What is COVID-19?
Coronavirus disease 2019, or "COVID-19," is an infection caused by a specific virus called SARS-CoV-2. It first appeared in late 2019 in the city of Wuhan, China. People with COVID-19 can have fever, cough, and trouble breathing. Problems with breathing happen when the infection affects the lungs and causes pneumonia.
How is COVID-19 spread?
COVID-19 mainly spreads from person to person, similar to the flu. This usually happens when a sick person coughs or sneezes near other people. Doctors also think it might be possible to get sick if you touch a surface that has the virus on it and then touch your mouth, nose, or eyes.
COVID-19 began in China. But it has spread quickly, and there are cases in many other countries, too, including South Africa, Iran, United Kingdom, United States. Most of these happened when people got the infection and then travelled to another country. But in some cases, the virus then spreads to other people. Because of this, there are now smaller outbreaks in several different countries.
What are the symptoms of COVID-19?
Symptoms usually start a few days after a person is infected with the virus. But in some people, it can take even longer for symptoms to appear.
Symptoms can include:
- Feeling tired
- Trouble breathing
- Muscle aches
Most people have mild symptoms. Some people have no symptoms at all. But in other people, COVID-19 can lead to serious problems like pneumonia, not getting enough oxygen, or even death. This is more common in people who are older or have other health problems.
While children can get COVID-19, they seem less likely to have severe symptoms.
When should I see a doctor or nurse?
If you have a fever, cough, or trouble breathing and might have been exposed to COVID-19, call your doctor or nurse. You might have been exposed if any of the following happened within the last 14 days:
- You had close contact with a person who has the virus – This generally means being within about 6 feet of the person.
- You lived in, or travelled to, an area where lots of people have the virus – The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has information about which areas are affected. This can be found on their website: www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/travelers/index.html.
- You went to an event or location where there were known cases of COVID-19 – For example, if multiple people got sick after a specific gathering, you might have been exposed.
If your symptoms are not severe, it is best to call your doctor, nurse, or clinic before you go in. They can tell you what to do and whether you need to be seen in person. If you do need to go to the clinic or hospital, you will need to put on a face mask. The staff might also have you wait some place away from other people.
If you are severely ill and need to go to the clinic or hospital right away, you should still call ahead. This way the staff can care for you while taking steps to protect others.
Your doctor or nurse will do an exam and ask about your symptoms. They will also ask questions about any recent travel and whether you have been around anyone who might be sick.
Will I need tests?
If your doctor or nurse suspects you have COVID-19, they will take samples of fluid from inside your nose and mouth and send them to a lab for testing. They might also test a sample of mucus that you cough up, as well as your urine and stool. These tests can show if you have COVID-19 or another infection.
Your doctor might also order a chest X-ray or computed tomography (CT) scan to check your lungs.
How is COVID-19 treated?
Most people with COVID-19 have only mild illness and can rest at home until they get better. If you have more severe illness, you might need to stay in the hospital, possibly in the intensive care unit (also called the "ICU"). While you are there, you will most likely be in a special "isolation" room. Only medical staff will be allowed in the room, and they will have to wear special gowns, gloves, masks, and eye protection. There is no specific treatment for COVID-19, but the doctors and nurses in the hospital can monitor and support your breathing and other body functions and make you as comfortable as possible.
You might need extra oxygen to help you breathe easily. If you are having a very hard time breathing, you might need to be put on a ventilator. This is a machine to help you breathe.
Can COVID-19 be prevented?
There are things you can do to reduce your chances of getting COVID-19. These steps are a good idea for everyone, but especially for people age 65 years or older or who have other health problems:
- Wash your hands with soap and water often. This is especially important after being in public and touching other people or surfaces. Below are instructions on how to wash your hands to prevent spreading illness.
Hand washing to prevent spreading illness
- Avoid touching your face with your hands, especially your mouth, nose, or eyes.
- Try to stay away from people who have any symptoms of the infection.
- Avoid crowds if possible. If you live in an area where there have been cases of COVID-19, try to stay home as much as you can.
- Some experts recommend avoiding travel to certain countries where there are a lot of cases of COVID-19.
Experts do not recommend wearing a face mask if you are not sick, unless you are caring for someone who has (or might have) COVID-19.
There is not yet a vaccine to prevent COVID-19.
How can I prepare for a possible COVID-19 outbreak?
It is hard to predict where future outbreaks might happen. The best thing you can do to stay healthy is to wash your hands regularly, avoid close contact with people who are sick, and stay home if you are sick.
If there is an outbreak in your area, schools or businesses might close temporarily. If this happens, or if someone in your family gets sick with COVID-19, you will probably need to stay at home for some time. There are things you can do to prepare for this. For example, you might be able to ask your employer if you can work from home, or take time off, if it becomes necessary. You can also make sure you have a way to get in touch with relatives, neighbours, and others in your area. This way you will be able to receive and share information easily.
If you or others in your family are anxious about COVID-19, keep in mind that most people do not get severely ill or die from it. While it helps to be prepared, and there are things you can do to lower your risk, try not to panic.
Where can I go to learn more?As we learn more about this virus, expert recommendations will continue to change. Check with your doctor or public health official to get the most updated information about how to protect yourself.
You can also find more information about COVID-19 at the following websites:
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): www.cdc.gov
- World Health Organization (WHO): www.who.int
PLEASE NOTE THAT ZIMBABWE HAS NOT RECORDED A CONFIRMED CASE OF COVID-19. LET US ALL CONTINUE TO BE VIGILANT BUT DO NOT PANIC AND DO NOT CIRCULATE OR SPREAD FAKE AND UNCOFIRMED NEWS.