Having a deeper understanding of how COVID-19 acts is important in ensuring you and your loved ones stay safe during this epidemic. Knowing the reasons why certain actions are needed will help you follow these instructions which can massively help reduce the fatalities we see from the virus.
There are a number of precautions you can take to dramatically improve the situation for yourself and those around you. In this article we will set out to give you a wider understanding of COVID-19, how it spreads and how it acts in the body if you become infected.
What does COVID-19 do to your body?
As this is a new virus the exact way it affects the body are still being studied but the following information from Prof John Wilson, president-elect of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians and a respiratory physician, can be seen across many of the severe cases of the virus.
When people with Covid-19 develop a cough and fever, Wilson says this is a result of the infection reaching the respiratory tree – the air passages that conduct air between the lungs and the outside. The lining of the respiratory tree becomes injured, causing inflammation. The nerves that line the airway can become easily irritated by something such as a speck of dust, causing a cough.
But if the inflammation gets worse, it then goes past just the lining of the airway and goes to the gas exchange units, which are at the end of the air passages. If they then become infected, the body responds by creating an outpouring of inflammatory material [fluid and inflammatory cells] into the lungs and the patient develops pneumonia.
Pneumonia causes the lungs to become filled with inflammatory material are unable to get enough oxygen to the bloodstream, reducing the body’s ability to take on oxygen and get rid of carbon dioxide.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) says about 80% of people with Covid-19 recover without needing any specialist treatment. Only about one person in six becomes seriously ill “and develops difficulty breathing”.
Who is most at risk of COVID-19?
The highest risk group are those aged 60+ with Italy experiencing 83% of those who have died as a result of the illness being over the age of 60. More than two-thirds had diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, or cancer, or were former smokers. So, the most at-risk group are those with underlying health conditions above the age of 60. However, this does not mean that those under the age of 60 cannot be killed by the disease. Similarly, people under the age of 60 who have underlying health conditions such as a weakened respiratory system and weakened immune systems or who are pregnant are also at-risk. This all comes down to as you get older the immune systems weaken and finds it harder to fight off harmful viruses.
Surprisingly, young children do not appear to be at increased risk of serious COVID-19 complications. However, they can carry the virus which we will get onto in a moment.
How does COVID-19 spread?
The virus is understood to spread mainly from person-to-person. The R0 of COVID 19 is 2-2.5, what this means is that each person who contracts the virus will on average spread it to 2-2.5 other people. COVID-19 is highly contagious and can spread either through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person either coughs or sneezes or simply being within 6 feet of someone with the virus.
People are most contagious when they are most symptomatic however a major concern is that some spread of the illness can be possible prior to people showing symptoms, this is where children can carry the virus without showing symptoms. In some people, symptoms may appear mild if even present at all. However, this is not the main way the virus is spread and more typically it is spread by coming into direct contact with a person with symptoms of the virus.
As well a person can contract COVID-19 by coming into contact with surfaces that have the virus on it and then touching their mouth, nose or eyes.
How does seasonal Flu and COVID-19 compare?
With this being a new virus, it can be hard to understand how it differs to seasonal flu and often, out of misunderstanding, people can downplay COVID-19. The major differences are how contagious the illness is, how long someone carries the virus, the hospitalization rate and fatality rate.
COVID-19 spreads to on average twice the amount of people per person carrying the virus as flu. A person with COVID-19 carries the virus for 1-14 days compared to 1-4 days for seasonal flu. 19% of those with COVID-19 will be hospitalised as opposed to the 2% of flu sufferers, which causes major burdens on the NHS. Finally, flu has a fatality rate of 0.1%, COVID-19 has a fatality rate of 1-3.4%. VOX have provided an infographic collating data from WHO, CDC & NCBI to help understand how the virus’ compare.
With all of this considered COVID-19 poses a major risk to people and overburdens the emergency services that seek to treat those with the virus.
What is the UK’s response to COVID-19?
The UK has assumed the “delay phase” of managing the COVID-19 outbreak. This means the UK government recognises that the virus cannot be contained and has chosen to delay the worse of the spread until summer.
The theory behind delaying the spread until summer can be broken down to this. During winter times people spend more time indoors which as a result leads to more people spreading viruses. Therefore the NHS is already burdened with treating patients who are suffering from other virus’s more so than they do in summer, such as seasonal flu. By delaying the worst of the outbreak until summer this takes some of the burden off of the NHS so that when the peak of the outbreak hits the NHS has enough resources to manage it.
What can you do to stay safe from COVID-19?
By understanding the COVID-19 virus in full this goes a long way in helping you and your love ones stay safe during the outbreak. Knowing the reasons why certain actions are being asked of you will help everyone to follow these instructions more strictly. These actions are as follows:
- work from home, if you can
- avoid social activities, such as going to pubs, restaurants, theatres and cinemas
- avoid events with large groups of people
- avoid close contact with people who have symptoms of coronavirus
- only travel on public transport if you need to
- use phone, online services, or apps to contact your GP surgery or other NHS services
- If you’re in the at-risk category contact 111 for further advise
- Go to the hospital if you’re suffering severe symptoms, particularly if you are at risk
- wash your hands with soap and water often – do this for at least 20 seconds
- always wash your hands when you get home or into work
- use hand sanitiser gel if soap and water are not available
- cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when you cough or sneeze
- Sterilise surfaces you’ve sneezed or coughed on
- put used tissues in the bin immediately and wash your hands afterwards
- do not touch your eyes, nose or mouth if your hands are not clean
- do not have visitors to your home, including friends and family
We hope by reading this you now feel fully informed and can work to help minimise the spread of this illness as well stay safe if you’re suffering symptoms