Looking back, you can trace the origins of the mysterious and novel coronavirus or COVID-19 to December 2019. What began with a handful of mysterious illnesses within weeks, silently crept along flight routes, waterways, and motorways and soon spread to the entire nation. By March 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 a global pandemic, the first pandemic of the twenty-first century.
Today, more than a year after Covid-19 touched off the worst pandemic in over a century, there’s still much to learn about the disease that has killed thousands of people and is changing life as we know it. But there are some basics about COVID-19 and the novel coronavirus—SARS-CoV-2— that you should know.
What Is Coronavirus?
Coronaviruses are a group of viruses that can infect both animals and humans. In humans, it’s known to cause mild infections such as the common cold, respiratory infections and in some cases severe illnesses.
COVID-19, a type of disease caused by the new strain of coronavirus, was not identified in humans before 2019, and that’s why it is called novel coronavirus. It has links to Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) and severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), two other coronaviruses that have caused major outbreaks in recent years. But COVID-19 differs in infectiousness, severity, and symptoms.
While SARS and MERS were transmitted from animals, the exact origin of COVID-19 continues to remain unclear. However, there is confirmation of human-to-human transmission. Several other coronaviruses are circulating in animals that have not yet infected humans.
How Does The New Coronavirus (COVID-19) Spread?
With the exponential rise in the number of cases during the second wave, it’s pretty evident that the virus moves rapidly.
COVID-19 is known to enter the body through the eyes, nose, or mouth and travels to the mucous membrane and nasal passages where it attaches to cells there. It then begins to multiply and slowly make its way into the lung and other tissues.
Early evidence and further research suggest that COVID-19 spreads very easily from person to person. The greatest risk is physical or direct contact within 6 feet of a person with COVID-19. Infection primarily occurs through exposure to respiratory droplets when you are in close contact with someone who is infected. When a person with COVID-19 breathes, talks, sneezes, or coughs, they produce respiratory droplets of mucus and saliva. While some are visible, other droplets are invisible to the naked eye. If these droplets come in contact with another person’s mucous membranes like eyes, nose, mouth, they can get sick. Close contact also includes touching or shaking hands with an infected person.
Similarly, these droplets can also land on surfaces like doorknobs or tables and if someone touches these surfaces without washing or sanitizing their hands and touches their nose, mouth, or eyes, they have chances of contracting the virus. Depending on the surface, the virus can survive anywhere from a couple of hours to a couple of days. Although contraction from touch is not thought to be a common way that COVID-19 spreads. Scientists continue to study this possibility.
There’s also the probability of airborne transmission where droplets linger in the air through which the virus can reach the eyes, nose, or mouth of a susceptible person and can result in infection. This form of transmission can infect those further than 6 feet away or even after the infected person has left the space. You’re more vulnerable if the infected person is breathing heavily, like exercising or singing. The chances of airborne infection are higher in indoor settings with poor ventilation, as virus-carrying droplets wouldn’t circulate out in the same way they would outdoors. Available data reveals that close contact is a much more common way for the virus to spread compared to airborne transmission.
Incubation Period of COVID-19
An incubation period is a time between when you contract a virus and the onset of symptoms. Since COVID-19 is a newly identified ailment, a lot of information is acquired from observing patients. The general trajectory reveals that patients present symptoms anywhere between two to fourteen days after exposure to the virus. Five days appears to be the average incubation period.
Sometimes, infected patients might be asymptomatic, meaning despite having the virus in their system, they don’t show any symptoms. A report from WHO states that asymptomatic patients can transmit the disease, but the extent is yet to be determined.
What are the symptoms of COVID-19?
Although it hails from the same family as MERS and SARS, it’s thought to be more dangerous. Typically, it begins as a common cold, which makes it extremely difficult to detect. Often it misleads individuals into believing its self-recovering. Sometimes, infected individuals exhibit symptoms only after the infection settles in. The symptoms of COVID-19 extend from mild symptoms to acute. Watch out for these common known symptoms:
- Nasal congestion
- Runny nose
- Difficulty breathing
- Shortness of breath
- Sore throat
- Various aches and pains
- Vomiting or nausea
- Loss of smell and/or taste
This is not a definitive record of probable symptoms. The National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and other bodies continue to monitor and update the public on any new learnings.
COVID-19 can look different for different people. So, whether you have mild symptoms or more severe ones, the only way to truly determine if you have COVID-19 is through testing.
On the road to recovery, people have experienced heart issues, brain fog, and a string of other long-haul complications.
People at Increased Risk
Some people are more likely than others to become severely ill. Meaning, they need additional help like a ventilator, intensive care, hospitalization to help them recover. Largely this includes older adults, people with medical conditions, and pregnant women.
- Older adults are at the highest risk level as severe illness increases with age. A large percentage of COVID-19 related deaths are among people over the age of 65.
- Those individuals with medical conditions like cancer, chronic kidney disease, chronic lung diseases, diabetes (type 1 or type 2), heart conditions like hypertension, coronary artery disease, liver disease, weakened immune system, smokers (current or former), etc. can also increase your risk for severe illness.
- Outcomes like preterm birth are a possibility in pregnant people with COVID-19. There is not enough evidence to determine whether a mother can transmit the virus to her baby during pregnancy.
How To Prevent COVID-19?
There is an occurrence of mutations or variations and it’s normal for viruses like coronavirus. Sometimes mutations have a little effect, sometimes it’s fatal. This coupled with the limited information that’s present suggests that ‘prevention is better than cure’ holds significant value with COVID-19. You must do the following things to slow the spread of the virus and protect those who are most at risk.
- Everyone over the age of 2 must wear masks in public areas.
- Find a well-fitted mask that you must wear over your nose and mouth and secure it under your chin.
- Cough or sneeze into your mask. If you’re not wearing one, use an easily disposable tissue as compared to a handkerchief to cover your nose/mouth.
- Avoid close contact with anyone who has cold or flu-like symptoms.
- Follow the protocol of social distancing and maintain a distance of 6 feet (about 2 arm lengths), especially when you're outdoors around unknown individuals.
- Greet people with a namaste, rather than shaking hands or hugs.
- Avoid going out unnecessarily and stay at home as much as possible. Stay away from crowded, indoor, and poorly ventilated spaces.
- Wash your hands for a minimum of 20 seconds using soap and water, especially after you cough, sneeze, blow your nose, or when you return from a public place. Alternatively, you can use a sanitizer. The most effective should be made up of no less than 60% alcohol.
- Try not to touch your mouth, nose, or eyes without washing/sanitizing your hands.
- Clean and disinfect surfaces you touch frequently like sinks, faucets, keyboards, phones, desks, handles, countertops, switches, doorknobs, and tables.
- Monitor your health and watch out for common symptoms.
- If you do step out, go during off-peak hours and follow all the above precautions as well as keep items like sanitizers, tissues, masks, and other essentials handy to protect yourself and others around you.
Most importantly, stay calm and ignore rumors. If you suspect you have any symptoms, seek medical advice/care at the earliest.
You cannot control everything, but you can control what you do. Work as a team to keep yourselves, your family, and friends healthy.