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Viruses have been around for millions of years, even longer than the humans! In fact, viruses have been instrumental in the evolution of human beings! But just like there is good bacteria and bad bacteria, there are viruses which help cure diseases, and there are viruses which cause diseases. Viruses are extremely intelligent – they keep multiplying inside our bodies and keep evolving fast to face whatever we throw at them. This intelligence is what makes them survive and thrive in all host bodies – whether animals or humans. They  function through us by intertwining their machinery with ours. They share our proteins and we share their weaknesses.

Coronavirus is extremely dangerous and has already caused havoc across the globe. While companies and institutions around the world are racing to find a vaccine, it may take several months before they overcome the scientific, regulatory and production hurdles. Until then, it’s up to all of us to keep ourselves and others safe by helping prevent the spread of the virus. So here’s all you need to know about the virus and how you may be able to help.

What is the novel coronavirus and COVID-19?

Coronaviruses are small viruses named for the spikes on their surface that resemble a crown – corona is derived from the Latin name for a crown. Coronaviruses  are a large family of viruses that can affect humans as well as animals. In humans, coronaviruses cause respiratory tract infections that can be mild, such as some cases of the common cold, and others that can be lethal, such as SARS and MERS. The novel coronavirus is a new coronavirus that has not been previously identified. The disease caused by novel coronavirus is called coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).

What is the source of this virus?

The source of this fast spreading virus can be traced back to a seafood market in Wuhan, a port city of 11 million people in the central Hubei province of China. It got international attention on December 31 last year, when China alerted WHO to several cases of unusual pneumonia in Wuhan. The virus was unknown at that stage. Soon after France confirmed the first case in Europe on 7th January. On January 30, WHO declared the outbreak a global health emergency. WHO gave the virus its name – COVID-19 – on Feb 11 and on 11 March WHO characterised COVID-19 as a pandemic. So far the virus has spread to at least 177 countries and territories, killing more than 14,700 people and infecting more than 340,000 people.

What are the symptoms?

Most cases are mild, but severe cases can be fatal. Common symptoms are:
– Fever
– Cough
– Shortness of breath

Emergency warning signs include:
– Trouble breathing
– Persistent pain or pressure in the chest
– New confusion or inability to arouse
– Bluish lips or face

The symptoms may appear 2-14 days after exposure (based on the incubation period of the virus).

How does the virus spread?

The virus is thought to spread mainly from person-to-person:
– Between people who are in close contact with one another (within about 6 feet).
– Through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes.

These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs.

Some spread might be possible before people show symptoms; there have been reports of this occurring with this new coronavirus, but this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads.

It may be possible that a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes, but this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads.

There is no evidence that suggests that COVID-19 is passed on through food. The main risk of transmission is from close contact with infected people. The advice given before preparing or eating food is to always wash hands with soap and water for 20 seconds for general food safety.

Who is at higher risk for serious illness from COVID-19?

Broadly, there are four risk groups who are at greater risk of contracting COVID-19:
1. People over-70s, regardless of any medical conditions.
2. Under-70s who have an underlying health condition.
3. Pregnant women.
4. People with complex health problems – this group includes people who:

The fourth group are at the highest risk of severe illness from coronavirus.

What are the underlying health conditions?

The underlying health conditions are:
– Long-term respiratory or lung disease, like asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
– Long-term heart disease, like heart failure.
– Long-term kidney disease.
– Long-term liver disease, like hepatitis.
– Diabetes.
– Long-term neurological conditions like Parkinson’s disease, motor neurone disease, multiple sclerosis (MS), cerebral palsy, or a learning disability.
– Problems with their spleen like sickle cell anaemia, or have had their spleen removed.
– A weakened immune system, either as a result of a medical condition like HIV or AIDS, or as a result of medications like corticosteroids or chemotherapy.
– A body mass index (BMI) of 40 or above (being severely obese).

What are the complex health problems?

People with complex health problems:
– Have had an organ transplant and take medication to suppress their immune system.
– Have cancer and are currently having active chemotherapy or radiotherapy treatment.
– Have blood or bone marrow cancer (like leukaemia, lymphoma and myeloma) and are at any stage of treatment.
– Have severe respiratory/lung conditions like cystic fibrosis or severe asthma that requires admission to hospital or treatment with corticosteroids.
– Have severe diseases of the body systems, like severe kidney disease that is managed with regular dialysis.

What should I do now?

1. Stay at home

Everyone must stay at home to help stop the spread of coronavirus. This includes people of all ages – even if you do not have any symptoms or other health conditions.

Stay home if you are sick. Keep away from people who are sick. Limit close contact with others as much as possible (about 6 feet). Stay informed about the local COVID-19 situation. Continue practicing everyday preventive actions. Cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue and wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use a hand sanitizer that contains 60% alcohol. Clean frequently touched surfaces and objects daily using a regular household detergent and water.

And remember, as per latest Government guidelines, you should only leave the house for 1 of 4 reasons:
– shopping for basic necessities, for example food and medicine, which must be as infrequent as possible
– one form of exercise a day, for example a run, walk, or cycle – alone or with members of your household
– any medical need, or to provide care or to help a vulnerable person
– travelling to and from work, but only where this absolutely cannot be done from home.

2. Boost your immunity

It’s important to take precautions to reduce exposure and transmission. Here, are six simple ways you can boost your immunity and fortify yourself against the infection:
– Consume mostly organic, plant based food. They help keep the blood sugar levels within healthy range.
– Include basil and turmeric in your diet. These herbs are renowned for their anti viral properties.
– Take some Astralagus root and Vitamin C supplements. These are natural immune boosters.
– Stay at least 6 feet away from anyone coughing or sneezing.
– Regularly wash your hands and moisturise, every time you touch communal surfaces or after being in a public place.
– Get a healthy dose of Vitamin D in its natural form – sunlight.

3. Manage stress

Stay in touch with others by phone or email. If you have a chronic medical condition and live alone, ask family, friends, and health care providers to check on you during an outbreak. Stay in touch with family and friends, especially those at increased risk of developing severe illness, such as older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions. At this time, taking care of yourself, your friends, and your family can help you cope with stress and build confidence.

WHO recommends the following things to support yourself:
– Take breaks from watching, reading, or listening to news stories, including social media. Hearing about the pandemic repeatedly can be upsetting.
– Take deep breaths, stretch, or meditate. Try to eat healthy, well-balanced meals, exercise regularly, get plenty of sleep, and avoid alcohol and drugs.
– Make time to unwind. Try to do some other activities you enjoy.
– Connect with others. Talk with people you trust about your concerns and how you are feeling.

4. What if I need medical help

If you need medical help for any reason, do not go to places like a GP surgery, pharmacy or hospital. If you have symptoms of coronavirus (a high temperature or a new, continuous cough), use the 111 coronavirus service.

If you need help or advice not related to coronavirus:
– for health information and advice, use the NHS website or your GP surgery website
– for urgent medical help, use the NHS 111 online service – only call 111 if you’re unable to get help online
– for life-threatening emergencies, call 999 for an ambulance

Read more advice about getting medical help at home.

What’s the treatment for coronavirus?

There is currently neither a vaccine against COVID-19 nor any specific, proven, antiviral medication. Antibiotics do not help, as they do not work against viruses. Therefore most treatments are directed towards managing symptoms while the body fights the illness. You’ll need to stay in isolation, away from other people, until you have recovered.

There are a lot of efforts being made currently to develop a vaccine to protect against COVID-19. The vaccine would contain a harmless genetic code copied from the virus that causes the disease. Efforts are still in an early stage and it will still take several months to know if the vaccine will work.