Emerging in China in the latter part of 2019, COVID-19 is essentially a new coronavirus disease that has spread to at least six continents in 209 countries. Its official name is Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus-2 and it is from a family of viruses that is capable of causing respiratory illnesses in human beings. These range between the common cold and more severe illnesses like MERS the (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome and SARS (the severe acute respiratory syndrome).
The outbreak of the pathogen has been declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO). Believed to have been passed on to humans from an animal source that is yet to be determined, it primarily spreads through respiratory droplets like those produced when an infected individual sneezes or coughs.
From Where Did COVID-19 Come?
Coronaviruses circulate among animals and some are known to infect human beings as well. Bats are considered natural hosts of these viruses yet there are a number of other animal species that are identified as also acting as sources. For example, SARS is transmitted to human beings via civet cats and MERS is transmitted via camels.
In Wuhan, a study was conducted on 138 infected patients and published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. It found that fatigue, fever and dry cough were the most common symptoms. In addition, one-third of the study participants reported difficulty breathing and muscle pain, while approximately 10 percent experienced atypical symptoms, including nausea and diarrhea.
All the infected patients developed pneumonia, even though the majority of cases seemed to be mild. Approximately one-third of the patients developed severe breathing complications subsequently, which require intensive care treatment. The patients who became critically ill were older and were afflicted with other underlying health conditions such as hypertension and diabetes.
Overall, symptoms vary in severity from being asymptomatic (experiencing no symptoms at all) to having sore throat, cough, fever, fatigue, general weakness and muscular pain. Acute respiratory distress syndrome, severe pneumonia, septic shock and sepsis occur in the most severe cases, with all potentially resulting in death. Reports have shown that clinical deterioration can rapidly follow, typically during week 2 of the disease.
More recently, it has been reported that anosmia, which is basically the loss of the sense of smell and also, in some cases could involve deficiency in the sense of taste, is a symptom of the coronavirus. Already, there is evidence from Italy, China and South Korea that infected patients have developed hyposmia/anosmia and in some cases, there is an absence of other symptoms.
Levels of Severity
The coronavirus have three levels of severity — mild, severe and critical. There are mild cases that resemble the common cold and come with some respiratory symptoms such as runny nose, sore throat, fever and it could also cause pneumonia. Additionally, pneumonia can have different levels of severity ranging all the way to failure of multi organs and death. However, in the majority of cases, the symptoms have stayed mild. There are studies which have found that roughly 82 percent of coronavirus cases are mild, 15 percent are severe and 3 percent are classified as critical.
Mode of Transmission and How it Spreads
Animals are understood as being the original source of transmitting the virus; however, the spread of the coronavirus is now from individual to individual, which is referred to as human-to-human transmission. An adequate amount of epidemiological information is not yet available to determine just how easily this virus spreads between individuals. Nonetheless, currently it is estimated that, one infected individual will end up infecting between two and three others, on average.
Apparently, the virus appears to be transmitted primarily via small respiratory droplets via coughing, sneezing or when individuals interact with each other for a particular period in close proximity (typically less than three feet). Individuals can inhale the droplets or they can fall on surfaces and others could come into contact with them and become infected after touching their eyes, mouth or nose. COVID-19 has the capacity to survive on various surfaces like cardboard and copper for several hours and on surfaces like stainless steel and plastic for up to a few days. However, there is a decrease in volume of viable virus over time and they do not always have enough numbers to result in infection.
It is known that the virus can be transferred when individuals who are infected cough, sneeze or display other symptoms. In addition, there is evidence that suggests that transmission could take place from an individual who is infected just two days prior to displaying symptoms. It has been found that transmission from asymptomatic individuals can be deadly to individuals who are elderly and those with pre-existing medical conditions.
Who Can be Infected?
The new coronavirus can infect individuals of all ages. Older individuals and individuals with pre-existing health conditions like heart disease, diabetes and asthma seem to be more susceptible to becoming extremely ill with COVID-19. WHO advises individuals of all ages to take steps to safeguard themselves against the virus by following good hand hygiene practices as well as good respiratory hygiene.
How to Prevent Infection
Currently, there is no vaccine available to prevent becoming infected by the coronavirus disease, COVID-19. However, you can protect yourself and your family and assist in preventing the transmission of the virus to others by:
• Practicing and encouraging regular washing of hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. An alcohol-based hand sanitizer can also be used to sanitize your hands between washes or if soap and water is not readily available.
• When you cough or sneeze, always remember to do so in your flexed elbow or cover your mouth and nose with a disposable tissue. After which, you should immediately dispose of it in a garbage bin and thoroughly wash your hands.
• If your hands are not clean, resist the urge to touch your mouth, eyes and ears.
• For individuals who are unwell, stay a distance of 3 to 6 feet away from them to lower the risk of becoming infected.
• If you are not an essential worker, stay home and practice social distancing from members of the public and do not venture out unless it is absolutely necessary. In addition, it is very important that you self-isolate from members of your household if you are feeling unwell or displaying symptoms of the disease.
Recently, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has recommended that all individuals wear cloth masks in public places where maintaining a 6-foot distance from others is difficult. This will assist in slowing the spread from asymptomatic individuals or those who are unaware that they have been infected. The mask should be worn while practicing social distancing.
Death Toll and Confirmed Cases
Based on compiled data from Johns Hopkins University, the death toll from COVID-19 has past 78,110. There are also more than 1.3 million confirmed cases globally(2020-04-05). So far, more than 286,000 have recovered. Individuals infected with the coronavirus typically develop signs and symptoms. These include fever and mild respiratory symptoms, on an average of between 5 and 6 days following infection (this means an incubation period between 5 and 6 days and it ranges between 1 to 14 days). However, a number of individuals who are infected with COVID-19 remain asymptomatic; this means that they do not display any symptoms of the disease. The disease grows in the respiratory tract and could result in a variety of symptoms. The majority of infected individuals have mild disease and end up recovering.