With so many facts and figures on COVID-19 and SARS-CoV-2 published each day, the dedicated Travelvax webpage comprises a list of regularly updated journal articles and news extracts which will assist in providing readers with a broad view and better understanding of this global pandemic.
Every morning we wake to new information, data and articles on the novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2 and the illness it causes, COVID-19. This makes it difficult to keep track of what we do now know – and there is still plenty that we don’t unfortunately – and how it could impact us.
What is Coronavirus?
Coronaviruses – so named because of a spiky, halo-like surround – are a large family of viruses that are found in mammals and birds. They cause different diseases depending on the species; in humans they more commonly cause a mild upper respiratory infection, like the common cold, which passes in a few days. During the illness the virus is present in nasal secretions1.
Colds can also be caused by other viruses – rhinovirus is probably the most common – and typically they present as periodic outbreaks in communities during the colder months. Unlike rhinovirus however, immunity to a coronavirus cold is not long-lasting and people can have more than one infection in a season1.
How is this one different?
While human coronaviruses usually cause a mild, cold-like illness, when an animal or avian coronavirus adapts and is able to infect humans (zoonotic transmission), the outcome has the potential to be much more serious. We saw this with two earlier, extensive outbreaks of coronavirus infections of animal origin – SARS2 (in 2002-3) and MERS3 (from 2012 and continuing). The coronavirus responsible for COVID-19 is known as SARS-CoV-2, or severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2, as it has some genetic links to the SARS-CoV (which is thought to have originated from bats, with civet cats as the intermediary; dromedary camels are the primary source of MERS-CoV, or Middle East Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus)2.
More on COVID-19
Back to what we do know…
The name COVID-19: Coronavirus disease and the year of outbreak, 2019
Transmission: Through close contact with an infectious person or with their secretions - directly by inhalation of droplets from their cough or sneeze or on objects they coughed or sneezed on and then touching your face – eyes, mouth, nose4
Incubation period: Appears to range from 2 to 14 days
Period of infectiousness: Presumed to be from 24 hours before onset of symptoms until 24 hours after symptoms subside
Symptoms: Can include fever, chills, cough, sore throat, fatigue and shortness of breath
Tests to confirm infection: A range of rapid blood tests that check for current or past infection are currently available and are undergoing validation to prove their effectiveness in diagnosing acute COVID-19 infection or recovery from the disease (Caveat: the implication that recovery confers a degree of immunity to SARS-CoV-2 infection is not fully understood). The rapid blood tests and laboratory-based serology tests (being developed at present) measure antibody response to the virus (which takes days to weeks to occur) so may not show a positive result in the early stages of infection. Therefore, serology testing for diagnosis of acute COVID-19 infection should be performed in tandem with swabs taken from nasal and throat secretions.
COVID-19: A mild respiratory illness which can progress to pneumonia, respiratory failure, septic shock and multiple organ failure. A study5 carried out in China on the medical records of more than 70,000 people with confirmed or suspected COVID-19 found that just over 80% of infections were mild (80.9%).
Duration of illness: Mild illness around 2 weeks, severe or critical illness from 3 to 6 weeks6.
Risk factors for severe disease: Older age (>80 years) and those with chronic illness (cardiovascular disease, diabetes, chronic respiratory disease, hypertension, and cancer)5.
Treatment: Supportive only, managing symptoms. Currently clinical trials of a range of treatments are underway7 and several vaccines are in development8.
Fatality rates: As of late Feb, 2020 it was 0.7% (but 2-4% during the peak of COVID-19 in Wuhan)6 however the true rates will take some time to understand.
Prevention of infection: Stay abreast of the current situation (Australian Dept. of Health daily updates9) and, as advised by the WHO: Wash your hands frequently; maintain social distancing from anyone coughing or sneezing; avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth; practice respiratory hygiene; and seek medical advice if you have any symptoms10.
What to do if you have developed symptoms: healthdirect has an online Coronavirus (COVID-19) Symptom Checker which is available 24 hours a day. Of course, if you have serious symptoms such as difficulty breathing, call 000 for urgent medical help.
What to do if you think you are infected with COVID-19: Guidance from Aust. Dept. of Health11 includes: Self-isolate at home or in a healthcare setting – do not go out into public areas, practice strict personal hygiene measures and wash hands frequently with soap and water, cough or sneeze into your elbow, avoid close interactions with family members at home (don’t cook or perform personal care duties for them), wear a mask and contact (don't visit) your doctor.
Travel: Heading overseas? Check the Dept. of Foreign Affairs and Trade Smartraveller website and subscribe to updates12. The site has information on travel bans and restrictions, entry or exit requirements and medical certificates required.
Lastly, not all the information you’ll find on the internet will be accurate. The World Health Organization’s (WHO) Mythbusters site provides some common sense answers to questions such as: Will a hand dryer kill the virus (no), is it safe to get a package from China (yes), and can spraying alcohol or chlorine all over your body kill the new coronavirus (no, not if the virus has entered your body, but alcohol and chlorine can be used to wipe down surfaces contaminated by the virus). Best to go to reliable sources such as our federal and state/territory health departments, the Aust. government’s Coronavirus Health Information Line, the US CDC and of course, the WHO.
(This information is current as of May 5, 2020)
Of primary importance is to get your information and advice from trusted sources
The World Health Organization highlights the importance of traveller’s awareness in preventing the transmission of COVID-19.
The Australian Department of Health has issued a number of resources which includes ‘Coronavirus (COVID-19) advice for travellers -
When you travel internationally, biosecurity measures at the airport and in-flight will apply to you. Travel restrictions and other arrangements also apply to people travelling overseas, returning to or visiting Australia.’
- Biosecurity measures
- Travelling overseas
- Citizens and permanent residents returning to Australia
- Foreign nationals entering Australia
- Stay informed
Smartraveller provides Australians with the latest information and advice for safe travel overseas. As such it is the go-to source for all guidance on travel and the advice proffered should be heeded. We also recommend that you subscribe to their updates –
On 24 March the Prime Minister announced a ban on all overseas travel, with few exceptions.This is on top of our standing advice from 18 March to not travel overseas at this time. While there are still commercial options available to return to Australia, take them.
From the Australian Department of Health, a collection of resources for the general public and industry about coronavirus:
Helping to stop the spread of coronavirus is something that we can all do. Watch this video for practical tips.
Identifying the symptoms - explains the different symptoms you may experience if you have coronavirus (COVID-19), a cold, or the flu.
- frequently asked questions
- what you need to know - what it is, how it spreads, who is most at risk, and what you can do to help stop it spreading
- information on the use of surgical masks
- information for hotel guests
- information for close contacts of a confirmed case
- information on social distancing
- isolation guidance
- information about home isolation when unwell (suspected or confirmed cases)
- information about returning to your community
Nine coronavirus myths busted by experts
In the section, COVID-19 and travel, we stressed that getting your information from trusted sources is paramount. In this article, ‘Four public health and infectious disease experts were called upon to answer common myths surrounding the coronavirus. Read more
Experts answer coronavirus/COVID-19 questions
Youtube presentation produced by The Conversation in which questions on COVID-19 and the SARS-CoV-2 virus are answered by experts Dr Lisa Sedger, a lecturer in Virology, Immunology and Flow Cytometry at the UTS Faculty of Science, and Professor Michael Wallach, Associate Head of School (Strategic Development) at the university's School of Life Sciences.
WHO: Similarities and differences – COVID-19 and influenza Q&A
Both viral infections which cause fever and respiratory symptoms, but what about transmission and other important differences? The WHO published answers to the questions –
- How are COVID-19 and influenza viruses similar?
- How are COVID-19 and influenza viruses different?
- What medical interventions are available for COVID-19 and influenza viruses? Read more
WHO: Q&A on COVID-19, pregnancy, childbirth and breastfeeding Read more
WHO: Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) advice for the public: Healthy Parenting Read more
WHO: Q&A on COVID-19 for older people Read more
'Why the Coronavirus has been so successful' discusses why 'this seventh coronavirus [was] the one to go pandemic' - the other six infecting humans, consisting of SARS, MERS and four more which 'have been gently annoying humans for more than a century, causing a third of common colds'. Read more
Coronavirus on different surfaces: How long does the coronavirus survive on different surfaces. Scientists looked at the "aerosol and surface stability of SARS-CoV-2 and compared it with SARS-CoV-1, the most closely related human coronavirus". Read more
Pandemic could worsen loneliness in vulnerable populations
At a time of social distancing thoughts must be with those who must remain isolated due to their vulnerability. A Vox article points out that: ‘The more the young and healthy are careful in their daily activities, the safer it will be for them to see more vulnerable friends and family members. The less careful we are, however, the more we will stay away from older, sicker relations out of caution, worsening their isolation.’ Walks in green space and video calls are just two ways of maintaining that important contact.
A video to help explain COVID-19 to children
NCIRS: COVID-19 in schools – the experience in NSW
WHO: Mental Health and Psychosocial Considerations During COVID-19 Outbreak Read more
US CDC recommendations for home isolation with pets