The year 2020 will be ingrained in the minds of many of us as the year that coronavirus (COVID-19) emerged and which continues to impact on our lives. As the world’s scientists and medics continue to learn more about this new virus and offer guidance to the public, it can be tough to cut through the fear-factor and disinformation and find the facts. The Healthwords team is here to help, and suggest ways to help keep you and your loved ones well.
Officially the virus strain is called Sars-CoV-2 but is known more commonly as the disease it causes: coronavirus disease (COVID-19). The figure 19 relates to the year it was discovered - 2019 - in China and since then it spread rapidly to all parts of the world. As with any virus, it thrives in certain conditions – crowded places, indoors, and in cooler weather – and since it appeared there have been numerous waves of infection travelling around the world and which continue to occur sporadically.
Similar to flu viruses, COVID-19 enters the body through the mouth, nose, and eyes, and is passed on through coughs and close contact. COVID-19 symptoms take around five days to appear but can take up to 14 days. Unlike the mild illness of common colds, COVID-19 can lead to more serious illness, like pneumonia, low oxygen levels, and - in the worst cases -death. Alongside a cough, you may get a fever, have trouble breathing, and difficulty smelling or tasting anything. You may also suffer from other flu-like symptoms such as muscle aches and headaches, chest pain, and it can leave you feeling weak and tired. If you are in good health, you may only have mild symptoms or none at all.
Just as with coughs and colds, the best way to stay well is to start small: good sleep and good hydration will help your body fend off harmful germs. The more restful, stress-free time you can build into your day, the stronger your immune system will be.
It pays to be careful around other people. As coronavirus symptoms do not show right away, they can be passed on by someone with no signs. We know that you can catch it from others by the air –coughs, standing close by –and it can also stay alive on surfaces for several hours.
The government has issued guidance about limiting unnecessary contact with others and good hygiene is paramount here. You should wash your hands thoroughly and often –good old soap and warm water are best, or alcohol gel sanitiser for on the go. And - easier said than done - avoid touching your face. If you can cough into your sleeve, or reach for a tissue when you need to sneeze, these actions can help keep those around you safe too.
Face masks can reduce your chance of both catching an infection, and passing it on and although many of the strict regulations previously in place about wearing them in shops and on public transport have eased at the moment, it’s worth always having one handy.
As with colds and flu, there are a number of possible symptoms you may experience if you are infected with COVID-19. These include a high temperature, a continuous cough, and a loss or change to your sense of smell or taste. You may also feel very tired, short of breath, ache all over, have a headache, feel sick, have diarrhoea, a sore throat or a blocked or runny nose.
A new condition known as post-COVID syndrome (‘long Covid’) has emerged, where people continue to suffer certain symptoms months after contracting it. These include an ongoing cough or feeling breathless, fatigue impacting your everyday life, or brain fog where you may find tasks requiring concentration or memory are challenging. Anxiety and depression may also feature significantly.
Clinics have been set up across the UK to help people suffering from long Covid so contact your doctor if you think this applies to you. These long-term effects can appear even if you only had a mild disease to begin with, and are more likely to affect younger women, those with asthma or obesity, and those who had more than five symptoms within the first week.
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