KUWAIT: In early 2020, a new kind of virus began generating headlines all over the world because of the unprecedented speed of its transmission. From its origins in a food market in Wuhan, China in December 2019 to countries as far-flung as the United States and the Philippines, the virus (officially named COVID-19) has infected tens of thousands, with a rising death toll now over 2,500.
What are the symptoms?
Doctors are learning new things about this virus every day. So far we know that COVID-19 may not initially cause any symptoms. You may carry the virus for 2 days or up to 2 weeks before you notice symptoms. Some common symptoms that have been specifically linked to the 2019 coronavirus include:
- feeling short of breath
- having a cough that gets more severe over time
- a low-grade fever that gradually increases in temperature
When to seek help
If you experience any of the symptoms above and have traveled to China or been exposed to someone in a country where COVID-19 has been detected in the past 14 days, or have been in close contact with someone with confirmed COVID-19 within the last 14 days, call your doctor right away.
What causes coronaviruses?
Coronaviruses are zoonotic. This means they first develop in animals before developing in humans. For the virus to pass from animal to humans, a person has to come into close contact with an animal that carries the infection. Once the virus develops in people, coronaviruses can be spread from person to person through respiratory droplets. This is a technical name for the wet stuff that moves through the air when you cough or sneeze.
The viral material hangs out in these droplets and can be breathed into the respiratory tract (your windpipe and lungs), where the virus can then lead to an infection. The 2019 coronavirus hasn’t been definitively linked to a specific animal. But researchers believe that the virus may have been passed from bats to another animal – either snakes or pangolins – and then transmitted to humans. This transmission likely occurred in the open food market in Wuhan, China.
Who’s at increased risk?
You’re at a high risk for developing this virus if you come into contact with someone who’s carrying it, especially if you’ve been exposed to their saliva or been near them when they’ve coughed or sneezed. Washing your hands and disinfecting surfaces can help decrease your risk for catching this or other viruses.
Older men seem to be especially susceptible to the virus. A report by the World Health Organization (WHO) found that the median age of people testing positive for this coronavirus was around 45 years, and that over two-thirds of those people were male.
What treatments are available?
There’s currently no treatment specifically approved for the 2019 coronavirus, and no cure for an infection, although treatments and vaccines are currently under study. Instead, treatment focuses on managing symptoms as the virus runs its course.
Seek immediate medical help if you think you have COVID-19. Your doctor will recommend treatment for any symptoms or complications that develop. Other coronaviruses like SARS and MERS do have vaccines and treatments. Some treatments for these similar viruses include:
antiviral or retroviral medications
breathing support like mechanical ventilation
steroids to reduce lung swelling
blood plasma transfusions
How to prevent coronaviruses
The best way to prevent the spread of this virus is to avoid or limit contact with people who are showing symptoms of the virus and have traveled to infected countries in the past 14 days. The next best thing you can do is practice good hygiene to prevent bacteria and viruses from spreading. Wash your hands frequently for at least 20 seconds at a time with warm water and soap.
Don’t touch your face, eyes, nose, or mouth when your hands are dirty.
Don’t go out if you’re feeling sick or have any cold or flu symptoms.
Cover your mouth with the inside of your elbow whenever you sneeze or cough. Throw away any tissues you use to blow your nose or sneeze right away.
Keep any objects you touch a lot clean. Use disinfectants on objects like phones, computers, utensils, dishware, and door handles.
Other types of coronaviruses
A coronavirus gets its name from the way it looks under a microscope.
The word corona means “crown,” and when examined closely, the round virus has a “crown” of proteins called peplomers jutting out from its center in every direction. These proteins help the virus identify whether it can infect its host. The condition known as severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) was also linked to a highly infectious coronavirus back in the early 2000s. The SARS virus has since been contained and found to be successfully treatable.
COVID-19 vs SARS
This isn’t the first time a coronavirus has made news – the deadly 2003 SARS outbreak was also caused by a coronavirus. As with the 2019 virus, the SARS virus was first found in animals before it spread to humans. The SARS virus is thought to have come from bats and then was transferred to another animal, and then to humans. Once transmitted to humans, the SARS virus began spreading quickly among people. What makes COVID-19 so newsworthy is that a treatment or cure hasn’t yet been developed to help prevent its rapid spread from person to person. SARS has been successfully contained and treated.
What’s the outlook?
First and foremost, don’t panic. You don’t need to wear a mask or be quarantined unless you’ve been diagnosed with this coronavirus. Following simple hygiene guidelines may help prevent you from developing this and other viruses. The 2019 coronavirus probably seems scary when you read the news about new deaths, quarantines, and travel bans.
But in context, the coronavirus is much less severe and widespread than more common and more threatening infectious conditions, like the flu. Stay calm and follow your doctor’s instructions if you’re diagnosed with a coronavirus infection so that you can recover and help prevent it from spreading.