COVID-19: What we do know

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 a coronavirus?

Coronaviruses – so named because of a 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: Nose or throat swabs, sputum. Serology (blood test) for SARS-CoV-2 is not yet available, but blood can be taken and stored for testing once a test becomes available.

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 a clinical trial of an investigational antiviral is underway in the US7 and a team at China’s Tianjin University is planning trials of its oral vaccine8

Fatality rates: To date 0.7% (but 2-4% in the COVID-19 epicentre, Wuhan)6

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 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 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 restrictions, entry or exit requirements and medical certificates required by some countries.

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 Feb 28, 2020)


COVID-19 ©Vasyl Faievych
COVID-19 ©Vasyl Faievych