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March 3, 2020 • read
Coronavirus: everything you need to know
Over the past few weeks, you’ve probably heard a lot about coronavirus (COVID-19). The respiratory illness, which has over three million confirmed cases so far, started in Wuhan City, China and has since moved through China’s busy airports to countries around the world, including Canada. As of this week, it’s been declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO).
Here’s everything you need to know about coronavirus, from signs and symptoms, to how likely it is that you’ll catch the virus yourself. (Hint: with the information we have now, the risk is much lower than you may think.)
What is coronavirus?
The term “coronavirus” actually refers to a group of viruses, including the common cold and flu. The trouble with coronaviruses is that they’re hard to treat because they vary so much from one virus to the next. They also vary from season to season, so figuring out a catch-all cure is difficult.
COVID-19 — what everyone is simply calling “coronavirus” right now — is a new virus in the coronavirus family, so there is still a lot we don’t know about how it spreads, and how to treat it. We do know that it’s comparable to Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) in that all 3 are coronaviruses that cause flu-like symptoms in people. This doesn’t mean that they’re the same though. They all have varying rates of mortality, and at this stage, it isn’t proven that coronavirus is as dangerous as SARS or MERS.
What are the symptoms of coronavirus?
The most common symptoms of COVID-19 include:
- difficulty breathing
- sore throat
- a general feeling of being unwell
If you’re experiencing these symptoms and you’ve traveled outside Canada in the last two weeks, you’re at higher risk for having coronavirus. Similarly, if someone you came into contact with is ill and has returned from outside Canada in the last 14 days, there’s an increased risk that you’ve been exposed to coronavirus through them.
If you have the above symptoms and you’ve travelled in the last two weeks, it’s important to check the latest travel advice and advisories to determine whether you should be concerned. If you think you have coronavirus, contact your local public health unit for further direction and testing. To avoid the spread of infection, do not go to clinic or hospital before calling. You should also consider wearing a mask to protect yourself and others if you believe you have coronavirus.
How is coronavirus spread?
At this stage, we aren’t certain. However, scientists believe that like other respiratory illnesses, coronavirus probably moves from one person to the next through the spread of droplets expelled when someone coughs or sneezes. When droplets containing the virus spread through the air, they can be inhaled by people nearby, causing infection. Those same droplets can land on surfaces like door handles or counter tops, and live there until someone else picks them up on their hands. If that person touches their nose or mouth before cleaning their hands, just like that, the virus can spread to them too. Some reports suggest coronavirus may also spread from livestock to humans living in highly affected areas.
There are lots of other important facts researchers are still exploring, like whether or not everyone infected with coronavirus actually gets sick, and how long someone with the virus should be quarantined before it’s safe for them to mingle with the general public again.
How is coronavirus treated?
At the moment, there is no vaccine for the coronavirus. That’s why prevention is so important. Here’s what you can do to minimize your risk of infection:
- Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly. Remember to always lather for at least 15 seconds.
- Use hand sanitizer, especially after using public transportation
- Sneeze into your sleeve or elbow instead of your hands
- Wear gloves out in public to keep your hands protected and clean
- Avoid people who are sick
- Stay home if you’re sick
What should I do if I think I have coronavirus?
If you think that you have contracted COVID-19, get in touch with a doctor as soon as you can. But also keep in mind that not every cold is coronavirus, (it’s flu and allergy season, after all!) and not every traveler you meet has necessarily been exposed to coronavirus.
That said, it is definitely important to include details of any recent travel when speaking to your doctor. The information will help medical staff make the most informed decision about how best to treat you or your family member.
Heading to a doctor’s office or emergency room increases your chances of exposure. That doesn’t mean you have to go without seeing a doctor! If you feel sick, need a prescription refill, or you’re simply looking for medical advice, we can connect you to a Canadian doctor from the safety of your home, 24 hours a day. Find out how