The facts about COVID-19
At some point today you will have done at least one of the following:
- Listened to the radio
- Logged into social media
- Turned on the television
- Read the news
During one of these activities, it is almost guaranteed that you will have come across some kind of article, post, tweet, or news bulletin about Covid-19.
We’re all dreaming of the day when our Facebook news feeds are once again flooded with cat videos rather Covid-19 updates, however it is important to keep up to date with the latest information about the virus, to protect ourselves and others.
There is a vast amount of information available on the disease, which makes it difficult to find facts that are reliable and do not contain confusing medical jargon or dramatic embellishment.
This guide will provide an easy-to-understand overview of this virus and has been created with the most up to date information provided by the World Health Organisation and the NHS, so you can be rest assured that you will have the facts, the whole facts and nothing but the facts.
What is Covid-19?
Covid-19 (also referred to as the Coronavirus) is an infectious respiratory disease that is caused by a newly discovered virus.
A respiratory disease is any illness that affects the respiratory system, which include your lungs, wind pipe, and nasal passages.
Despite being referred to as the ‘Coronavirus’, Covid-19 is part of a large family known as Coronaviruses that include mild viruses such the common cold and more severe viruses such as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).
Why is it called Covid-19?
Diseases and the viruses that are responsible for them often have different names.
For example, AIDS is a disease that is caused by the virus known as HIV – AIDS is the disease and HIV is the virus responsible for it.
In this case the disease is called Covid-19 (also known as Coronavirus Disease), but the virus that causes it is actually called Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 (or SARS-CoV-2 for short).
So why is the disease called Covid-19?
It may seem like a random name, but if you break the name down, it is very logical:
CO – Stands for corona (as in coronavirus, not the beer)
VI – Stands for virus
D – Stands for disease
19 – The year that the virus was discovered - 2019
Put it all together and what does it spell?
A coronavirus that causes a disease and was discovered in 2019.
Quite clever, isn’t it?
What are the symptoms of Covid-19
The most common symptoms that have been identified are:
- Dry, persistent cough
Other, less common, symptoms that are thought to be caused by Covid-19 include:
- Aches and pains
- Nasal congestion
- Sore throat
- Loss of taste or smell
- Rash on skin
- Discolouration of fingers or toes.
These symptoms begin gradually, often taking up to 14 days to develop and are usually mild.
Around 80% of people infected with the disease recover from it without the need for hospital treatment.
It is estimated by the World Health Organisation (WHO) that around 1 in 5 people who become infected with the Coronavirus develop severe symptoms and have difficulty breathing.
Who is at risk from Coronavirus?
The short answer is everyone is at risk but most people are likely to make a full recovery.
Covid-19 infects people of all ages but those who are older or have underlying medical conditions have a higher risk of developing severe symptoms.
The NHS have outlined two levels of higher risk which are:
- Moderate risk (clinically vulnerable)
- High risk (clinically extremely vulnerable)
The criteria for both of these levels is not exhaustive yet and may change, as we learn more about how the virus works and how it affects different people.
Moderate Risk (Clinically Vulnerable)
People who are at moderate risk from severe symptoms caused by the coronavirus include those who:
- Are aged 70 or older
- Are pregnant
- Have a pre-existing, lung condition that is not severe (e.g. COPD, asthma, or bronchitis)
- Have heart disease
- Have diabetes
- Have chronic kidney disease
- Have liver disease
- Have a condition that affects the brain or nerves (e.g. Parkinson’s, motor neuron disease or cerebral palsy
- Have a condition that causes them to be vulnerable to infection
- Are taking medicine that can affect the immune system (e.g. small doses of steroids)
- Are very obese (a BMI of 40 or above)
If you are at moderate risk, it is important that you follow social distancing guidance and should only leave the house for essential reasons, such as going to work if you can’t work from home, food shopping or exercising.
High Risk (Clinically Extremely Vulnerable)
People at high risk from severe symptoms caused by Coronavirus include those who:
- Have had an organ transplant
- Are having chemotherapy or antibody treatment for cancer
- Are having an intense course of radiotherapy for lung cancer
- Are having targeted cancer treatments that can affect the immune system (e.g. protein kinase inhibitors or PARP inhibitors)
- Have cancer of the blood or bone marrow (e.g. leukaemia or lymphoma)
- Have had a bone marrow or stem cell transplant in the past 6 months or are still taking immunosuppressant medicines
- Have been informed by a doctor that they have a severe lung condition (e.g. severe asthma, cystic fibrosis or severe COPD)
- Have a condition that means they have a very high risk of contracting infections (e.g. SCID or sickle cell)
- Are taking medicines that cause them to be very vulnerable to infections (e.g. high doses of steroids)
- Have a serious heart condition and are pregnant
If any of the High Risk factors apply, you should have received a letter from the NHS confirming your level of risk and the precautions you should take.
You should not leave your home for any reason if you are at high risk from severe symptoms caused by coronavirus- this is known as shielding.
Can you have Covid-19 without symptoms?
It is thought that you can be infected with Covid-19 without any symptoms.
However, as we are still learning about how this virus works, we do not know this for certain and it is hoped that antibody testing will be available in the near future to identify how many people have had Covid-19 without symptoms.
This is why social distancing is incredibly important, as you may not know that you are infected with Covid-19 and therefore could spread the disease which could pose a threat to those who are more at risk.
What does Covid-19 do to the body?
Covid-19 is thought to spread through cough droplets which enter into the body either through accidental inhalation, if an infected person coughs near a healthy person or if you touch a contaminated surface and then touch your face.
Like other viruses, the way Covid-19 attacks the body is through invading our cells.
It infects the lining of your throat, airways and lungs, where the virus multiplies and can go on to infect more of your cells.
During this initial stage, you won’t feel any symptoms and some people may never develop symptoms at all, but they can still spread the disease.
The next stage is called the incubation period and this is when symptoms will usually start to appear.
A mild infection can cause fever and lethargy (tiredness), which is a result of your immune system responding to the virus.
The dry cough, that is associated with Covid-19, is thought to be caused by the irritation of infected cells.
Symptoms caused by mild cases of Covid-19, usually last for a week before the immune system has fought off the virus and the infected person feels well again.
It is possible for the immune system to overreact to the virus which can cause serious symptoms that will require hospital care.
Whilst your immune system tries to fight off the disease, it releases chemical signals to the rest of the body which causes inflammation.
However, this inflammation needs to be balanced, as too much inflammation can cause damage to your body.
There are little air sacs in your lungs that allow you to breathe.
The inflammation of the lungs (also known as pneumonia) caused by Covid-19, causes the air sacs to fill with water which can cause shortness or breath and make it hard to breath.
In some cases, the person will require a ventilator to help them breathe.
It is not yet known why Covid-19 can trigger an overreaction from the immune system, but research is being conducted to discover how this occurs.
This is our understanding of the disease at the moment, but studies are still being conducted to fully discover the effects of Covid-19 on our bodies.
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