Written by Galina Misheva, edited by Lindsay Martin, photo by Unsplash.
It’s important to know that this novel virus is not actually new. Coronavirus is the term used by the medical community to define a group of related viruses that cause illness in animals and humans. Several coronaviruses are known to affect humans by causing respiratory infections, but they vary significantly in terms of risk factors, contagion and mortality rates.
The global medical community has identified seven different strains of coronavirus. Four of those seven enter the body and produce symptoms such as fever and sore throat, that resemble the common cold. When it comes to the remaining three strains, the situation gets slightly more complicated. They can induce severe symptoms with varying degrees of mortality rates. These are the strains that have also been classified as outbreaks.
Think of the 2002-2004 SARS outbreak, first identified in China in 2002. It infected over 8000 people from 29 different countries, and at least 774 people died worldwide. In September 2012, another strain called MERS-CoV (Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome), was discovered. It created a global panic due to its high mortality rate, which was higher than other coronaviruses. Around 34.3% of those infected died as a result. In December 2019, a novel coronavirus causing an outbreak of pneumonia, was discovered in Wuhan, China. COVID-19 was declared a global pandemic by the World Health Organisation on 11th March 2020.
According to the WHO, COVID-19 manifests different symptoms in infected individuals. A lot is still unknown – but research on epidemiology, symptoms, and prevention is underway in almost all affected countries. Most people infected with COVID-19 will experience mild to moderate symptoms of respiratory illness and may not require special treatment. However, with age and underlying medical conditions, the statistics seem to change. People with cardiovascular disease, diabetes, chronic respiratory issues, and cancer are more likely to develop complications. There appears to be a correlation between mortality rate and age. Importantly, some people may never develop symptoms, but will still spread the disease.
Common symptoms associated with COVID-19:
- dry cough
Other symptoms include:
- shortness of breath
- aches and pains
- sore throat
- very few people report diarrhea, nausea, or a runny nose.
According to WHO, around 80% of people do not develop complications and recover within 2 weeks without medical treatment. On average, one out of six people will experience complications. Some people, however, become quite ill and will develop difficulty breathing. People with fever, cough, and difficulty breathing need to seek medical attention.
If COVID-19 is so contagious, how can we protect ourselves? Knowledge is key to preventing the spread of COVID-19.
How does COVID-19 spread?
The disease can spread from person to person through droplets from the nose or mouth, which are spread when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or exhales. This is why the WHO suggests people maintain a distance of at least one meter – and the further away you are, the better. The contagious droplets land on objects and surfaces. If a healthy person touches those same surfaces, and then their eyes, nose or mouth, then they can become infected too.
As the COVID-19 outbreak started spreading throughout China, many health professionals and governments underestimated the novel virus, comparing it to the flu. According to WHO, while the range of symptoms for the two viruses is similar, the fraction with severe disease appears to be different. Data to date suggest that 80% of infections are mild or asymptomatic, 15% are severe (requiring oxygen), and 5% are critical infections, requiring ventilation. These fractions of severe infection would be higher than what is observed for influenza infection.
As far as disinformation goes, there are many myths about COVID-19. Check out Georgi Hristov’s excellent article on Open Sofia, which busts a lot of myths around the disease. And remember, health authorities say that washing your hands regularly and keeping a good level of hygiene is the best prevention. For more tips on how to prevent catching COVID-19, check out this article on Open Sofia.