In December 2019, there was a cluster of pneumonia cases in the city of Wuhan in China. Some of the early cases reported of visiting or working in seafood or live animal market in Wuhan. Investigations found that the disease was caused by a newly discovered virus called Coronavirus. The disease was subsequently named as COVID-19. COVID-19 eventually started spreading within China and the rest of the world. On 30 January 2020, the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared this outbreak a public health emergency of international concern.

Understanding Coronavirus

So, the question that comes to our mind is, what is the Coronavirus?

Coronaviruses are a significant category of viruses. They are composed of a core of genetic material surrounded by a lipid envelope and are covered with little protein spikes. This gives them the appearance of a crown and ‘Crown’ in Latin is called Corona, and that’s how these viruses got their name. There are hundreds of known Coronaviruses. There are a lot of diseases that can be caused by Coronavirus in humans and animals. In humans, Coronaviruses can cause respiratory infections ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases.

Where did this new virus come from?

Coronaviruses are known to circulate in a wide range of animals. These viruses can sometimes make their way from animals to humans. This is called a spill-over and it could be due to a range of factors such as mutations in the virus or increased contact between humans and animals.

How does this disease spread?

The disease can spread from person to person through droplets. The droplets holding the virus spill out when affected individual coughs, speaks, or sneezes. The virus can infect a new individual if the droplets penetrate their nose or mouth. Coronaviruses can transmit best in confined spaces, where humans are in near touch.

Cold weather prevents the delicate casing of the virus from drying out, allowing the virus to survive between hosts for longer, although UV exposure from sunlight may destroy it. These seasonal variations are more important for established viruses. But since no one is yet resistant to the new virus, it has so many possible hosts that they do not require optimal conditions to propagate.

What are the symptoms of this disease?

The incubation period, which is the time taken from exposure to the virus and development of symptom is an average of 5-6 days but it can range from 1-14 days. Common symptoms include fever, fatigue and respiratory symptoms such as cough, sore throat and shortness of breath. Some people report of loss of their sense of taste or smell and some develop a skin rash. In more severe cases, there may be pneumonia, organ failure or sometimes even death.

About 63% of cases in India have been recovered from this disease without needing any special treatment. But there are some people who are at risk of serious illness, such as older people or people with underlying medical problems such as chronic respiratory disease, diabetes, obesity, cancer, high blood pressure, or heart disease.

How can we tell whether someone is infected?

The infection is commonly diagnosed by a test called Reverse Transcriptase – Polymerase Chain Reaction (RT-PCR).  This test identifies the virus based on its genetic fingerprint. There’s also another test – Blood test which can check for antibodies against the virus which may show whether someone was infected in the past.

How can we prevent the transmission of the virus?

There are a number of effective ways to prevent the spread of the disease. These include covering your mouth and nose while coughing or sneezing with a flexed elbow or tissue and throwing the tissue in a closed bin immediately after use. Washing hands regularly with soap and water or an alcohol-based sanitizer.  Maintaining at least 6 feet of social distancing with people.  Appropriate use of masks and personal protective equipment (PPE), especially in hospitals.

Understanding Coronavirus

It’s important to stay home if you feel unwell. But if you have a fever, cough, or difficulty in breathing, seek medical care immediately and share your travel history with your healthcare provider. This is a crucial moment in the world’s history and by Prevention and Care, this pandemic condition can be altered.