If you're consuming as much media as I am right now, you'll probably know almost as much about coronavirus as you do about yourself. Every time I refresh my newsfeed, there's another article announcing the closure of schools or the closing of borders somewhere in the world, and while I can't seem to look away (everyone deals in different ways, you guys), the more I read, the more confused I become. I just want facts. Like beyond coughing, what exactly are the symptoms of coronavirus? And, how do I get tested if I think I might have it? To help me (and you) sleep better at night, I talked to Alex Ruani, doctoral researcher in nutrition science education at University College London and chief science educator at The Health Sciences Academy, and Dr Claudia Pastides, London-based GP for healthcare app Babylon, to get a better understanding of coronavirus, and more specifically, coronavirus in the UK.
What is Coronavirus?
As Ruani explains, when it comes to coronavirus, there seems to be some confusion in the media surrounding the terminology that's being used. "The novel coronavirus, the virus itself, is called SARS-CoV-2, which stands for Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2. The infectious disease caused by SARS-CoV-2 is called COVID-19," says Ruani. "In short: SARS-CoV-2 is the virus, and COVID-19 is the disease it causes." The disease, therefore, can negatively affect your lungs, bronchi, and airways, and may further develop into severe pneumonia and sepsis in some instances.
How Does Coronavirus Spread?
"The COVID-19 disease is mainly spread through small, liquid respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs, sneezes, speaks, or exhales," Ruani explains. Yes, you read that right. Simply speaking or exhaling can cause the disease to spread. According to Dr Pastides: "If you breathe in these droplets, or if you touch your eyes, nose, or mouth after being in contact with objects or surfaces where these droplets landed, you are at risk of catching COVID-19." Currently, according to Ruani, the droplets are believed to temporarily hang in the air for up to three hours when in a contained area.
What Are the Symptoms?
Understanding the symptoms of COVID-19 can be confusing. As Ruani explains, this is because "not everyone develops the same symptoms or with the same intensity." Worse still, you can actually be infected without experiencing any symptoms, meaning that if you're out and about, you could be spreading it without even knowing. "Symptoms to look out for include fever, a dry cough, shortness of breath, and tiredness. Some may also experience a sore throat, nasal congestion, or diarrhoea," says Ruani. While most people will only have mild symptoms, which they can recover from at home — just as you would a regular cold — Dr Pastides points out that those over 60 and/or with underlying health conditions may suffer from more severe symptoms.
What Should I Do If I'm Experiencing Symptoms?
"If you believe you have coronavirus symptoms, the NHS advises that you stay at home for seven days. Do not go to a GP surgery, pharmacy, or hospital as you need to prevent the spread of infection," says Dr Pastides. Ruani adds: "The novel coronavirus is most likely to spread within the first three days of having symptoms, but less likely to spread after day seven." In other words, the reason it's so important to stay home and self-isolate is so you can protect not only yourself but others. There's no need to contact 111 unless your symptoms are worsening or do not get better after seven days. If in doubt, head to the NHS 111 Online Service.
How Do I Get Tested For Coronavirus in the UK?
The NHS recently changed their guidance around testing in the UK, meaning only those who are suffering from severe symptoms and/or difficulty breathing are being admitted for testing. If this is you, call 111 or use the NHS 111 Online Service for a risk assessment. They will then tell you how, when, and where you can get tested if necessary. For those experiencing mild symptoms, you know what to do: seven days of self-isolation. There are no tests available at your local GP surgery, pharmacy, or hospital, and whether you're experiencing mild symptoms, severe symptoms, or no symptoms at all, it's crucial that you stay away to avoid putting those who are already unwell at risk.
How Can I Prevent Catching Coronavirus?
"There's a misconception that coronavirus is airborne," says Ruani. Remember, it's transmitted through small, liquid respiratory droplets and what you want to be doing is reducing your risk of coming into contact with them. To reduce your chance of being infected:
- Wash, wash, wash those hands! And wash them properly. "That means with soap and water. Not just your palms, also between fingers, under your nails, your forehands, and your knuckles," warns Ruani. "The virus is removed through mechanical action, so go over every bit of your hands for about 20 seconds — roughly the amount of time it takes to sing the "Happy Birthday" song twice," she adds.
- Always cover your mouth when coughing or sneezing, either with a tissue or your sleeve but never your hands. If you use a tissue, throw it out immediately.
- Maintain a distance of at least 1 metre if anyone is coughing or sneezing.
- Avoid touching your face as much as possible.
- Avoid contact with common surfaces and regularly clean your most used items, like your phone and laptop. According to Ruani, research is suggesting that the virus can live on surfaces for up to three days given the right conditions.
POPSUGAR aims to give you the most accurate and up-to-date information about the coronavirus, but details and recommendations about this pandemic may have changed since publication. For the latest information on COVID-19, please check out resources from the WHO, the NHS, and GOV.UK.