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In response to recent concern over the coronavirus pandemic, I’ve collated some of the most credible and accurate information online, combined it with hard science, and written it all up with context to help you understand everything you need to know about the new coronavirus, how it could affect you and your family, and what you can do about it. I’ll also be debunking some myths that I’ve seen floating around the internet.
Please note that I am not a medical professional - I simply feel compelled to use my skills and interests in health, science, and coaching to help you fully understand our shared situation so that you can make better choices. In all of my work I endeavour to provide you with the highest quality information and make it easy to understand.
It's important to remember that as this situation is new and continuing to unfold, what we know about the coronavirus may change.
What Is Coronavirus?
Coronaviruses are a family of viruses. There are hundreds of different types, but only seven are known to infect humans. They generally cause symptoms that affect the upper respiratory tract: runny nose, coughing, etc, but sometimes they can affect the lower respiratory tract causing more serious illness like pneumonia or bronchitis.
The newest type of coronavirus: COVID-19 infects humans, affecting the upper and lower respiratory tract, which means it’s more serious than other types of common cold or flu.
Where Did Coronavirus Come From?
Just like animals and plants, viruses evolve over time and are subject to natural selection. Viruses are a little different, however. Interestingly, they’re not generally classed as living things as they don’t have a metabolic (energy) system, and can’t reproduce on their own - they need to infect a host cell in order to do that. They’re not even classed as cells themselves!
When animals and plants evolve, this is due to the cumulative effect of mutations in our DNA: genetic information that’s unique to all of us. If my own DNA could speak, it might say: “depending on a load of environmental variables like where she lives and what she eats, this chick is gonna have blonde hair, brown eyes and a higher than average chance of developing osteoporosis,” for example.
DNA mutates all the time. Sometimes this leads to no notable effect, but sometimes it provides an organism with a slight advantage (or disadvantage) over the rest of its species, such as better night vision or perhaps a thumb. Natural selection dictates that organisms with the most favourable traits are more likely to survive and reproduce, which over time causes a species to evolve new features and behaviours.
Coronaviruses save their genomic information in RNA instead of DNA. It’s a very similar structure, and in fact we humans also have RNA, although we use it as the “copy” stage in “copy and paste” when building new DNA strands in new cells. This is why RNA-based viruses can evolve at such a fast rate. COVID-19 is still mutating, and researchers have already found variations between hundreds of samples.
COVID-19 most likely evolved in the wild (probably in bats, which have been studied for years for their potential to pass diseases into the human population). Because coronaviruses are zoonotic - which means they can be transmitted from animals to people - they infected people in China. The first cases, confirmed in December 2019, can be traced back to a seafood and animal market in Wuhan.
How Does Coronavirus Spread?
COVID-19 is spread by people (and animals) who have the virus. It’s not airborne, but rather is transmitted through droplets that hang briefly in the air when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or exhales. These droplets of course eventually land on surfaces/objects, and so it’s possible to catch COVID-19 if you touch a surface/object with the virus on it and then touch your eyes, nose or mouth.
If you were to look at any of the coronaviruses under a microscope, you’d see a blob of RNA (one long strand all folded up), surrounded by a fatty membrane, studded with little proteins that make it look like it’s wearing a crown. “Corona” is latin for “crown.” These spiky little proteins attach to cells in the host organism and inject the RNA into the cell, causing it to replicate the virus.
A brand new virus has the potential to spread across the entire human population, particularly as we live in such a globally connected community with the ability to travel long distances easily. Because one person can infect many more people, transmission speeds up exponentially.
COVID-19 is estimated to be spread more than twice as quickly as seasonal flu. This is due in part to the fact that it can be caught from people who have the virus but haven't developed symptoms yet.
How Do I Know If I Have Coronavirus?
The most common symptoms of COVID-19 are:
- Dry cough
Some people also experience:
- Aches and pains
- Nasal congestion
- Runny nose
- Sore throat
Some people become infected but show absolutely no symptoms and don’t feel unwell at all.
Symptoms are usually mild and begin gradually. There appears to be a 2 to 14 day incubation period: that’s the time period between contracting coronavirus and developing symptoms.
How Dangerous Is Coronavirus?
Most people are unlikely to become seriously ill or die from COVID-19. If you're a healthy adult and become infected, chances are you’d be stuck in bed with horrible flu and pneumonia symptoms for a short period, and then you’d be fine.
People who are older and those with pre-existing medical conditions such as high blood pressure, heart disease, lung disease, cancer or diabetes are at higher risk of developing serious coronavirus symptoms than others, and therefore have a greater risk of death. These groups are more susceptible to all illnesses - not just coronavirus - and are likely to suffer more serious complications due to a weaker than average immune system.
Some people infected with the virus don’t show symptoms at all and feel absolutely fine. It’s important to note that regardless of the severity of a person’s symptoms, the virus is just as contagious and so they still risk spreading it to others.
The mortality rate of coronavirus appears to be higher than although similar to that of the seasonal flu virus. As it stands, it looks like around 2% of COVID-19 cases result in death, compared to 0.1% killed by seasonal flu.
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If Coronavirus Isn't That Dangerous, Why Are People Panicking?
Coronavirus is dangerous to a small percent of people, which actually equates to quite a high number of individuals. If it spreads rapidly it could wipe out a large number of elderly and people with pre-existing health issues. Because it’s new to humans, few or no people will be immune to it, which means there is a huge pool of people it can infect and be passed on by.
As far as my understanding goes, however, public panic appears to stem from government and other authority messaging which is actually based on concerns around the severity rate of the new coronavirus. Many people are likely to become severely unwell if they contract COVID-19, which would put great strain on public health systems.
If hundreds of thousands of people are suddenly in need of urgent healthcare, for example respirators to help them breathe due to pneumonia symptoms, the NHS would be very stretched indeed. There may not be enough money, equipment, staff, or other resources required to deal with such a load. This could cause more people to die from the virus due to lack of care, and would retract from other areas of the NHS, causing many others to suffer.
The UK government’s aim is to slow the spread of the virus by implementing more stringent hygiene measures (more frequent hand washing) and social distancing (staying away from other people, particularly vulnerable groups), which is known as “flattening the curve” of coronavirus cases over time. This would keep the demand for healthcare services at a level that the NHS can cope with. This reduces the amount of extra money the government has to spend on the issue, and also keeps the economy running as smoothly as possible as fewer people will be unwell at one time.
Inadvertently it seems, authority recommendations for tighter hygiene measures and social distancing have caused people to jump to a range of conclusions.
Coronavirus Myths: The Facts
I've collated some facts you can trust that debunk common myths about the coronavirus. Before you read them, I'd like to point out that I haven't listed these to shame anyone for believing them, and I wouldn't recommend shaming others in order to get them to change their beliefs. It doesn't make people feel good, and usually doesn't work anyway. Education is empowerment. Let's dive in:
Coronavirus was not created in a lab. It evolved in the wild.
This strain of coronavirus is new, and has not been around for years.
Coronavirus is not the same as seasonal flu.
Coronavirus was not developed as a way to cull the population.
I would imagine there are far more effective, targeted, and less costly ways to cull the human population.
Bill Gates did not create coronavirus.
This is not a way to put microchips in everyone by getting them to take his cure that he’ll soon go public with. He's a philanthropist with more productive and meaningful goals than world domination.
Cleaning product labels stating that they kill human coronavirus do not prove that it was developed before the outbreak.
There are lots of different types of coronavirus, and these are the ones killed by cleaning products like antibacterial spray or bleach. COVID-19 is simply a new strain. Most companies have not been able to test the efficacy of their products on the new strain, but it's extremely likely that normal cleaning products will work just fine to sterilise surfaces of COVID-19.
There is no cure or vaccine for coronavirus.
Viruses generally can’t be cured, but they can be immunised against. It takes at least 12-18 months to develop a vaccine that’s effective and safe for use on humans. Many organisations across the globe are working on a medical solution already.
None of these things will kill coronavirus.
Cold weather, snow, hot baths, hand dryers, spraying yourself with alcohol or chlorine, drinking bleach, pneumonia vaccines, gargling salt water, saline nasal rinse, eating garlic, sun exposure or antibiotics.
Internet services won't be affected much by people working from home or kids being off school.
Although there are reports of strained internet services in Italy, providers in the UK have stated that they are well prepared with contingencies, and at worst we can expect slightly slower service during truly heavy usage periods.
Coronavirus can be transmitted in any climate, regardless of temperature and humidity.
COVID-19 cannot be transmitted through mosquito bites.
Drinking more water does not flush coronavirus down to your stomach where your stomach acid will kill it.
Eating ice or drinking water with ice does not increase your chances of contracting coronavirus.
Hand sanitiser is effective in killing the coronavirus, but soap and water is best.
How Might Coronavirus Affect Me?
There’s a chance you could become sick with the coronavirus, a smaller chance that you’ll develop severe symptoms that require medical attention, and an even smaller chance that you’ll die. There are other ways that coronavirus can affect you, though, including:
As humans are such social creatures, social distancing can create problems varying in seriousness. Having to skip social events that bring you joy is one thing, but the fact that loneliness contributes to earlier mortality rates is frightening, particularly when you consider populations like the elderly who are already at risk from dying as a result of both coronavirus and health issues related to loneliness.
Self employed people and those running small businesses are suffering loss of earnings due to social distancing, and many businesses of all sizes won't survive the pandemic. The government has put measures in place to tide small businesses over during this tough period, and you can support local businesses in a variety of ways, such as paying them for online rather than in-person services, or buy vouchers that you can redeem once social distancing measures are relaxed by the government.
People clearing supermarket shelves of essentials in a panic takes supplies away from those who need it most: the elderly and those with pre-existing health issues. This increases the risk that they will become unwell and die.
Whilst it makes sense to prepare for a potential 14 day isolation if you or someone in your home becomes unwell, there's no need to buy more than you need. Even if you do become unwell and run out of food, consider that you might have family members or neighbours who would be willing to drop a bag of groceries on your doorstep.
There is a world shortage of masks, and you should only wear a mask if you’re sick with coronavirus yourself. Save the supplies for medical professionals who need them.
Bulk buying hand sanitiser kind of defies the point… we all need to be able to keep our hands clean. Soap and water is by far the best way to clean your hands, but hand sanitiser is useful when soap and water aren’t available.
Fear And Anxiety
Coronavirus might make you feel worried or anxious about the health of yourself and your loved ones. The best thing you can do is remain calm, understand the situation as accurately as possible, and take reasonable measures to reduce the spread of the virus.
How To Prevent The Spread Of Coronavirus
Wash your hands more often, in particular when arriving at and leaving places like home or work.
Avoid touching your face where possible.
Cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze.
Use a tissue or the inside of your elbow, and dispose of tissues immediately.
Clean things you touch all the time such as your phone/laptop and door handles.
Avoid using delivery services when it's not necessary.
In particular food delivery services where items or meals have passed through a number of hands to arrive at your door. Delivery drivers in particular risk becoming carriers as they come into contact with so many people and surfaces.
That means not visiting pubs or bars, and not having visitors in your home.
Avoid large crowds.
Particularly events, or crowded spaces such as public transport during commuter hours
Take care not to touch people, pets, or surfaces as much as you might normally.
For example you could politely decline a handshake in favour of some other appropriate gesture, and avoid touching public handrails if you don't need to use them.
Keep more than a metre, or 3 feet, away from anyone with coronavirus symptoms.
Self-isolate if you have coronavirus symptoms.
Avoid straining healthcare services.
Don't seek medical attention unless you’re someone who's at risk of developing serious symptoms or have already developed serious symptoms. If you do seek medical attention, do so over the phone rather than in person. In the UK you can call 111 to access NHS non-emergency healthcare services for advice and support.
Stay clear of vulnerable groups to prevent infecting them.
Help unwell family members or neighbours to stay under quarantine.
You could educate them about how coronavirus might spread, keep them feeling connected by staying in touch via phone, or even safely and hygienically deliver essential supplies like groceries.
Educate and support others to follow the same guidelines.
Should I Worry About Coronavirus?
We should all be taking the COVID-19 pandemic very seriously, but it’s essential that we don’t panic. Educating ourselves, remaining calm, and slowing the spread are the best actions we can take to keep ourselves and our communities as healthy as possible.
If you come across someone who is panicking, spreading fear, sharing conspiracy theories/myths, or putting others at risk, please do what you can to calm and educate them on the situation.
For more information, check the websites below for reliable information on coronavirus as it unfolds.
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