Coronavirus: Origin, symptoms, causes, treatment, precautions and other details about COVID-19

By: Lifestyle Desk | New Delhi |

Published: March 30, 2020 6:20:10 pm

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The novel coronavirus responsible for a pneumonia-like illness has killed over 30,000 people and infected over six lakh in over 200 countries so far, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). As the specific mode of transmission of the virus is yet not clear, the best way to prevent is to avoid being exposed to it.

Here’s all you need to know about the COVID-19:


As a specific family of viruses, coronavirus or COVID-19, which is said to have first originated in China’s Wuhan, was declared a pandemic on March 11 by WHO. As per Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, the infection may have started from an animal source but spreads through human to human contact. As per WHO, 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.

Symptoms and how does it spread?

The COVID-19 virus spreads primarily through droplets of saliva or discharge from the nose when an infected person coughs or sneezes, as per WHO. Which is why, it’s extremely important to practice respiratory etiquette (for example, by coughing into a flexed elbow).

Who is at risk?

As per WHO, caused by the newly discovered coronavirus, most people infected will experience mild to moderate respiratory illness and recover without requiring special treatment. Older people, and those with underlying medical problems like cardiovascular disease, diabetes, chronic respiratory disease, and cancer are more likely to develop serious illness.

Are elderly, diabetics, people with other pre-existing ailments at higher risk?

According to International Diabetes Federation, “When people with diabetes develop a viral infection, it can be harder to treat due to fluctuations in blood glucose levels and, possibly, the presence of diabetes complications…Firstly, the immune system is compromised, making it harder to fight the virus and likely leading to a longer recovery period. Secondly, the virus may thrive in an environment of elevated blood glucose.”

A recent Lancet study also concluded that older people and those with diabetes are more at risk of getting coronavirus. “Poorer outcomes in older people may be due, in part, to the age-related weakening of the immune system and increased inflammation that could promote viral replication and more prolonged responses to inflammation, causing lasting damage to the heart, brain, and other organs,” the study said.

What can be done for prevention?

WHO recommends to prevent infection and to slow transmission of COVID-19, do the following:

*Wash your hands regularly with soap and water, or clean them with alcohol-based hand rub.
*Maintain at least 1 metre distance between you and people coughing or sneezing.
*Avoid touching your face.
*Cover your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing. However, WHO advises rational use of medical masks to avoid unnecessary wastage of precious resources and misuse of masks.
*Stay home if you feel unwell.
*Refrain from smoking and other activities that weaken the lungs.
*Practice physical distancing by avoiding unnecessary travel and staying away from large groups of people.

Many countries including India have put in lockdown measures and people have been asked to practice social distancing and self-quarantine to help break the transmission chain and slow the spread of the disease.

How different is it from the common flu?

According to WHO, COVID-19 and the flu are both contagious viruses that cause respiratory illness and lead to symptoms such as nausea, shortness of breath, chest congestion, rise in temperature and if it gets difficult to contain, lead to pneumonia. While symptoms can appear anywhere between three to four days for flu, it takes two to 14 days for coronavirus symptoms to appear.

In hindsight, both may appear similar in the beginning. However, they belong to different virus families. Discovered only in 2019, the novel coronavirus wasn’t previously seen in humans. Compared to it, influenza virus was identified long ago, in 1918.

According to a February 2020 report of the WHO-China Joint Mission on Coronavirus Disease 2019, ‘airborne spread has not been reported for COVID-19 and it is not believed to be a major driver of transmission based on available evidence; however, it can be envisaged if certain aerosol-generating procedures are conducted in health care facilities’.

Is a vaccine available?

At this time, there are no specific vaccines or treatments for COVID-19. “However, there are many ongoing clinical trials evaluating potential treatments. WHO will continue to provide updated information as soon as clinical findings become available,” stated WHO.

Vaccines against pneumonia, such as pneumococcal vaccine and Haemophilus influenza type B (Hib) vaccine, do not provide protection against the new coronavirus, states WHO. Although these vaccines are not effective against 2019-nCoV, vaccination against respiratory illnesses is highly recommended to protect your health, it advises.

What should you do if you have coronavirus symptoms, travel/contact history?

Go to any of the 106 medical colleges/district hospitals designated by the government as Viral Research & Diagnostic Laboratories (VRDLs). Private hospitals/clinics may or may not have the technology or expertise, and an infected person may end up only expanding their network of contacts and facilitating spread of the disease.

Here is the list of hospitals

Two tests are ordinarily done before pronouncing a person as coronavirus-positive.

In the first stage, a nasal or throat swab is tested for the presence of the virus — to detect the “viral load”. Strands of genetic material (for the novel coronavirus it is RNA) are isolated through a process called Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR). This test can happen at any of the labs in the chart alongside.

In the next stage, the identity of the virus is confirmed through genome sequencing. This test is available only at the National Institute of Virology, Pune. The test was developed almost overnight after the identity of the novel coronavirus was revealed in December last year.

Is re-infection after recovery possible?

It is a key question that has no definite answer as of now. There are a handful of cases where “re-infection” in recovered patients has happened. But most scientists believe those are more likely to have been relapses. A patient may feel better and test negative for the virus in their nose and throat, while the virus may have remained somewhere else in their body. While antibodies are given to patients, there is no conclusive evidence of how long the antibodies last to prevent re-infection.

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