What is a coronavirus?

Coronaviruses are a family of viruses with crown-like spikes on their surface when viewed under a microscope. These viruses are zootic in nature meaning they are mostly found in animals or mostly cause diseases in animals. However they can be transmitted from animals to humans and usually cause cold-like symptoms or respiratory illnesses. A coronavirus in an animal can evolve (or mutate) to a new coronavirus that causes diseases in human and because it is new, a new name will have to be given to it. Seven coronavirus have so far made their way to humans: 229E, NL63, OC43, HKU1, the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-CoV), first reported in Saudi Arabia in 2012, the “Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus” (SARS-CoV), first reported in China in 2002 and the “Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2” (SARS-CoV-2) first reported in China in 2019.  Among these seven coronaviruses MERS-CoV, SARS-CoV and SARS-CoV-2 have so far been the most deadly. SARS-CoV-2 is the causative agent of the disease Covid-19. It is less deadly than MERS-CoV and SARS-CoV but more contagious. Recent report shows that there are two strains of SARS-CoV-2 termed the “L” and “S” types. The S type (about 30 %) is believed to be the ancestral version, it’s milder and less infections while the L type (about 70 %) which emerged later is more prevalent. Both strains however cause Covid-19.

How long does the coronavirus survive on surfaces?

It is not exactly clear how long the novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) that causes Covid-19 survives on surfaces. A recent study however shows that 2019-nCoV can survive for up to 72 hours on plastic and stainless steel, less than 4 hours on copper and less than 24 hours on cardboard.  Another study however attempt to compare the novel coronavirus with other known and similar coronavirus and found that the virus can survive for up to 9 days on surfaces depending on conditions such as temperature or humdity. Temperatures above 30 degree does not favour the novel coronavirus. In all cases however it is clear that household disinfectants can remove the virus on surfaces. 

What is Coronavirus Disease 2019?

Coronavirus diseases 2019 (Covid-19) or novel coronavirus 2019 (2019-nCoV) is an infectious disease caused by the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2.  It is an acute respiratory disease which cause flu-like symptoms.

Symptoms of Covid-19

Depending on the individual infected, it can take 2 to 14 days for symptoms of Covid-19 to become evident.

Common Symptoms include

  • Dry Cough
  • Fever
  • Shortness of breath or difficulties breathing

Other symptoms include

  • Sore throat
  • Headache
  • Aches and Pains
  • Fatigue

Covid-19, Common Cold and Flu symptoms: How do they vary?

SymptomsCovid-19Common ColdFlu
Dry CoughCommonMildCommon
FeverCommonRareMild
Shortness of BreathCommonNoNo
Sore ThroatSometimesCommonCommon
HeadacheSometimesRareCommon
Aches and PainsSometimesCommonCommon
FatigueSometimesSometimesCommon
SneezingNoCommonNo
Running NoseRareCommonSometimes
DiarrheaRareNoSometimes (in Children)

How is Covid-19 spread?

It is spread primarily through droplets generated when some speak, cough, sneeze or blow their nose. It can also be spread when someone touches a surface or objected that is contaminated with the virus and later on touches their face, nose, mouth or eyes without washing their hands.

The coronavirus can however go airborne under certain factors such as heat and humidity 

Who can be affected by Covid-19?

People of all ages can be affected by Covid-19. Nevertheless very few cases have been reported for children while the elderly and those with pre-existing conditions (such as tuberculosis, asthma or immune deficiency) are at a greater risk.

Treatment and Vaccine

Apart from the elder and those with preexisting conditions, the majority (more than 80 %) of Covid-19 cases are mild with only slight fever, fatigue and cough with people recovering by simply staying at home for at least 14 days. There is however no specific treatment for coronaviruses. However the underlying symptoms can be treated. Treatment usually takes 4 forms:

  • Oxygen to assist with difficulties in breading
  • Antibiotics to treat secondary bacterial pneumonia or infection
  • Ventilator to support the lungs
  • Boosting your immune system to better withstand the virus or any secondary bacterial infection.

US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is currently looking at some potential treatment which include Chloroquine (an anti-malaria drug), remdesivir (an antiviral) and convalescent plasma. Convalescent plasma is plasma collected from people who have had the Covid-19 but later recovered from it. Such plasma will be rich in antibodies against the coronavirus and will generate a quick immune response for current patients. Other treatments include a combination of hydroxychloroquine (Plaqenuil) and azithromycin (an antibiotic). Although these are potential treatments which have shown significant effect against Covid-19, the exact dose, stage of administration and side effects still need to be determined through clinical trials.

No vaccines exist for coronaviruses diseases although a number of such are under clinical trial.

Click here for treatment and vaccine update 

Precaution and prevention measures

  • Wash your hands (for 20 seconds) several times per day with clean water and soap or use an alcohol-based hand rub or sanitizer (at least 60 % alcohol content). Do so especially
  • Before and after eating
  • After taking care of someone ill
  • If you touch an animal unprotected
  • After touching surfaces such as tables or chairs especially in a public place
  • Avoid touching your face, ears, nose or mouth with unclean hands.
  • Cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze with tissue or flexed elbow. Do not use your bare hands and if you do wash them immediately. If a tissue is used, then don’t forget to throw it in the nearest trash can.
  • Avoid close contact (1 meter or 3 feet) from sick people or people displaying any Covid-19 symptoms
  • Self-isolate yourself at home if you feel sick
  • Avoid crowded environments. You can easily be contaminated by someone who is sick.
  • Wearing mask can help reduce the spread of a disease especially when you decide to go close to sick people, if you are sick or if you find yourself in a crowded environment. Make sure your hands are clean before putting on a mask and avoid touching the mask with your hands while it’s in use. Remove mask once it becomes damp and do so from behind and avoid touching the front. Whenever you touch the front of a mask make sure to wash your hands clean with soap and water and to dispose of the mask.
  • Frequently touched surfaces or objects should be clean and disinfected regularly.
  • Wash and Cook your food or meat thoroughly