What is the coronavirus (COVID-19)?
COVID-19 is an illness that is caused by a new type (strain) of coronavirus called ‘Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2’
- A coronavirus is a type of virus (a tiny germ)
- There are many different types of coronaviruses, and as a group are quite common worldwide
- Most types cause mild illness such as the common cold, whilst others like SARS-CoV-2 can infect the lower airway (for example the lungs) causing a more severe illness such as pneumonia (a chest infection)
The new SARS-CoV-2 was first identified in Wuhan City, China late December 2019, and was initially an epidemic. An epidemic is when there is a widespread occurrence of an infectious disease in a community.
March 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) officially declared it as a pandemic. A pandemic is when an infectious disease not only occurs in a community but over a very wide area, worldwide and affecting many people. By taking simple steps, we can all make a significant difference in helping to reduce the spread of the virus.
How do you get a COVID-19 infection?
The SARS-CoV-2 is highly contagious and spreads when infected particles from a person with COVID-19 get into the nose, throat, eyes, or lungs of another person. Spread can occur in the following ways:
- Through breathing in droplets from a person who has the infection
- This is the most common route
- Examples are when an infected person coughs or sneezes
- A single cough can produce up to 3,000 droplets
- Touching contaminated surfaces and then touching your face
It is not clear how long the virus can survive on different surfaces, but research suggests:
- Paper: 24 hours
- Plastics, steel, and worktops: 72 hours
It is estimated that the virus can stay active for three hours in airborne droplets. Once the virus is in the body it enters our cells and starts to multiply to cause an infection.
- Through breathing in droplets from a person who has the infection
When are you more likely to catch the virus?
You are more likely to get the virus from an infected person if:
- You spend a lot of time together (the same household)
- You have been close to them (within two metres)
- You have travelled together
If any of the above refer to you then you might be considered a close contact and could be contacted by the NHS Test and Trace Service.
The NHS Test and Trace Service:
- Advises and collects information from those who develop COVID-19 and their close contacts, to help reduce the spread of the virus
How long are you infectious?
- Infectious means that you can pass on an infection to someone else
- Once you have been infected you are usually most infectious:
- From 2 days before developing any symptoms
- Up to 10 days after your symptoms
- This is called ‘the infectious period’ and is the time you are most likely to spread the virus to other people
- Therefore, from the day you have symptoms you are asked to self-isolate for at least 10 days
- There is a delay when you are first infected before you start to show any symptoms
- The time it takes to develop symptoms from the day you are infected is called ‘the incubation period’
What are the signs and symptoms of COVID-19?
You may not have any signs or symptoms; this is called being asymptomatic. However, if you do get signs or symptoms, these 3 can suggest a COVID-19 infection:
- A continuous cough:
- New or worsening (if you have a chronic cough)
- Usually dry (in some cases, you may cough up phlegm)
- Continuous means you are coughing for more than an hour on three or more occasions within 24 hours. And/or
- Fever: a temperature of 37.8 °C, or above. And/or
- A change or loss in your sense of taste or smell
If you get any of the above symptoms the current advice states that you must self-isolate immediately for at least 10 days from the first day you have symptoms.
Other symptoms that you may also experience are:
- Shortness of breath
- Body aches
- Sore throat
- Diarrhoea and nausea 1-2 days before other symptoms (in up to 1 in 10 people)
COVID-19 illness may be categorised by the severity of symptoms as:
Symptoms are variable and may not appear in any particular order. You may have symptoms from more than one category or may move back and forth.
The following are only examples of how you may feel in each category (some may not apply to you):
- You may have a flu-like illness including a mild fever, tiredness, muscle aches and a headache
- You may lose your sense of smell or taste
- You may have a cough
- You may have mild (very slight) breathlessness for example only on exercise, but not at rest or walking up the stairs
- You can still exercise as normal but get tired
- You are still able to self-care including cooking, eating, and drinking
- You have a good appetite
- Your fever settles in a few days
- Your symptoms will likely last about 7-10 days
- Your temperature is more likely to be 37.8°C or more
- You may be breathless on exercise and walking up the stairs, but it is not worrying to you as you can still get around the house
- You are not breathless when eating, resting or in bed
- You may have a headache and diarrhoea
- You may feel tired and for a few days want to stay in bed but are still able to self-care including showering and moving about your home comfortably
- You continue your daily routine such as reading, or watching TV
- You can talk to others, without them thinking you are confused
- You can prepare your food and drink, although tired
- You can eat, though it is less than usual
- This occurs in 1 in 6 people with COVID-19
- You can do very little
- Your temperature is high
- You are very breathless and may feel you are having to work hard to breathe as if you are sprinting (but are not)
- You may be breathless when resting or in bed
- When speaking you may be unable to complete a sentence
- When you breathe, your chest, back or tummy hurts
- Your chest feels tight as if it is restricted and cannot expand properly
- Your appetite is reduced, and you are not eating or drinking normally
- You cannot continue your daily routine (e.g. reading or watching TV) either because you feel so unwell or you are having to focus so much on your breathing
- You appear confused to others
You may have some or all the following:
- Breathing that is fast and shallow
- A fast heartbeat
- Looking unwell
- A low blood pressure
What should you do if you have symptoms of COVID-19?
From the first day you get symptoms:
Self-Isolate immediately: by staying at home (unless you fall under any of the government exemption reasons e.g. on medical advice or emergencies etc) for at least 10 days and anyone else in your household for 14 days.
Order and take a free test:
- Request this online or phone using the government website, NHS app or call 119
- The test involves a throat and nose swab
- Testing is most effective if you do it within 3 days of your symptoms developing
- If your test is negative:
- You and your household can stop self-isolating (if you have not been advised to still self-isolate by NHS Test and Trace)
- If your test is positive:
- You will need to continue self-isolating to complete the remainder of your 10-days and anyone in your household must also complete the remainder of their 14 days
- You will be contacted via email or phone by the NHS Test and Trace service
- If anyone in your household develops either of the 3 typical COVID-19 symptoms during their 14-day self-isolation, they alone will need to re-start self-isolating for at least 10 days of their symptoms starting
Check your symptoms
Via the NHS 111 online COVID-19 website ‘symptom checker’ or phone 111 if you have no internet access (or the relevant official website/number for your region)
- They will be able to help determine what COVID-19 category your symptoms fit in to
- They will give the appropriate advice which could be:
- That you require further assessment or
- Hospital treatment or
- You have mild symptoms; how to manage them at home and when to seek further medical advice
What is the treatment for COVID-19?
Currently, there is no cure for COVID-19, however, there are treatments available to help reduce your symptoms.
Most cases of COVID-19 will improve on their own (80%) in about 10 days without any treatment. But the following measures can be used to help:
- Getting enough rest
- Keeping hydrated by drinking an adequate amount of fluids
- For pain relief and fever:
- Ibuprofen (short-term only) – may not be suitable e.g. if you have asthma or kidney problems
- For coughs or sore throats
- Throat lozenges
- A teaspoon of honey
- Avoid lying on your back (for coughs)
In mild infections:
- You will likely be advised to manage your symptoms at home and seek further medical advice if your symptoms do not resolve or worsen
In moderate infections (or those who are clinically vulnerable):
- You may be advised that you need further assessment to decide whether it is safe to manage your symptoms at home
In severe infections:
You will need to be admitted to hospital (likely via ambulance) and may receive the following treatments:
- Breathing support e.g. a ventilator
- Steroids such as Dexamethasone which helps to reduce inflammation
- Antivirals such as Remdesivir – which may help to reduce the growth of the virus
Reduce the spread of infection by:
- Self-isolating including from people in your household (especially those vulnerable)
- Wearing a face covering when spending time in shared areas inside your home
- Washing your hands regularly
- Disinfecting all surfaces that you have touched
- Currently being developed and are showing promising results and are likely to be available soon
You may end your current self-isolation if:
- You have completed the duration of your self-isolation (usually 10 days) and
- You are feeling better with no fever
If you still have a fever, you need to continue isolating until you are fever-free and feeling better.
You may still have a cough and a change/loss of taste or smell, but you do not have to continue self-isolating for these reasons.
When should you seek medical help?
You should seek medical advice without delay if:
- You are in a vulnerable group
- Your (or someone you live with) symptoms have not improved after seven days
- You have severe or moderate symptoms
- Your symptoms have worsened
For non-emergencies you should use the NHS 111 online COVID website or call 111 if you have no internet access (or the relevant official website/number for your region). If this is unavailable, you should call your GP.
In an emergency, call 999 and tell the call handler that you have coronavirus. Examples of emergencies include (but are not limited to):
- Chest pain
- Difficulty breathing e.g. too breathless to speak in full sentences or your breathing has become harder and faster, even when resting
When to contact a healthcare professional?
You should seek medical help if:
- Your symptoms do not ease within 3-4 days
- Your symptoms rapidly worsen
- You become very unwell
- Your symptoms do not resolve after 1 week
It is important for you to seek IMMEDIATE MEDICAL ATTENTION if you or your child experiences severe symptoms, as this could indicate a serious illness. Severe symptoms include (but are not limited to) the following:
- Difficulty in breathing (e.g. noisy breathing or muffled voice)
- Difficulty swallowing saliva (e.g. drooling)
- Unable to take in fluids
- Difficulty opening mouth
- Severe pain
- A persistent high temperature
If you are very unwell, you will need hospital treatment
How to reduce your risk of getting and spreading Covid-19?
- Washing your hands with soap and warm water for 20 seconds
- Using alcohol-based (at least 62%) hand sanitisers if you are unable to wash your hands
- Wearing a face covering as advised that covers your nose and mouth
- Covering your coughs and sneezes
- Maintaining social distancing by keeping a 2m distance from others not in your social bubble
- Self-isolating if you have symptoms or if you have been notified to
- Disinfecting surfaces
- Staying at home as much as advised
- Avoiding crowds, confined or poorly ventilated spaces
Young people and COVID-19
- Fortunately, it is rare for young people to become seriously ill with COVID-19
- However, in a very small number of children and teenagers a very rare condition called ‘Paediatric Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome’ (PIMS) has been seen
- Most people with this condition will not be seriously affected
- In rare cases it can be life-threatening
- It can present with a wide range of non-specific symptoms but may include:
- Fever (usually for more than 3 days)
- A rash
If you are concerned about this condition or are unsure about your child’s symptoms you should call the GP or 111 (or the relevant number for your region).
If your child has a temperature of 38⁰C or higher, cold hands and feet and is sleepy (but easy to wake up) you should call the GP or 111, or if they are unavailable go to your nearest A&E. In emergencies, you should call 999.
What are the complications associated with COVID-19?
- Blood clots
- Pregnancy related complications
- Kidney failure
- Heart problems
- Long-COVID: symptoms that persist after a COVID-19 infection e.g. extreme fatigue
COVID-19 can sometimes lead to:
- COVID-19 pneumonia
- Acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS):
- Occurs when the lungs become so inflamed and filled with fluid that they can stick shut and have difficultly expanding
- At this point a ventilator is helpful, as it can assist breathing
Complications are most likely to occur if you are:
- Examples include those 70 years or older, pregnant, or diabetic
- You will be at a moderate risk of a severe COVID-19 infection
- You should try to stay home as much as possible e.g. working from home if you can
Extremely clinically vulnerable
- Examples include those who have received solid organ transplants, are on dialysis or have cancers of the blood such as leukaemia
- You will be at a high risk of a severe COVID-19 infection
- You should stay at home as much as possible, shop online and work from home
A full up-to-date list of those who are clinically vulnerable can be found on the government’s official website. You can also speak to your GP or specialist if you have any concerns about your condition and risk of COVID-19.
Always remember, anyone who is seriously unwell needs to be treated quickly and call 999 in case of an emergency.