The coronavirus (Covid-19) has spread rapidly around the world since its appearance earlier this year. More than 794,000 people are infected and more than 43,000 deaths have been recorded worldwide.
Most of the new cases recorded every day are now outside of China and the virus is now present in almost every country in the world.
There are now 29,474 confirmed cases in the UK, although many more are believed to be infected and 2,352 patients have died. Over 152,000 people have been tested in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Experts have warned for years that the world is awaiting a major epidemic, but there is much to do to protect themselves and others.
This handy guide is designed to keep you safe and will be updated daily. It draws on the advice of leading experts from the NHS and beyond.
What is a coronavirus?
Coronaviruses are a family of viruses that cause disease in animals. Seven, including the new virus, have made the leap in humans, but most simply cause common cold-like symptoms.
Only two other coronaviruses – Middle East respiratory syndrome (Mers) and Severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) – have been fatal but have not spread to the same scale as Covid-19. They have killed more than 1,500 people between them since 2002.
So far, about 15-20% of Covid-19 cases have been classified as “serious” and the current death rate varies between 0.7% and 3.4% depending on location and, most importantly, access good hospital care.
Scientists in China believe that Covid-19 has mutated into two strains, one more aggressive than the other, which could make the development of a vaccine more complicated.
What are the mild symptoms of coronavirus?
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the main symptoms of coronavirus generally include:
- Dry cough
- A temperature
- Fatigue / lethargy
- Shortness of breath (in more severe cases)
Some patients may have “aches and pains, nasal congestion, a runny nose, a sore throat or diarrhea,” adds the WHO. “These symptoms are generally mild and start gradually. Some people become infected but do not develop any symptoms and do not feel bad. ”
The table below identifies some of the most commonly reported symptoms.
Learn more: what it’s like to have mild symptoms of coronavirus
Medical specialists say they have been “inundated” with a wave of patients reporting the sudden loss – usually within 24 hours – of their sense of smell and taste.
How long do the symptoms of coronavirus last?
As with many facts about the coronavirus, there is much uncertainty about it. A detailed medical report from a waitress on the cruise ship Diamond Princess – a hotspot of the disease – showed that she had symptoms for 10 days. And a study of nine German patients with mild forms of the disease found that they had symptoms for eight to 11 days.
However, anecdotal reports on social media show that people may experience extreme fatigue for several days after the more obvious symptoms such as cough and fever disappear.
People with more severe forms of the disease will take longer to recover – a study of 138 hospital patients in China found that some patients were hospitalized for up to two weeks, although the average length of stay was 10 days.
What is the incubation period?
Symptoms are thought to appear between two and 10 days after getting the virus, but this can last up to 24 days.
Most people (about 80%) recover from the disease without needing special treatment. However, about one in six (16%) fall seriously ill and have trouble breathing.
Seniors and those with underlying medical conditions such as high blood pressure, heart problems, lung problems or diabetes are more likely to develop serious illness.
When should I see a doctor?
If you have difficulty breathing – for example, if you breathe hard and quickly, you should see a doctor. But don’t go to a general practitioner – call NHS 111. The NHS 111 website has a symptom checker and specific advice on what to do if you’re having trouble breathing.
If you have a fever and cough – the main early symptoms of coronavirus – the government now advises you to isolate yourself for seven days. However, if you live with other people, you and the people you live with will have to isolate yourself for 14 days. This will help protect others.
If you live alone, ask neighbors, friends and family to help you get what you need.
You don’t need to call NHS 111 to isolate yourself. But if your symptoms worsen during home confinement or do not improve after seven days, contact NHS 111 online. If you do not have access to the Internet, you must call NHS 111.
For a medical emergency, dial 999.
How to self-isolate if you think you might have a coronavirus
If you think you have the virus, try to isolate yourself or quarantine yourself.
This means that you must:
- Stay at home
- Do not go to work and other public places
- Do not use public transport and taxis
- Bring your friends and family to deliver food, medicine, etc. rather than going to the stores
How does coronavirus spread and how can I protect myself?
The most important advice is to stay at home and continue to wash your hands.
Like cold and flu viruses, the new virus is spread by droplets when a person coughs or sneezes. The droplets move up to three meters, landing on surfaces which are then touched by others and spread further.
People get the virus when their infected hands touch the mouth, nose or eyes.
It follows that the most important thing you can do to protect yourself is to keep your hands clean by washing them frequently with soap and water or hand sanitizer.
Also try to avoid touching your mouth, nose or eyes with unwashed hands – something we all do subconsciously on average about 15 times an hour.
- Always have a hand sanitizer with you to facilitate frequent hand cleaning
- Always wash your hands before eating or touching your face
- Be especially careful when you touch things, then touch your face
- Sneeze or cough in the crook of your elbow to prevent your hands from being contaminated
- Take disposable handkerchiefs with you, cover your nose and mouth when you cough or sneeze and carefully dispose of the handkerchief (grab it, throw it out, kill it)
- If you have to go to work, remember the rules of social distancing and stay away from people
- Wash your hands when entering after your exit
- Regularly clean not only your hands but also commonly used surfaces and devices that you touch or handle
Was it only droplets from the nose and mouth that spread the new virus?
Probably not, but they are by far the most common risk.
The NHS and WHO are warning doctors that the virus is also likely to be found in other body fluids, including blood, feces and urine.
Again, hand and surface hygiene is key.
How can I protect my family, especially children?
Children are a major vector for spreading droplet viruses because they interact so physically with each other and are not the best at keeping themselves clean.
The virus seems to affect older people more often, but children can be infected and they can contract a serious illness, the government warns.
However, you can significantly reduce the risk that children have of spreading or catching viruses by:
The government advises people to stay at home and practice social distancing. Stay at least three meters from other people.
Do not go to work unless it is essential.
Learn more: what lock plans mean to you
What about facial masks – do they work?
Paper face masks are not recommended by Public Health England, the NHS, or other major health authorities for ordinary people, and for good reason.
They are ill-suited and the protection they might initially provide expires soon. Worse, they quickly get wet inside, providing an ideal environment for germs to develop. They also become a danger to others if they are thrown carelessly.
An exception to this rule would be if you had symptoms such as coughing or sneezing – then a mask can prevent you from spreading the virus to other people in busy places.
Learn more about facial masks here.
Are certain groups of people more at risk than others?
Data from China suggests that people of all ages are at risk of contracting the virus, although the elderly are more likely to develop serious illness.
People with a reduced chance of surviving pneumonia include:
Of the first 425 confirmed deaths in mainland China, 80% were in people over the age of 60 and 75% suffered from some form of underlying disease.
However, young people are not “invincible” as warned by the WHO and they must follow official advice.
Is there a vaccine against the coronavirus?
There is currently no vaccine, but scientists around the world are rushing to produce one thanks to China’s rapid sharing of the virus’s genetic code.
However, no potential vaccine will be available for a year and will likely be given to the health workers most at risk of getting the virus first. In addition, researchers in China believe the virus may have mutated into two strains, one of which is very aggressive, making it more difficult to find a vaccine.
So far, it is about containment and an increase in hospital capacity to treat patients. The British government’s conornavirus action plan aims to delay and flatten the epidemic curve of the disease to prevent the NHS from being overwhelmed as happened in Wuhan.
The ability to treat patients in need of hospital care is already becoming a major challenge for the NHS – this is what has caused the government to lock in. Do your part to help slow the epidemic by following the tips above.
What is the difference between a coronavirus and an influenza virus?
Coronaviruses and flu viruses can cause similar symptoms, but genetically they are very different. Coronaviruses start in animals, so humans have no natural immunity.
“Flu viruses incubate very quickly – you tend to have symptoms two to three days after being infected, but coronaviruses take much longer,” says Professor Neil Ferguson, epidemic scientist at Imperial College from London.
” [With the] flu virus, you become immune, but there are many different viruses out there. Coronaviruses don’t evolve in the same way as flu, with many different strains, but neither does our body generate very good immunity. ”
What is a hantavirus?
A man in China died of a hantavirus in March – a disease transmitted by rats and other rodents. There are different types of hantavirus depending on where you live in the world and the latest data from the European Centers for Disease Control shows that there were around 4000 cases in Europe in 2017, with a death rate of around 0.5%.
The disease spreads through the urine, feces or saliva of infected rodents and does not spread from person to person. Agricultural and forestry workers are most at risk and 70% of cases in Europe in 2017 occurred in Germany and France.