What exactly *is* coronavirus?

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13/03/2020 / By / , , , / Post a Comment

The information in this article was accurate at the time of publishing, however the situation is constantly evolving. For the latest updates, please visit our coronavirus customer information page.

This article originally appeared on The Journal and has been republished with permission. 

The world is looking like a very different place to how it looked this time last month. In the early days of 2020, we were only just starting to hear about this new strain of flu, coronavirus (or COVID-19), coming out of a small town in China.

But now, we’re waking up to news that the virus has spread across borders, across seas, and between people who haven’t even travelled to affected areas. It’s a nerve-wracking time, and misinformation is spreading more quickly than ever.

And with misinformation comes a lot of myths, legends and untruths about what coronavirus is and how it might impact your life. Will you need to self-isolate? Do you need a 12-month supply of toilet paper? Read on to dispel some of the dramas around coronavirus.

What is coronavirus?

Coronavirus (COVID-19) is a type of virus, part of a larger strain of coronaviruses. Both SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) and MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) are both in the coronavirus family. This particular strain was first reported in December 2019 in Wuhan City, China.

What are the symptoms and how dangerous is it?

The symptoms of coronavirus are a bit like the flu – a fever, cough, sore throat and, in some cases, difficulty breathing. Severe cases can cause pneumonia, organ failure, and sometimes death. While the mortality rate of COVID-19 is currently lower than SARS, it appears that the contagion rate is higher: the WHO suggests that each patient with COVID-19 will likely infect four or more people – so it’s more infectious than the flu, but less than measles (where one sick person is likely to infect more than 20 people).

At this stage, the majority of mortalities are in patients aged 80 and older. Patients with existing cardiovascular diseases are also at a higher risk.

How can you catch it?

You can catch coronavirus from people who already have the virus. COVID-19 spreads through bodily fluids, like bits of spit from coughs and sneezes, or close contact with infected people. It’s also possible to get it from touching surfaces, like a doorknob, that might have infected cough or sneeze droplets from infected people on them. It’s thought to be able to survive outside the body on surfaces for several days, but is simple to kill with disinfectant.

That said, you can’t ‘cure’ coronavirus with disinfectant, so don’t douse yourself in chlorine or alcohol to stay safe.

How can you avoid it?

By practicing good hygiene. And really, no matter where you are – travelling overseas, travelling to work, sitting at your desk or sitting on your couch – you need to be doing this anyway. Here’s a list of tips to help minimise the spread of germs:

  • Wash your hands with soap and hot water thoroughly for at least 20 seconds (sing the chorus of Toto’s Africa to keep time).
  • Use hand sanitiser.
  • Cough or sneeze into your elbow, rather than your hands.
  • Keep your distance from anyone coughing or sneezing.
  • Avoid touching your face.
  • Avoid shaking hands with people.
  • If you’re feeling unwell, go to the doctor (not to work).

Will eating lots of garlic protect me from coronavirus?

Eating garlic is good for boosting the immune system, but you can’t prevent catching coronavirus by eating copious amounts of the stuff. While we’re all for a garlicky pasta, the pungent bulbs won’t make you immune to COVID-19. Neither will flushing out your nose with saline solution.

Can I get coronavirus from my dog or cat?

At the moment, there’s nothing to suggest that COVID-19 can be passed from domestic pets to humans.

Should I stock up on supplies like soap and toilet paper?

People panic-buy the darnedest things. Case in point: toilet paper. Toilet paper will not protect you from COVID-19, nor will it provide sustenance if you run out of food. So why the mad rush? For some people, it’s the need to be prepared in case of lockdown; for others, stockpiling TP is something they can control. And when you see the supermarket shelves bare, it increases that level of panic. Panic-buying begets panic-buying. But if you ask us? Stock up on what you need. Most supermarkets were caught off-guard by unnecessary toilet paper panic, but deliveries are back on track.

While we’re talking about toilet times, please don’t flush anything other than toilet paper down your toilet. Not paper towel, not wet wipes, not newspaper, not cornhusks. It will mess with your plumbing and no toilet is far worse than no toilet paper.

Will a face mask protect me?

Not really. The tiny particles of COVID-19 are tough little suckers that can penetrate masks. If you’re in contact with someone who has the virus, a mask will decrease your chances of contracting it (but that’s not a guarantee). If you’re showing symptoms, wearing a mask can protect those around you (but again, not a guarantee). It’s important for health professionals looking after patients to protect themselves by wearing a mask, but it probably won’t much difference to people wearing them on their morning commute or while they take the dog for a walk.

Should I stop eating in Chinese restaurants?

You absolutely should NOT stop eating in Chinese restaurants. Why? There is zero evidence to suggest that you can contract COVID-19 from eating Chinese food.   

Everyone’s saying COVID-19 only affects older people.

Anyone can contract COVID-19, however older people – or those with existing respiratory issues – are more likely to become ill.

Should I rinse my mouth out with bleach?

No. Never, ever rinse your mouth with bleach.

How is coronavirus treated?

At this stage, there’s no treatment for coronavirus itself, but the symptoms can be managed. Seriously affected patients are hospitalised and treated with oxygen, while people with milder symptoms are urged to stay home and self-isolate. It can’t be treated (or prevented) with antibiotics – they only work on bacterial infections.

What exactly is self-isolation?

You don’t need to wrap yourself in clingwrap and move into a bubble, but you do need to stay at home. Don’t go to public places, like shopping centres or the movies, don’t have friends over to keep you company, and if you need food, order it online (or ask a friend to get things for you) and have it left at your front door.

How will COVID-19 effect travel??

We’ve written a few articles that might answer your questions, and we’ve got an information hub on our website that goes into more detail about cancellations, travel advisories, and frequently asked questions. Check them out here:

Stay up-to-date and check in with reputable news sources, and our COVID-19 Travel Information Hub here

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