14 days from the time of leaving. People arriving from mainland China were denied entry into Australia, except for Australian citizens and permanent residents. In early March travellers from Iran and South Korea were subjected to the same restrictions – check current guidelines if you plan on travelling or have recently been overseas.
So, if you have developed or are developing flu/cold-like symptoms, it is recommended that you initially isolate yourself from others as a precaution. Even if you need to miss a few days of school or work, it’s important to minimise the chances of you spreading the virus to someone who might be more vulnerable or susceptible to its effects (elderly people, asthma sufferers). Be extra vigilant if you recently contacted someone who now has the virus or if you have returned from overseas travel.
Nonetheless, it is important to not become fixated with the media panic surrounding the virus. What is most important is that you are vigilant with your hygiene habits – wash your hands often (especially after being out in public), cover your mouth when sneezing or coughing and reduce close-contact with others.
If you are showing signs and symptoms of coronavirus and need to speak to a doctor, request a consult now. The doctor will issue you with a COVID-19 swab test^ which you can email or print and present at your local pathology collection centre.
Note: prior to visiting the collection centre, you will need to call ahead and make an appointment, as not all collection centres are testing for coronavirus and an appointment must be made before presenting
^if deemed clinically suitable by the doctor