Coronaviruses, as a group, are common globally. Typical symptoms caused by a coronavirus infection include fever, a cough and possibly shortness of breath, all of which are more severe in certain groups, such as elderly people and those who are immunocompromised. Coronaviruses that you may have heard of include severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV) and Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV).
At the end of 2019, a new strain of coronavirus called novel coronavirus (COVID-19) was first identified in Wuhan, China. After genome sequencing of the virus, Public Health England (PHE) was able to refine diagnostic tests for COVID-19 based on a series of diagnostic tests specific for the coronavirus family that PHE developed after the SARS-CoV outbreak in 2003. By 10 March 2020, 26,261 people had been tested in the UK, of which 373 were confirmed as positive for COVID-19. These diagnostic tests can also be used to sequence the viral genome, which will enable comparisons to be made between collected samples of the virus and the original strain from China; this can be used to determine whether or not COVID-19 has mutated.
The vast majority of patients with COVID-19 are adults, and early reports have suggested that the two major factors determining illness severity are age and comorbidity. For those with the virus, early recognition of the disease is of the utmost importance, followed by immediate isolation and the adoption of sound infection prevention and control measures. Treatment strategies consist of symptomatic care (mainly oxygen therapy) for those with mild illness and supportive care for more severe cases. Mortality in the latter cohort has been reported to be over 50%.
According to the World Health Organization, COVID-19 has been declared a public health emergency of international concern. In the UK, the Chief Medical Officers (CMOs) have upgraded the risk posed by COVID-19 from low to moderate; this escalation does not represent individual risk levels, but signifies the need for the government to plan for all future eventualities .
Advice from the CMOs is to self-isolate (stay indoors) and call 111 if you feel unwell with any of the symptoms mentioned above or if you have travelled to the UK in the last 14 days from a range of countries listed here: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/coronavirus-covid-19-information-for-the-public.
The most effective ways to protect yourself against COVID-19
The main advice is to regularly wash your hands using soap and water, or an alcohol-based hand sanitiser; stay at least one metre away from anyone who is coughing and/or sneezing; do not touch your eyes or mouth; cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze and throw away the tissue immediately (the ‘Catch it. Bin it. Kill it.’ campaign).
Is COVID-19 just another coronavirus?
COVID-19 is a novel coronavirus that has not been previously identified. It does not behave the same way as the coronaviruses that commonly circulate among humans and cause mild flu-like symptoms. In view of this, patients with COVID-19 are being evaluated and cared for differently to patients with a common coronavirus diagnosis.