What is Coronavirus? What is COVID-19?
Coronaviruses are a large group of viruses that cause respiratory infections. Some coronaviruses can cause mild illnesses such as the common cold, others can cause serious diseases like SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome).
The particular coronavirus at the centre of our current health crisis is called COVID-19 (which is short for Coronavirus Disease 2019).
What are the symptoms?
Symptoms usually include fever, coughing, sore throat, fatigue and shortness of breath.
It generally takes between 2 and 10 days before those who are infected become sick and develop a fever, and the symptoms can range from mild to severe.
However, it is important to note that some people show no signs of illness despite being contagious.
How is COVID-19 spread?
It is transmitted through contact with droplets from the lungs of an infected person.
Those infected droplets can be contagious both in the air and on surfaces, which means you can breathe them in (for example, when you are near someone who sneezes) or they can be passed into your body by direct transfer (for example if you touch a doorknob with infected droplets on it, then scratch your eye with the same hand).
It’s not clear how long the droplets can remain contagious on surfaces but it is believed to be longer than influenza.
Who is at greatest risk?
People with the greatest risk of getting the virus are those who have been in contact with someone with a confirmed case of COVID-19; or someone who has been to a high risk area like mainland China or Italy.
Of those who contract the disease, those who are at most risk of serious infection are:
- Elderly people
- People with compromised immune systems or chronic illnesses
- Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander people
- People in group residential settings or detention facilities.
When should I get tested?
If you develop symptoms within 14 days of being in contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19, you should visit your GP.
You should also visit your GP if you develop symptoms within 14 days of returning to Australia from an overseas visit.
Your GP will assess your symptoms and tell you if you need to be tested.
How can I protect myself and my family?
There is currently no vaccine or specific treatment for COVID-19 and therefore preventing the spread of the virus is very important. Some prevention tips include:
- Regularly wash your hands with soap and water or a hand sanitiser with 70% alcohol.
- Avoid touching your eyes, mouth and nose, these are easy entry points for the virus.
- When out-and-about, limit contact (as much as practical) with well-handled surfaces like handrails and doorknobs.
- If you sneeze or cough, do so into the crook of your arm (elbow); or into a tissue and discard immediately, don’t use handkerchiefs.
- Maintain social distancing – stay about 1.5mt away from anyone who is coughing or sneezing.
- Avoid shaking hands: wave, nod or bow your greetings instead.
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces and items such as phones, keyboards, doorknobs.
- Stay home if you feel unwell.
What is self-isolation?
People who have been exposed to COVID-19 may be asked to self-isolate. Self-isolation is a precautionary measure to protect the people around you and prevent further spread of the virus. It limits opportunities for the virus to be passed from one person to another.
How do I self-isolate?
You should stay home and not go to public places like work, shopping centres or schools. Nor should you let visitors into your home or have direct contact with delivery personnel.
If you live in a shared space with people who haven’t been exposed to COVID-19, you should minimise close contact by staying about two meters apart and generally confining yourself as much as possible to a space of your own (ie your bedroom).
You should also avoid sharing a bed, towels, toothpaste, dishes, eating utensils etc; and should clean and disinfect surfaces in shared spaces like kitchens and bathrooms after use.
What is social distancing, how does it differ from self-isolation?
Social distancing is simply keeping away from people to reduce the risk of the virus being transmitted.
If you are not close contact with people, the chances of you breathing or transferring infected droplets into your body is reduced.
This is why you may be asked to work from home, or stay 1.5mt away from someone while sitting in a meeting – even though no-one shows signs of sickness.
I’m not a high risk, so why should I worry about social isolation?
Most people who contract COVID-19 will recover without complication, having experienced little more than some cold or flu like symptoms.
But if you get COVID-19 or have been exposed to it, you can pass it on to other people who may have a high risk of complication (they might be elderly or have a weak immune system or a respiratory disease), or who may in turn pass it on to someone else who does.
I hear kids can’t get COVID-19
That’s not quite true. Based on current evidence, children do not appear to have a greater risk of contracting COVID-19 than adults. While some children have been sick with COVID-19, adults make up most of the known cases so far.
How can I get rid of the COVID-19 virus?
On hands: Thorough washing with soap and water for at least 20 seconds is the best option. Otherwise use an alcohol-based hand sanitiser with at least 60% ethanol or 70% isopropanol.
On frequently touched surfaces: The general consensus based on evidence so far and its effectiveness against very similar viruses, is to use disinfectant or disinfectant wipes and leave the surface to air dry.
In water: COVID-19 has not been detected in drinking water and the usual filtration and disinfection methods used by most municipal drinking water systems, is believed to remove or inactivate the virus that causes COVID-19.
There is no evidence that COVID-19 can be spread to humans via pools or hot tubs. Proper operation, maintenance, and disinfection (chlorine and bromine) should remove or inactivate the virus that causes COVID-19.
Weather: Cold weather and snow do not kill COVID-19. This coronavirus can be transmitted in all climates including hot, humid, and cold.
Can my dog catch COVID-19?
According to the CDC, there is no evidence so far that pets can spread COVID-19. However, people who have COVID-19 are advised to limit contact with pets while in isolation and wear a facemask if they do interact with them, the same way they would with other household members.
While the pet may not contract COVID-19, there may be a risk they could transfer infected droplets to other people on the surface of their body, collar, lead etc.