It’s almost three months since the new coronavirus broke out in Wuhan city of Hubei province in China. A cure or a vaccine is not in sight. The staggering speed of infections has forced some countries into lockdown, while some have declared national emergencies.
Even today, not much is known of the virus. While the worry is understandable, the trepidation have given rise to some myths and misconceptions.
Here’s a compilation of facts from the World Health Organisation, and advisories from several countries and agencies.
What are the symptoms?
The virus infection can cause mild, flu-like symptoms such as: fever, cough, breathing difficulty, muscle pain, and fatigue or tiredness. In extreme cases, patients develop severe pneumonia, acute respiratory distress syndrome, sepsis and septic shock that can lead to death.
How does it spread?
The virus seems to be transmitted mainly through respiratory droplets that people sneeze, cough, or exhale. The virus can also survive for several hours on surfaces such as tables and door handles.
Evidence suggests that an infected person with no symptoms can pass on the disease. But more proof is required to confirm this.
On average, one infected person will infect between two and three more. The incubation period (time between exposure to the virus and onset of symptoms) is estimated at between two and 14 days.
How serious is the disease?
According to data released by the Chinese authorities, 80 per cent of cases are mild. In around 14 per cent of cases the virus causes severe disease, including pneumonia, and shortness of breath. In about five per cent of patients it is critical, leading to respiratory failure, septic shock and multiple organ failure.
How is COVID-19 diagnosed?
Infection is diagnosed by finding evidence of the virus in respiratory samples such as swabs from the back of the nose and throat or fluid from the lungs.
Who is at risk?
Elderly people and those with underlying health conditions (hypertension, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, chronic respiratory disease and cancer) are considered to be more at risk of developing severe symptoms.
Are children at risk?
Disease in children appears to be relatively rare and mild. In China only around 2 per cent of cases were under 18 years of age, according to a study. Less than 3 per cent of them became critically ill.
What about pregnant women?
Pregnant women’s risk of illness is the same as non-pregnant ones. And a COVID-19 infection will not have any effect on the foetus. There is also no evidence of virus transmission from mother to baby.
Is there a treatment?
Currently, there is no specific treatment for this disease. Patients are provided symptomatic treatment: fluids to reduce dehydration, medication to reduce a fever, and supplemental oxygen in severe cases. Health care providers try to keep the patients healthy and expect antibodies developed by the body to fight the virus. So patients recover on their own.
Can antibiotics help?
No, antibiotics do not work against viruses. It works only against bacteria.
Is there a vaccine?
No. At present, there’s no vaccine against COVID-19.
Vaccines against pneumonia and other flu vaccines do not provide protection against the new coronavirus. The virus is so different that it needs its own vaccine.
But vaccination against respiratory illnesses is highly recommended to protect your health.
What should I do if I have visited an infected area?
People who have been to hot spots of infections or travellers returning should monitor their health for 14 days. Self-quarantine is advised.
How long is the infection period?
It will vary from person to person. Mild symptoms in a healthy individual may resolve in a few days. For individuals with other health issues, recovery may take weeks and in severe cases it could be potentially fatal.
How long does the virus survive on surfaces?
It is not certain how long the virus survives on surfaces. Studies suggest that coronaviruses may persist on surfaces for a few hours or up to several days. This may vary under different conditions, depending on type of surface, temperature or humidity of the environment.
Can I catch the virus from a passer-by? Is it an airborne disease?
No. You can’t catch the new coronavirus through the air. The COVID-19 is not an airborne disease. The virus can remain suspended in the air for hours, but it cannot infect others under normal conditions.
The virus is typically transmitted through respiratory droplets. The coronavirus is physically larger and heavier than other known respiratory viruses. It can only travel about one to two metres before falling to the ground.
Lab tests have shown that aerosolised coronavirus particles (a fine mist or spray) can remain in the air for hours under certain conditions. But there’s no proof that it could infect others.
Should I wear as a mask?
Wearing lightweight disposable surgical masks is not recommended for persons without respiratory illness. Since they don’t fit tightly, tiny infected droplets may get into the nose, mouth or eyes.
People with a respiratory illness can wear these masks to lessen their chance of infecting others.
Professional, tight-fitting respirators (N95) can protect health care workers as they care for patients.
Home isolation: How do I do it?
You should stay in a separate room if you are sharing your home with others. Keep away from other people as much as possible. Wear a surgical mask when you are in the same room as another person. Use a separate bathroom, if it’s available.
Avoid contact with people who are at risk of severe disease, such as elderly people and those who have heart, lung or kidney conditions, and diabetes.
Keep out visitors.
What do I do after 14 days isolation?
If you do not have any symptoms at the end of 14 days self-isolation, you can resume your normal lifestyle.
Can eating garlic help prevent infection?
There is no evidence that eating garlic has protected people from the new coronavirus.
Can cold weather kill the virus?
Cold weather cannot kill the new coronavirus or other diseases since the normal human body temperature remains around 36.5°C to 37°C, irrespective of the external temperature.
Can mosquitoes spread the virus?
The new coronavirus cannot be transmitted through mosquito bites. It is a respiratory virus which spreads primarily through droplets generated when an infected person coughs or sneezes, or through droplets of saliva.
Are hand dryers effective in killing the new coronavirus?
No. Hand dryers are not effective in killing the virus. To protect yourself, clean your hands frequently with an alcohol-based hand sanitisers or wash them with soap and water.
Can spraying alcohol or chlorine on the body kill the virus?
No. Spraying alcohol or chlorine all over your body will not kill viruses that have already entered your body. Spraying such substances can be harmful to clothes or mucous membranes (i.e. eyes, mouth).
Can an ultraviolet disinfection lamp kill the coronavirus?
UV lamps should not be used to sterilise hands or other areas of skin as UV radiation can cause skin irritation.
Can thermal scanners detect infected people?
Thermal scanners can only detect people who have developed a fever due to the virus infection. But they cannot detect infected people who are yet to develop fever. It takes 2 to 10 days for infected people to develop a fever.
Will bleach, ascetic acid/vinegar or steroids help?
Gargling with bleach, taking acetic acid or steroids, or using essential oils, salt water, ethanol or other substances will not protect you from getting COVID-19. Some of them may even be dangerous.
Will a hot bath prevent COVID-19?
Taking a hot bath will not prevent you from catching COVID-19. Your normal body temperature remains around 36.5°C to 37°C, regardless of the temperature of your bath or shower.
How can I protect myself?
Good hygiene is very important. Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing; going to the bathroom; and before eating or preparing food. Or use alcohol-based hand sanitisers.
Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
Stay home when you are sick.
Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
Avoid close contact with anyone who is coughing and sneezing.
What is the risk of infection from food products imported from affected areas?
There has been no reports of transmission of COVID-19 through food.
Do pets and other animals pose a risk?
There is no evidence that pets (dogs and cats) pose a risk of infection. But it is always safe to practise hygiene when in contact with animals.
How long will this outbreak last?
It is impossible to predict how long the outbreak will continue, since it is a new virus. It is also not known whether the infection spread will decrease during summer, as is the case with seasonal flu.