With the increase in confirmed cases of coronavirus contagion all over the planet, the World Health Organization has declared it a pandemic. This indicates that we are dealing with an outbreak of a disease that occurs over a wide geographic area and affects an exceptionally high proportion of the population.
Now more than ever, it is important to be informed about what is happening, to understand how to behave better and avoid excessive fears and alarms.
So let’s see all there is to know about the coronavirus, the number of cases in the UK and what measures to take to protect yourself from a possible infection according to the guidelines of the Ministry of Health.
When and where everything began?
A novel strain of coronavirus (temporarily named COVID-19 by the World Health Organization) was first detected in December 2019 in Wuhan, a city in China’s Hubei province with a population of 11 million, after an outbreak of pneumonia without an obvious cause.
What is coronavirus exactly?
COVID-19 belongs to a family of single-stranded RNA viruses known as coronaviridae, a common type of virus which affects mammals, birds and reptiles. Coronaviruses are indeed common in animals of all kinds, but the type of animal the virus originated from is not yet clear. This virus however, evolved quickly into a form that can infect humans. It commonly causes mild infections, similar to the common cold, and accounts for 10-30% of upper respiratory tract infections in adults. However, there are more serious cases day after day as coronaviruses can cause respiratory distress, enteric and neurological disease.
How does coronavirus spread?
The virus is thought to spread mainly from person-to-person. Similarly to other respiratory illnesses it spreads in close proximity to someone affected. To explain better: droplets of bodily fluids – such as saliva or mucus – from an infected person are dispersed in the air or on surfaces when they cough or sneeze. These droplets can come into direct contact with other people or can infect those who pick them up by touching infected surfaces and then their faces. According to scientists, coughs and sneezes can travel several feet and stay suspended in the air for up to 10 minutes. The incubation period of a coronavirus, which is the length of time before symptoms appear, is up to two weeks.
What are the symptoms?
Common symptoms include low-grade fever, body aches, coughing, nasal congestion, runny nose, and sore throat. However, COVID-19 can also cause more severe symptoms like high fever, severe cough, and shortness of breath, which often indicates pneumonia.
What coronavirus will do to your body?
As cases of coronavirus proliferate and governments take extraordinary measures to limit the spread, there is still a lot of confusion about what exactly the virus does to people’s bodies. Dr. Shu-Yuan Xiao, a professor of pathology at the University of Chicago School of Medicine has examined pathology reports on coronavirus patients in China. He said the virus appears to start in peripheral areas on both sides of the lung and then reach the upper respiratory tract, the trachea and other central airways. However, the infection can spread through the mucous membranes, from the nose down to the rectum. “The virus will actually land on organs like the heart, the kidney, the liver, and may cause some direct damage to those organs.”
What to do to avoid getting infected by coronavirus?
As suggested by the World Health Organization in this video, take care of your health and protect others by doing the following:
– wash your hands frequently with an alcohol-based hand rub or wash them with soap and water for at least 20 seconds (or the equivalent of singing Happy Birthday twice)
– maintain at least 1 metre (3 feet) distance between yourself and anyone who is coughing or sneezing
– avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth: your hands touch many surfaces and can pick up viruses, so once contaminated, hands can transfer the virus to your body and make you sick
– cover your nose and mouth by coughing and sneezing in your flexed elbow or in a tissue, and then dispose of it immediately
– avoid public (and crowded) spaces as much as possible: this measure is sometimes referred to as “social distancing”, and includes things like temporarily reducing socialising in public places such as entertainment or sports events, reducing use of non-essential public transport or working from home
– if you have a fever, cough and difficulty breathing, seek medical care early and call 111. Stay home, you might be contagious and a potential risk for other people around you
Is there a vaccine?
Not yet. There is no specific treatment for COVID-19. Although vaccines can be developed to treat viruses, none has currently been produced because of the novel nature of this infection. And the process to develop one may take months, if not years. Antibiotics do not help, as they do not work against viruses, so every existing treatment aims to relieve the symptoms while your body fights the illness.
How many cases of coronavirus are in there in the UK?
A total of 590 cases of the coronavirus have been confirmed in the UK (last updated Thursday 12th), and ten people have died. A total of 29,764 people in the country have been tested for the respiratory infection so far, and the government is now expected to move to the next stage of its phased plan to tackle the outbreak. Here’s the link to monitor daily updates.
Why did it spread far and fast?
The virus is moving rapidly around the world, and international travel is one of the main factors as to why it’s spread so quickly in multiple countries. Sick people have been infecting others through person-to-person transmission since the start of January. And now, the spread of coronavirus has prompted governments, public institutions and private actors to take severe measures to restrict people’s freedom of movement. Is this the end of globalisation as we know it?
How worried should you be?
One of the most common questions is: how worried should I be? Well, unfortunately that is a complicated question. But let’s break it down a little. It takes information about both how severe an illness is and how easily it can spread to determine how “bad” it can be. If an illness is not very lethal (and kills only a small percentage of people), but it is highly infectious, it can still have devastating effects. If a disease impacts millions of people, the small percentage it kills will still be a high number. Moreover, while the coronavirus contagion grows every day, much remains unknown. Many cases are thought to be mild or asymptomatic, for example, making it hard to gauge how far the virus has spread or how deadly it is. At the moment, most people in the UK probably see the disease as something that is particularly deadly. But this is wrong, because coronavirus is a deadly disease (here is the coronavirus mortality rate). Finally, because the virus spreads widely and quickly, it can overwhelm local health systems in a way that is uncontrollable, leading to a collapse of the system itself.