What is coronavirus – and what is the mortality rate?

What do we know about the virus now?

The Covid-19 virus is a member of the coronavirus family that made the jump from animals to humans late last year. Unusually for a virus that has made the jump from one species to another, it appears to transmit effectively in humans. The virus also appears to have a higher mortality rate than common illnesses such as seasonal flu. The combination of coronavirus’s ability to spread and cause serious illness has prompted many countries, including the UK, to introduce or plan extensive public health measures aimed at containing and limiting the impact of the epidemic.

How can I stop myself and others from getting infected?

Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds and do this often, including when you get home or into work. Use hand sanitiser gel if soap and water are not available. Avoid touching your face. Cough or sneeze into a tissue or the crook of your elbow (not your hand) and put used tissues straight in the bin. Avoid close contact with people who are showing possible symptoms. Follow NHS guidance on self-isolation and travel. Many countries, including the UK, have imposed lockdown conditions in order to try and limit the spread.

How can you tell the difference between flu and Covid-19?

The coronavirus outbreak hit amid flu season in the northern hemisphere and even doctors can struggle to distinguish between the two – the overlap in symptoms probably contributed to slow detection of community infections in some countries, including Italy.

Typical flu symptoms, which normally come on quickly, include a high fever, sore throat, muscle aches, headaches, shivers, runny or stuffy nose, fatigue and, more occasionally, vomiting and diarrhoea. Doctors are still working to understand the full scope of symptoms and severity for Covid-19, but early studies of patients taken to hospital found nearly all of them developed a fever and dry cough, and many had fatigue and muscle aches. Pneumonia (lung infection) is common in coronavirus patients, even outside the most severe cases, and this can lead to breathing difficulties. A runny nose and sore throat are far less common, reported by just 5% of patients. The only real confirmation of having Covid-19 is taking a test though.

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