COVID-19 or coronavirus disease is an infectious disease caused by a newly discovered strain of coronavirus named severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-COV-2). Cases that eventually led to a global pandemic were first discovered in the city of Wuhan, China, during early December 2019. Coronavirus is more contagious (spreads more easily) and leads to a more serious illness than the common flu. It also has the potential to cause frequent complications and death in vulnerable populations such as the elderly, individuals with diabetes and heart disease, and even children.
Coronaviruses belong to a large family of related RNA viruses that are responsible for causing illness ranging from common cold to severe disease such as the Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) and severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus (SARS-COV). The cases of COVID-19 continue to rise with deaths being reported all over the world. Hence, people must take precautions such as wearing masks, maintaining social distancing, regular hand washing, or using alcohol-based hand sanitizers to reduce the risk of infection.
People should seek treatment in the presence of symptoms and self-quarantine. Some common symptoms include fever, cough, throat pain, joint pain, muscle pain, fatigue, loss of smell, loss of taste, and breathing difficulty.
Characteristics of COVID-19
Following are the characteristics of COVID-19:
- Coronaviruses are considered zoonotic, that is, they are transmitted between animals (bats and pangolins) and humans.
- Coronaviruses are well structured with protein spikes that project from their surfaces forming a crown-like shape.
- They cause severe illness by causing the body to release toxic substances and harm its own lung and heart tissue (cytokine storm).
What are signs and symptoms of COVID-19?
Symptoms can be mild, moderate, and high depending on the extent of infection and individual affected. Coronavirus is transmitted through close contact with droplets from cough and sneeze. It takes an average of 14 days for the symptoms to become visible, but it could also take longer depending on the body’s capacity to endure the virus. The human body recognizes foreign pathogens that enter the body and eliminates them by increasing the body temperature, producing factors that fight the virus. This is the infectious stage where a person starts to manifest symptoms such as cough, fever, and severe throat pain. At this stage, the infection is highly contagious and can be actively transferred through droplets, aerosols, and secretions. The typical symptoms of COVID-19 include:
- Dry cough
- Fever (temperature >98.96°F)
- Throat pain
- Severe pain: back pain, joints, headache, and muscle aches
- Conjunctivitis (inflammation of the eyes)
- Memory problems
- Skin rash or discoloration of fingers or toes
- Loss of smell
- Breathing difficulty
- Chest pain or chest discomfort
- Pneumonia (lung infection)
- Lung failure
- Septic shock
What are the tests for COVID-19?
The common tests to detect COVID-19 include:
The RT-PCR test is done on a nasal swab collected in the suspected person and is the best test to detect infection. Other tests are done on the blood sample.
How is COVID-19 treated?
Mild to moderate symptoms in healthy individuals are treated by managing fever and by anti-allergic medications. Plenty of fluids and rest are essential.
In patients with reduced blood oxygen levels and potential for developing lung disease, anti-viral medications such as remdesivir (currently the only U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved drug against COVID-19), baricitinib (can be only used in combination with remdesivir), and dexamethasone may be used under careful monitoring in intensive care unit (ICU) settings.
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