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COVID-19 Frequently Asked Questions


Joanne Fielding

What is COVID-19?

It is a disease caused by SARS-CoV-2, a new virus from the Coronavirus family, which was first identified in Wuhan, China in December 2019.

Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses found in animals and humans. They cause a range of illnesses from a cold to more severe life threatening conditions such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).

COVID19 has a lower fatality rate then SARS and MERS but has unfortunately resulted in more deaths (2618) than SARS and MERS combined (1774), due to a much larger number of cases.

A recent Lancet article places the COVID-19 case fatality rate is 2.5%. However, it has been reported to be higher than 3% on the epicentre of the outbreak, the Wuhan region but as low at 0.7% in other provinces of China.

As the virus has spread, countries have seen very different fatality rates. These are influenced by both the capacity and resilience of the health care structures and by the testing methods chosen by that country. Countries that test more widely in the community will see a larger number of mild cases and thus a lower fatality rate. If testing is only done in people with symptoms or those arriving a the hospital, the fatality rate may be higher.

What are the symptoms of COVID-19?

According to 3 papers published by JAMA and the Lancet, the main symptoms when people arrive at hospital include fever (83%-98%), cough (59-82%), fatigue (44-69%), confusion (9%), headache (8%), diarrhoea and vomiting (1-3%). The severity of the symptoms range from mild to life threatening.

Not all cases need hospitalisation. Many (around 80%) have mild symptoms and can be managed at home.

However, 91-100% of patients admitted to hospital for COVID-19 had #pneumonia and abnormal findings of chest CT. These 3 research papers also showed that 26-32% of patients hospitalised in China required admission into an intensive care unit. Other countries, however, have seen lower intensive care admissions rates.

How is it COVID-19 treated?

There is so far no specific treatment for COVID-19. Like many other viral infections, it is managed through supportive care. This means rest, fluids, hydration and fever control. For severe cases treatment may have to include care to support vital organs, for example, respiratory support from a ventilator.

Are antibiotics effective in preventing and treating COVID-19?

Antibiotics do not work against COVID-19 as it is caused by a virus. Antibiotics only work on bacterial infections. Therefore antibiotics shouldn’t be used as treatment or prevention of COVID-19. If a bacterial infection develops on top of the COVID19 infection, then antibiotics could be used.

How long is the incubation period for COVID-19?

The incubation period is known as the time elapsed between the time of infection and the start of the symptoms. According to Journal of the American Medical Association – the incubation period is reported to be 5.2 days (95% CI, 4.1-7.0). However it has been suggested that it could be as long as 14 days. Most experts are citing 2 to 14 days, and people in quarantine are being asked to remain isolated for 14 days if they don't show symptoms.

How do I protect myself from getting COVID-19?

The WHO recommends:

- Wash hands with soap and water or alcohol based hand rub for at least 20 seconds. Hand washing is one of the most effective measures we can use to prevent spread of respiratory infections.

- Maintain social distancing, stay 1 metre away between you and other people, particularly if they are sick. WHY? Because if you are too close you can breathe in the droplets containing the virus.

- Practice respiratory hygiene – when coughing or sneezing, cover your nose and mouth with a flexed elbow or tissue. Then discard the tissue and wash your hands. WHY? Because this reduces the spread of droplets from mucus secretions which can transmit the virus.

- Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands. Why? Because you can transfer the virus from your hands or a contaminated surface to your body.

What do I do if I come in contact with someone who has now been diagnosed with COVID-19?

1. Let your local health department or local doctor your concerns of COVID-19 infection.

2. Watch for signs and symptoms of infection, fever, dry cough and shortness of breath.

3. Some countries are asking for 14 days of self-quarantine, in your home. Check with your health care professional.

4. If symptoms appear, call your health care provider, or go to the emergency department. Call before presenting to the emergency room if possible to help reduce the spread to others and to health professionals.

How long does it take for a vaccine to be created for COVID-19?

There are many steps when creating a vaccine and while there is ongoing developments and new technology this process can take months and sometimes years. For example it took 20 months to develop a vaccine ready for human trials for the 2003 SARS outbreak (this does not mean it is approved for human use). It took 5 years for an Ebola vaccine to be approved for use.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the American National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said that a preliminary clinical trial may get off the ground in as little as three months. But researchers would still need to conduct extensive testing to prove a vaccine is safe and effective.

Should I wear a mask? Do masks help?

According to the Journal of American Medical Association there is little benefit to wearing the common surgical face mask in preventing you from getting COVID-19. Surgical masks are used to as one way protection for the wearer of the mask, so that their droplets as slowed in spreading. The common surgical masks are not close fitting enough to filter all the small particles of COVID-19.

The WHO only recommends using this mask when you have respiratory symptoms or if you are healthy, when you are caring for someone with COVID19 (or other respiratory infection).

The WHO states that using a mask alone is not guaranteed to stop infections and should be combined with other preventative measures such as frequent hand washing, avoiding touching your face and practicing respiratory hygiene.

Respiratory hygiene means that when coughing or sneezing, you cover your nose and mouth with a flexed elbow or tissue. Then discard the tissue and wash your hands as this reduces the spread of germs and viruses on contaminated objects or people that you touch).

N95 respirator mask is a specific type of surgical mask that is close fitting and filters a high percentage of droplets.These are used by health professionals.

Please note that all masks are single use, need to be changed regularly, and when they become wet need to be replaced as they can harbour germs. The WHO has published graphics on how to wear and remove masks to prevent the spread of germs. (

2020-03-09 11:58:50