Your Coronavirus Questions, Answered: What Families and Carers Need to Know

March 4, 2020

(updated on April, 21)

 

The novel coronavirus has taken over the news and our lives. We are currently facing a pandemic of unforeseen scale spreading across the whole world. As of Monday, 20 April, there are 15,251 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Ireland, among them 610 deaths. For now, everyone must stay at home to help stop the spread of coronavirus.

Here, experts weigh in on the most frequently asked coronavirus questions and what you can do to best protect yourself and your loved ones.

 

What is coronavirus and COVID-19?

According to the Department of Health, coronaviruses are a large family of viruses common to many species of animals, such as camels, cattle, cats and bats. They can be spread from animals to humans. Coronaviruses cause illness in humans ranging from the common cold to more severe respiratory (lung) diseases such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).

The current coronavirus—also referred to as a novel (new) coronavirus, or SARS-CoV-2—was first detected in 2019, in Wuhan City in the Hubei Province of China. The name of the illness caused by SARS-CoV-2 is called COVID-19, short for “coronavirus disease 2019.”

 

How is coronavirus transmitted?

“COVID-19 is spread through close contact with an infected person’s body fluids (e.g. droplets from coughing or sneezing), or by touching surfaces that an infected person has coughed or sneezed on,” says Dr Tony Holohan, Chief Medical Officer at the Department of Health.

At this stage, we know that the virus can be transmitted when those infected show (flu-like) symptoms. However, there are still uncertainties as to whether mild or asymptomatic cases can transmit the virus.

If you’re pregnant or breastfeeding: In the US, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) state that it’s still unknown whether a pregnant woman with COVID-19 can transmit coronavirus to her fetus or newborn. However, in the limited recent case series of infants born to mothers with COVID-19 published in the peer-reviewed literature, none of the infants have tested positive for the virus that causes COVID-19. Additionally, the virus was not detected in samples of amniotic fluid or breast milk.

 

What are the symptoms?

While we are still learning specifics about how the disease will present, the main symptoms include:

  • cough
  • shortness of breath
  • breathing difficulties
  • fever (high temperature)

 

By comparison, the flu is more likely to cause fever or a feverish feeling, headache, muscle and body aches, fatigue, cough and a runny or stuffy nose. Cases can range from mild to severe, and shortness of breath may indicate a more serious form of the illness. Symptoms may present anywhere from 2-14 days following exposure.

 

What are the symptoms in kids specifically?

Limited reports of children with COVID-19 have described mild, cold-like symptoms, such as fever, runny nose and cough, the CDC notes. At least one child exhibited gastrointestinal symptoms (vomiting and diarrhea). Although severe complications (acute respiratory distress syndrome, septic shock) have been reported, they appear to be uncommon.

 

Who is most at risk?

The risks are highest in the following communities:

  • People who are close contacts of someone who has been diagnosed with COVID-19 are at elevated risk.
  • People aged 70 and over.
  • Healthcare workers caring for patients with COVID-19 are at elevated risk of exposure.
  • The immunocompromised—like people in retirement homes, the elderly, cancer, diabetes, HIV or COPD/asthma patients, etc.—have a higher risk.
  • Travellers returning from affected international locations where community spread has occurred.
  • Pregnant women experience immunologic and physiologic changes which might make them more susceptible to viral respiratory infections, including COVID-19.

 

What precautions should I take?

The single most important action anyone can take to protect themselves from COVID-19 is regular hand-washing and good respiratory hygiene.

Although alcohol-based hand sanitisers are flying off the shelves, it’s best to wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom, before eating and after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing.

Avoid high-touch surfaces—other people (handshaking), handrails, etc.—when possible, as well as contact with those who are ill (or appear ill) with respiratory illness, travel to high infection areas abroad or domestic, nursing homes or other health care areas where high risk may be found unless you need to obtain assistance.

Until 12 April, everyone is urged to stay in their home wherever possible. Staying at home is the best way to minimise the risk of COVID-19 to your friends, families and communities. You can buy food and attend medical appointments and even get out for some exercise but you are being asked to stay in your home as much as possible. You cannot arrange a gathering with anybody you do not live with. For full info read here.

 

Additional precautions:

  • Stay home when you are sick with respiratory disease symptoms. Use delivery services for receiving food, etc.
  • Cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue, then throw it in the bin.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with 60-95% alcohol.
  • Routinely clean frequently touched surfaces and objects.

 

What should I do if I think my child or I have been exposed to coronavirus?

If you are in one of the priority groups and your GP thinks that you need to be tested, they will arrange a test for you. Your appointment will be confirmed by text message. The text will include details on where you should go and when. More information on testing is available from the HSE.

If you or a family member shows symptoms and believes to have been exposed to the virus, you should do the following:

  • Seek immediate medical attention. But before you go to a doctor’s office or emergency room, call them and tell them about your symptoms.
  • Isolate yourself and stay indoors with a phone. Avoid using the same bathroom as other people in your household.
  • Do not use public transport or taxis. Don't visit public areas.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when coughing or sneezing. If you have easy access to surgical face masks, use one, and dispose of it safely after use. Remember to wash your hands after disposing of a mask.
  • Follow appropriate disinfection/hand washing rules to avoid spreading the virus to others.

 

Is there a vaccine?

While a vaccine is in development, at present, known medications are ineffective in preventing or treating COVID-19. The seasonal influenza vaccine does not protect against COVID-19.

 

Further helpful articles:

What’s safe for families to do—and not—during the coronavirus outbreak?

Your coronavirus questions, answered: What seniors and their caregivers need to know

School's out for COVID-19: How parents are navigating the impending childcare crisis

How to talk to kids about coronavirus

7 ways parents can manage anxiety amid coronavirus

 

Please note: The article above was prepared to the best of the author’s ability based on available information. However, it is not updated on a daily basis and may not apply to your specific situation.

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