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By April 16, more than 137,000 people worldwide have died of COVID-19, the highly infectious respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus.
The number of people who have tested positive for COVID-19 has exceeded two million, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.
Coronaviruses (COVID-19) are a large family of viruses that are known to cause illness ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).
2. Where did the virus come from?
At the end of December, the Chinese public health officials informed the World Health Organization about a serious problem: an unknown, new virus was causing pneumonia-like illness in the city of Wuhan. They quickly determined that it was a coronavirus and the virus rapidly spread beyond Wuhan, traveling to different places around the world.
3. What is the mode of transmission? How (easily) does it spread?
While animals are believed to be the original source, the virus now spreads from person to person (human-to-human transmission). There is not enough epidemiological information at this time to determine how easily this virus spreads between people. It is currently estimated that, on average, one infected person will infect from two to three other people.
The virus seems to be transmitted mainly through small respiratory droplets through sneezing, coughing, or interacting between people in a close distance (usually less than one meter). These droplets will be inhaled, or they will land on surfaces that others may come into contact with. People will get infected when they touch their nose, mouth, or eyes with the hands that have contact with the virus. The virus can survive on different surfaces from several hours (copper, cardboard) up to a few days (plastic and stainless steel). However, the amount of viable viruses declines over time and may not always be present in sufficient numbers to cause infection.
The incubation period for COVID-19 (i.e. the time between exposure to the virus and onset of symptoms) is currently estimated to be between one and 14 days.
We know that the virus can be transmitted when people who have infected show symptoms such as coughing. There is also some evidence suggesting that transmission can occur from a person that is infected even two days before showing symptoms; however, uncertainties remain about the effect of transmission by non-symptomatic persons.
4. When is a person infectious?
The infectious period may begin one to two days before symptoms appear, but people are likely most infectious during the symptomatic period, even if symptoms are mild and very non-specific. The infectious period is now estimated to last for 7-12 days in moderate cases and up to two weeks on average in severe cases.
5. How severe is COVID-19 infection?
Preliminary data from the EU/EEA (from the countries with available data) show that around 20-30% of diagnosed COVID-19 cases are hospitalized and 4% have a severe illness. Hospitalization rates are higher for those aged 60 years and above, and for those with other underlying health conditions.
6. Where can I get tested?
If you are feeling ill with COVID-19 symptoms (such as fever, cough, difficulty breathing, muscle pain or general weakness), it is recommended that you contact your local healthcare services online or by telephone. If your healthcare provider believes there is a need for a laboratory test for the virus that causes COVID-19, he/she will inform you of the procedure to follow and provide the information about the test.
7. How can I avoid getting infected?
The virus enters your body through your eyes, nose, and/or mouth, so it is important to avoid touching your face with unwashed hands.
It is important to wash our hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Also, you can wash your hands with alcohol-based solutions, gels, or tissues. It is also recommended that people need to keep a distance from each other for at least one meter, especially from people who show symptoms of COVID-19. These actions will reduce the risk of infection through respiratory droplets and flatten the curve.
8. What can I do to protect myself and others?
Stay home as much as possible, especially if you’re feeling sick. Stay home even if you are not feeling sick as evidence suggests people can be contagious even if they don’t have symptoms. Wash your hands, wipe down surfaces with disinfectant, and cover your mouth if you cough.
You can also wear cloth masks or face coverings when you are out in public, especially in places where it is hard to stay far away from others. Don’t go out and buy medical-grade masks, because doctors and nurses need those. Wearing a cloth face-covering could help stop you virus-laden particles to other people, even if you don’t know you’re sick.
If you are a young, healthy person then you might not feel very sick if you catch COVID-19. However, if you don’t stay at home and practice social distancing, you could pass it on to someone older or with a chronic health condition, who is more likely to have a severe case of the disease.
9. Is there a vaccine against the virus?
There are currently no vaccines against human coronaviruses, including the virus that causes COVID-19. This is why it is very important to prevent infection and to take measures to prevent further spread of the virus.
10. How long will it take to develop a vaccine?
The development of vaccines takes time. Several pharmaceutical companies and research laboratories are working on vaccine candidates. It will take months or years before any vaccine can be widely used as the vaccine needs to undergo extensive testing in clinical trials to determine its safety and efficacy. These clinical trials are an essential precursor to regulatory approval and usually take place in three phases.
- The first, involving a few dozen healthy volunteers, test the vaccine for safety, monitoring for adverse effects.
- The second, involving several hundred people, usually in a part of the world badly affected by the disease, look at how effective the vaccine is in the field, and the third does the same in several thousand people.