What is the Coronavirus (COVID-19) and How Does it Affect You?
As COVID-19 makes its way around the world, information and misinformation about the disease are also spreading rapidly.
To help you sift the good from the bad, the following is an overview of COVID-19 provided by the care experts at 24 Hour Home Care. Our caregivers are well versed in the latest information about COVID-19 and are here to help you get the care you need.
What Is COVID-19?
COVID-19 is a member of the coronavirus family. Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that cause illness in animals and humans. They get their name from the crown-like projections on the surface of the virus itself. These viruses are zoonotic, meaning they can be transmitted from animal to human. Mutations in the animal virus allow it to evolve into a virus that can make people sick. Currently, there are seven coronaviruses known to infect people and a number of other identified coronaviruses that, thus far, have only been seen in animals.
Four of the seven human coronaviruses are seen regularly around the world. You’ve likely never heard of them and they don’t have catchy names; coronaviruses 229E, NL63, OC43, and HKU1 are as common as the common cold. The remaining three human coronaviruses have made the news; MERS, SARS CoV, and SARS CoV -2, also known as COVID-19. MERS, Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, was transmitted from bats to civet cats to humans and SARS (Sudden Acute Respiratory Syndrome) CoV made the jump to people from dromedary camels infected by bats. In December 2019, SARS CoV-2—COVID-19—was first identified in humans in Wuhan, China. You might occasionally see COVID-19 called a “novel” coronavirus; this simply means that this virus strain is new and has never been seen before in humans. The exact animal of origin has not yet been identified, but bats are certainly at the top of the list of suspects.
SARS, MERS, and COVID-19 are all infectious respiratory diseases. COVID-19 is more contagious and more easily spread that MERS or SARS, but it’s also much less lethal. This explains why the recent outbreak of COVID-19 quickly became a pandemic, while prior outbreaks of MERS and SARS were much more easily contained.
Who Gets COVID-19?
The quick answer is everyone; COVID-19 is easily shared by others. It spreads from person to person via small droplets coughed or exhaled from the nose or mouth. These droplets may be directly breathed in by other individuals or they might land on nearby objects and surfaces. Touching contaminated objects or surfaces and then touching the eyes, nose, or mouth may also introduce the virus into the body. How long the virus can survive on a given surface is unknown. In the early stages of the disease when symptoms are typically very mild, it’s still possible to spread the disease to others. Since the virus is new, no one is immune, and no one has been vaccinated.
What are My Risks?
Our understanding of COVID-19 is changing on a daily, almost hourly basis, as are the circumstances of the pandemic. To answer questions about risk, it’s most effective to look at two types of risk: risk of exposure and risk of serious illness.
Risk of Exposure
For most Americans, the immediate risk of exposure is low, but will increase as the outbreak expands. As more and more cases of COVID-19 occur, community spread becomes greater. If you live in a community where the virus is actively spreading, your risk of exposure is growing. If you have traveled to or from these communities in the US or anywhere in the world, you have an elevated risk of exposure. Additionally, if you are in close contact with a COVID-19 patient, either in your family or friend circle or if you are a healthcare worker caring for COVID-19 patients, your exposure risk is elevated.
Risk of Serious Illness
Again, our understanding of COVID-19 is in the early stages. For most patients, COVID-19 is a mild to moderate cold-like illness that resolves on its own without incident. However, data from around the world suggests that certain groups are at a high risk for developing serious complications including pneumonia from COVID-19. These high-risk groups include the following:
- Older adults; risk increases with age
- Pregnant women
- HIV or other immunocompromised patients
- Any patients with existing chronic medical conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, or lung disease
What are the Symptoms?
COVID-19 is a respiratory illness. Its three main symptoms are mild to severe fever, dry cough, and shortness of breath. These symptoms can appear anywhere from 2-14 days following exposure. There’s no certain way besides a test to 100% accurately distinguish between COVID-19 and allergies, colds, or flu, but there are a few distinctions that can help. First, fever is a hallmark of COVID-19. If your runny nose, itchy eyes, and cough are not accompanied by a fever, you’re likely experiencing allergies or a cold. Additionally, runny noses and drainage are not usually signs of COVID-19. If you have a mild fever and lots of gunk in your nose and throat, chances are that you’re in the middle of a cold or the flu, especially if you’re at a low risk for exposure. If you’re experiencing any symptoms and your risk of exposure to COVID-19 is high, stay home and contact your healthcare provider.
What are the Treatment Options?
If you’ve ever been sick with a virus, you know that treatment options are limited and that holds true for COVID-19 as well. COVID-19 is not caused by a bacteria so it will not respond to an antibiotic. Treatment includes remedies designed to ameliorate symptoms. Serious illness occurs when infection sets in; these secondary, serious infections can be treated with antibiotics and other medications.
You’re Not Alone
Right now, you likely do not know anyone with the disease, but as the pandemic spreads, your personal contact with COVID-19 will increase. Follow the guidelines provided by the government and the CDC to isolate yourself and your family to avoid exposure. Call your physician if you are at risk and begin to show symptoms. If you or a loved one contract COVID-19, the caregivers at 24 Hour Home Care are here to help. Most importantly of all, arm yourself with good information and do what you can to stay healthy.