Updated: Apr 23, 2020
First things first - what is it ? COVID-19 is a novel (meaning new) strain of coronavirus that was first identified in Wuhan, China in December 2019.
The nasty little bugs are named for the crown-like spikes on their surface - Corona is Spanish for crown.
Despite what you may have read or seen on social media COVID-19 does not stand for or mean "Chinese-Originated Viral Infectious Disease" - nor does it mean that this is the 19th strain of it.
Co = Corona
Vi = Virus
D = Disease
19 = 2019 - the year in which the strain was detected.
As the World Health Organisation (WHO) has noted, viruses and the diseases they cause often have different names: “For example, HIV is the virus that causes AIDS.
People often know the name of a disease, such as measles, but not the name of the virus that causes it (rubeola).
During the pandemic of 2020, most everyone was familiar with the name of the coronavirus disease that was sweeping across multiple countries (COVID-19), but less so with the name of the virus that caused it - SARS-CoV-2.
So in short Covid-19 is the name of the disease caused by the virus - SARS-CoV-2 - which stands for Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome.
Are there other Coronavirus Strains ?
Yes there are many different strains of Coronavirus - the animal world in particular is teeming with them.
They are found in cats and dogs, pigs and cattle, turkey and chickens, mice, rats, rabbits and of course, humans.
Some of those Coronviruses can cross species, such as between pigs, cats and dogs, but for the most part coronaviruses stay loyal to their original hosts.
Sometimes - such as the case with COVID-19, these viruses can sometimes jump from critters to people - causing particularly deadly strains of the bug.
At present there are seven total known human strains of coronavirus.
There are four main sub-groupings of coronaviruses, known as alpha, beta, gamma, and delta.
Human coronaviruses were first identified in the mid-1960s. The seven coronaviruses that can infect people are:
Common human coronaviruses
229E (alpha coronavirus)
NL63 (alpha coronavirus)
OC43 (beta coronavirus)
HKU1 (beta coronavirus)
These Strain of the Virus are know to cause the common cold.
Other human coronaviruses
MERS-CoV (the beta coronavirus that causes Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, or MERS)
SARS-CoV (the beta coronavirus that causes severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS)
SARS-CoV-2 (the novel coronavirus that causes coronavirus disease 2019, or COVID-19)
These diseases are often very serious and can be deadly.
Is COVID-19 the same as SARS ?
According to the World Health Organisation, no. The virus that causes COVID-19 and the one that caused the outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) in 2003 are related to each other genetically, but the diseases they cause are quite different.
SARS was more deadly but much less infectious than COVID-19. There have been no outbreaks of SARS anywhere in the world since 2003.
MERS, Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, is equally as deadly killing some 30% of people who become infected - but again is far less contagious than COVID-19
The coronaviruses that cause MERS and SARS are though to have crossed from mammals to humans, where they mutated to become contagious.
MERS-CoV first appeared in Jordon and Saudi Arabia in 2012 and it's thought to have crossed over to humans from dromedary camels in Africa, the Middle East and southern Asia.
Where did it come from
However, it wasn't a direct genetic match, so the bat is thought to have infected another species, which then infected humans.
Early reports pointed to snakes bought at a "wet market" in China were people buy live animals to eat.
A recent report of the initial cases of coronavirus in China debunks the "snake flu" theory, reporting that in 13 of the 41 early cases the infected patients had no link to the wet market.
A recent hypothesis claimed the intermediate host was the pangolin, an endangered scaly, ant-eating creature beloved for its meat and scales, which are used in traditional Chinese medicine.
However, this theory has now also been criticised, and as of yet, it is not known where the deadly strain began.
The same too can be said for the first SARS outbreak in 2003. Scientist were not able to trace the exact strain for some 15-years.
In 2017, a team of scientists found a remote cave in Yunnan province, China, which is home to horseshoe bats that carry a strain of a particular virus known as a coronavirus. This strain has all the genetic building blocks of the type that triggered the global outbreak of Sars in 2002.
How does the virus spread?
COVID-19 can spread from person to person usually through close contact with an infected person or through respiratory droplets that are dispersed into the air when an infected person coughs or sneezes.
It may also be possible to get the virus by touching a surface or object contaminated with the virus and then touching your mouth, nose or eyes, but it is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads.
Is COVID-19 airborne?
The virus that causes COVID-19 is mainly transmitted through droplets generated when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or speaks. These droplets are too heavy to hang in the air. They quickly fall on floors or surfaces. You can be infected by breathing in the virus if you are within 1 metre of a person who has COVID-19, or by touching a contaminated surface and then touching your eyes, nose or mouth before washing your hands.
What are the symptoms?
Similar to other respiratory illnesses, the symptoms of COVID-19 may include fever, cough, and shortness of breath.
People infected with COVID-19 may experience any range of these symptoms along with aches and pains, nasal congestion, runny nose, sore throat and diarrhoea.
Symptoms can start to show up anywhere from two to 14 days after exposure to the virus.
It may be possible for an infected person who is not yet showing any symptoms to spread the virus.
Older persons, and those with pre-existing medical illnesses like heart disease and diabetes, however, seem to be more likely to experience severe respiratory symptoms and complications.
How to protect yourself from coronavirus
The best preventative action is to avoid being exposed to the virus. You can do this by taking a few cautionary steps—the same as you would if you were trying to avoid getting any respiratory illness.
Wash your hands with soap and water frequently. If soap and water are not readily accessible, use alcohol-based sanitisers.
Avoid contact with sick people.
Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with your hands if they are unwashed.
Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your bent elbow when you sneeze or cough. Make sure to dispose of the tissue immediately
If you are feeling unwell, stay home.
If you have no respiratory symptoms such as a cough, a medical mask is not necessary. Only use the mask if you have symptoms such as coughing or sneezing or suspect a COVID-19 infection. A mask is recommended for those caring for anyone with COVID-19.
What to do if you suspect you are infected?
The symptoms of COVID-19 are very similar to those of a cold or the flu, making it challenging to identify the specific cause of any respiratory symptoms.
If you suspect you have been infected by COVID-19, you should seek medical care as soon as possible.
Until you can access medical care, you should follow these guidelines to reduce your likelihood of infecting others:
Restrict your outdoor activities and stay at home as much as you can. If it is feasible, stay in a separate room, and use a different bathroom from others in your household.
Clean and/or disinfect objects and surfaces that you touch regularly.
Track your symptoms as accurately as possible, so you can provide medical personnel with useful information.
Are there any treatments or vaccines?
There are currently no treatments, drugs, or vaccines available to treat or prevent COVID-19. People infected with the virus should receive medical treatment to relieve and alleviate the symptoms they are experiencing.
How did the first human SARS-CoV-2 infections occur?
The WHO says the first human cases of COVID-19 were identified in Wuhan City, China in December 2019. At this stage, it is not possible to determine precisely how humans in China were initially infected with SARS-CoV-2. However, SARS-CoV, the virus which caused the SARS outbreak in 2003, jumped from an animal reservoir (civet cats, a farmed wild animal) to humans and then spread between humans. In a similar way, it is thought that SARS-CoV-2 jumped the species barrier and initially infected humans, but more likely through an intermediate host, that is another animal species more likely to be handled by humans - this could be a domestic animal, a wild animal, or a domesticated wild animal and, as of yet, has not been identified. Until the source of this virus is identified and controlled, there is a risk of reintroduction of the virus in the human population and the risk of new outbreaks like the ones we are currently experiencing.
How long does the virus survive on surfaces?
It is not certain how long the virus that causes COVID-19 survives on surfaces, but it seems to behave like other coronaviruses. Studies suggest that coronaviruses (including preliminary information on the COVID-19 virus) may persist on surfaces for a few hours or up to several days. This may vary under different conditions (e.g. type of surface, temperature or humidity of the environment). If you think a surface may be infected, clean it with simple disinfectant to kill the virus and protect yourself and others. Clean your hands with an alcohol-based hand rub or wash them with soap and water. Avoid touching your eyes, mouth, or nose.