Coronavirus – what we need to know to protect ourselves and those around us
13. March 2020.
Source: World Health Organization

Coronaviruses (CoV) are a large family of viruses which may cause many illnesses, ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV). The current coronavirus (COVID-19) is a new form, previously not found in humans.

COVID-19 is an infectious disease which was first reported on 31 December 2019 in the city of Wuhan in China. According to the data of the World Health Organization, the mortality rate is 3.4 percent.

The most common symptoms of COVID-19 are fever, tiredness, and dry cough, while some patients may have aches and pains, nasal congestion, runny nose, sore throat and diarrhoea. These symptoms are usually mild and begin gradually. Most people (about 80%) recover from the disease without needing special treatment. However, according to the current statistics, around 1 out of every 6 infected people develops severe symptoms and serious respiratory difficulties. Older people, and those with underlying medical problems like high blood pressure, heart problems or diabetes, are more likely to develop serious illness. All of those who get fever, cough and difficulty breathing should seek medical attention.

How does COVID-19 spread?
A person who has the virus COVID-19 can spread the disease to others by droplets from the mouth or nose while sneezing, coughing or exhaling. These droplets land on objects and surfaces around the infected person, and the virus spreads when healthy persons touch the infected objects or surfaces, and then touch their eyes, nose or mouth. In addition to that, the virus also spreads when healthy people breathe in droplets from a person with COVID-19 who coughs out or exhales droplets. This is why it is important to stay more than 1 metre away from a person who is sick.

The incubation period for COVID-19 ranges from 1-14 days, most commonly around 5 days. When it comes to the survival of the virus on surfaces, it is estimated that it may persist on surfaces for a few hours or up to several days. Therefore, it is necessary to thoroughly disinfect the area in which the infected person spent time, and regularly wash your hands to prevent spreading of the virus.

Illness due to COVID-19 infection is generally mild, especially for children and young adults. However, the virus can also cause serious illness.
Because of that, it is important to protect ourselves, our loved ones and our communities. First and foremost among these actions is regular and thorough hand-washing and good respiratory hygiene. Secondly, keep informed and follow the advice of the local health authorities including any restrictions put in place on travel, movement and gatherings.

Who is at the greatest risk of developing severe illness?
While we are still learning about how COVID-19 affects people, older persons and persons with pre-existing medical conditions (such as high blood pressure, heart disease, lung disease, cancer or diabetes) usually appear to develop more serious forms of illness than the rest of the population.

Are antibiotics effective in preventing or treating COVID-19?
No. Antibiotics do not work against viruses, they only work on bacterial infections. COVID-19 is caused by a virus, so antibiotics do not work. Moreover, antibiotics must not be used as a means of prevention of COVID-19. They may only be used as directed by a physician to treat a bacterial infection.

Are there any medicines or therapies that can prevent or cure COVID-19?
While some medicines may provide comfort and alleviate symptoms of COVID-19, there is no evidence that any existing medicine can prevent or cure the disease. WHO does not recommend self-medication with any medicines, including antibiotics, as a prevention or cure for COVID-19. However, there are several ongoing clinical trials. WHO will inform the public on the results of these trials in a timely manner.

Also, to date, there is no vaccine and no specific antiviral medicine to prevent or treat COVID-19. However, those affected should receive therapy to relieve symptoms. Those who develop serious illness should be hospitalized. Most patients recover thanks to medical assistance.

At the moment, there are clinical trials for possible vaccines and some specific drug treatments. WHO is coordinating efforts with all relevant institutions to develop vaccines or medicines to prevent as well as treat COVID-19.

Should we wear protective masks?
Masks should be worn only by persons who have symptoms of infection with COVID-19 (especially if they are coughing) or those looking after someone infected with COVID-19. Disposable face mask must be discarded after single use. There is a world-wide shortage of masks at the moment, so WHO urges people to use masks rationally.

Protective measures against the virus
You can significantly reduce your chances of being infected or spreading COVID-19 by following these recommendations:

  • Regularly and thoroughly clean your hands with an alcohol-based hand rub or wash them with soap and water.
    Why? Washing your hands with soap and water or using alcohol-based hand rub kills viruses that may be on your hands.

  • Maintain at least 1 metre distance between yourself and anyone who is coughing or sneezing.
    Why? When someone coughs or sneezes they spray small liquid droplets from their nose or mouth which may contain virus. If you are too close, you can breathe in the droplets, including the COVID-19 virus if the person coughing/sneezing has the disease.

  • Avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth.
    Why? Hands touch many surfaces and can pick up various viruses. Once contaminated, hands can transfer the virus to your eyes, nose or mouth, and from there, the virus can enter your body and cause a disease.

  • Make sure you, and the people around you, follow good respiratory hygiene. This means covering your mouth and nose with your bent elbow or tissue when you cough or sneeze. If you use a tissue, be sure to dispose of the used tissue immediately.
    Why? Droplets spread virus. By following good respiratory hygiene you protect the people around you from viruses such as cold, flu, and COVID-19.

  • Stay home if you feel unwell. If you have a fever, cough and difficulty breathing, seek medical attention. Before going to the doctor’s, call the health authorities by telephone and inform them about symptoms. Follow the directions of your local health professionals.
    Why? National and local authorities will have the most up-to-date information on the situation in your area. Calling in advance will allow your doctor to direct you to the competent health facility. This will also protect you and reduce the possibility of additional spreading of viruses and other infections.

  • Keep up to date on the latest COVID-19 hotspots (cities or local areas where COVID-19 is spreading widely). If possible, avoid traveling to those places, especially if you are an older person or have diabetes, heart or lung disease.
    Why? You have a higher chance of catching COVID-19 in those towns.

Protection measures for persons who live in or have recently visited (past 14 days) areas where COVID-19 infection is spreading.
  • Follow the guidance outlined above.

  • Self-isolate by staying at home if you begin to feel unwell, even with mild symptoms such as headache, low grade fever (37.3 C or above) and slightly runny nose, until you recover. If someone brings you supplies or you go out to buy food, then wear a mask to avoid infecting other people.
    Why? Avoiding contact with others and visits to medical facilities will allow these facilities to operate more effectively and help protect you and others from COVID-19 and other viruses.

  • If you develop fever, cough and difficulty breathing, seek medical advice promptly as this may be due to a respiratory infection or other serious condition. Call in advance and tell your doctor of any recent travel or contact with travellers.
    Why? Calling in advance will allow your doctor to direct you to the right health facility. This will also help to reduce possible spreading of COVID-19 and other viruses.