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Efforts to control the pandemic have seen 68.6 million coronavirus tests processed in the UK, and three vaccines have been approved for use with a fourth jab in the works.
However, in a press briefing on Jan 22, Boris Johnson confirmed that 38,562 Covid patients were in hospital, 78 per cent higher than in the first peak in April.
The Prime Minister told the Downing Street press conference: “It’s more important than ever that we all remain vigilant in following the rules and that we stay at home, protect the NHS and thereby save lives.”
There is also a lot that individuals can do to stop themselves picking up and spreading this disease. This practical guide will help you keep yourself and your family safe and tell you everything you need to know about this global pandemic.
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What is the coronavirus?
Coronaviruses are a family of viruses that cause disease in animals. Seven, including the new virus, have made the jump to humans, but most just cause common cold-like symptoms.
Only two other coronaviruses – Middle East respiratory syndrome (Mers) and severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) – have been deadly but did not spread on the same scale as Covid-19.
But there is no evidence yet that the mutation has altered the severity of the virus or caused any new symptoms.
However, the latest variant of Covid-19 from South Africa is causing real concern, as it is feared the mutations in this strain could interfere with the effectiveness of the vaccine.
There has also been a new variant identified in Brazil that is “concerning” the Government, Boris Johnson has said.
Cambridge University microbiology professor Ravi Gupta said the Brazilian variant has three key mutations that “largely mirror” some of those in the hyper-infectious South African variant “hence the concern”.
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What are the symptoms of coronavirus?
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), the main symptoms of coronavirus usually include:
- A dry cough
- A temperature
- Shortness of breath (in more severe cases)
- Loss of taste and smell
Some patients may have “aches and pains, nasal congestion, runny nose, sore throat or diarrhoea”, WHO adds. “These symptoms are usually mild and begin gradually. Some people become infected but don’t develop any symptoms and don’t feel unwell”.
Loss of the senses of taste and smell has been defined as one of the key symptoms of coronavirus under official Government guidance.
The chart below identifies some of the most commonly reported symptoms.
- Read more: Coronavirus vs flu and cold symptoms
The most common coronavirus symptoms
What are the less common symptoms?
Other symptoms may include:
- Aches or muscle pain
- Nausea or vomiting
- Runny nose
- Sore throat
- Confusion or dizziness
- Skin rashes
However, there is disagreement among scientists whether some of these symptoms – such as diarrhoea – are linked to Covid-19.
How long do coronavirus symptoms last?
Because Covid-19 is so new there is a good deal of uncertainty around this.
And a study of nine German patients who were also only mildly affected showed that they displayed symptoms for between eight and 11 days.
People with more severe forms of the disease will take longer to recover – a study of 138 patients who were hospitalised in China showed that some patients were in hospital for up to two weeks, although the average stay was 10 days.
Some people have been left with psychiatric problems, pain and fatigue for weeks after contracting Covid-19, known as long-Covid.
What is the incubation period?
Symptoms are thought to appear between two and 10 days after contracting the virus, but it may be up to 24 days.
Most people (about 80 per cent) recover from the disease without needing special treatment. However, around one out of every six people (16 per cent) becomes seriously ill and develops difficulty breathing.
Older people, and those with underlying medical problems like high blood pressure, heart problems, lung complaints or diabetes are more likely to develop serious illness.
Is a rash a sign of coronavirus?
A skin rash is not yet recognised by the Government or the NHS as a symptom of coronavirus.
This has led to the term “gastric coronavirus” being coined.
What are the symptoms in children and babies?
According to the NHS, the main symptoms of coronavirus in children are:
- A high temperature
- A new, continuous cough – this means coughing a lot, for more than an hour, or 3 or more coughing episodes in 24 hours
- A loss or change to sense of smell or taste – this means they cannot smell or taste anything, or things smell or taste different to normal
The US CDC also suggests that parents watch for fever, runny nose, fatigue, muscle aches, vomiting and diarrhoea.
When should I seek medical help?
If you have difficulty breathing – for example, you are breathing hard and fast, then you should seek medical help. But do not go to a GP – call NHS 111. The NHS 111 website has a symptom checker and specific advice about what you should do in the event that you need to seek medical help.
If you have a fever and a cough – the main early symptoms of coronavirus – the government now advises that you self-isolate for seven days. However, if you live with others you and the people you live with will have to self isolate for 14 days. This will help protect others.
If you live alone, ask neighbours, friends and family to help you to get the things you need.
You do not need to call NHS 111 to go into self-isolation.
If you have no internet access, you should call NHS 111.
For a medical emergency dial 999.
How to ‘self-isolate’ if you think you might have coronavirus
If you think you may have the virus, you should isolate or quarantine yourself for a minimum of ten days, or until symptoms have stopped.
This means you should:
- Stay at home
- Do not go to work and other public areas
- Do not use public transport and taxis
- Get friends and family to deliver food, medicines etc, rather than going to the shops
How is coronavirus spread and how can I protect myself?
The most important advice to follow is to stay at home and keep washing your hands.
Like cold and flu bugs, the new virus is spread via droplets when a person coughs or sneezes. The droplets travel for up to three metres, landing on surfaces which are then touched by others and spread further.
People catch the virus when their infected hands touch the mouth, nose or eyes.
It follows that the single most important thing you can do to protect yourself is to keep your hands clean by washing them frequently with soap and water or a hand sanitising gel.
Also try to avoid touching your mouth, nose or eyes with unwashed hands – something we all do unconsciously on average about 15 times an hour.
Other tips include:
- Carry a hand sanitiser with you at all time to make frequent cleaning of your hands easy
- Always wash your hands before you eat or touch your face
- Be especially careful about touching things and then touching your face
- Sneeze or cough into the crook of your elbow to prevent your hands being contaminated
- Carry disposable tissues with you, cover your nose and mouth when you cough or sneeze and dispose of the tissue carefully (catch it, bin it, kill it)
- If you do have to go to work remember social distancing rules and keep away from people
- Wash your hands when you get in after you have been out
- Regularly clean not only your hands but also commonly used surfaces and devices you touch or handle
How the coronavirus spreads and how to protect yourself
Is it just droplets from the nose and mouth that spread the new virus?
Probably not, but they are by far the most common risk.
The NHS and WHO are advising doctors that the virus is also likely to be contained in other bodily secretions including blood, faeces and urine.
Here again, hand and surface hygiene is the key.
How can I protect my family, especially children?
Children are a major vector for the spread of droplet-based viruses because they interact physically so much with each other and are not the best at keeping themselves clean.
The virus appears to impact older people more commonly but children can be infected and they can get severe illness, the government warns.
However, you can greatly lower the risk that children pose of spreading or catching viruses by:
Explaining to them how germs spread and the importance of good hand and face hygiene
Ensuring that they stick to the rules on social distancing so no meeting up with friends however bored they are getting
Keeping household surfaces clean, especially kitchens, bathrooms, door handles and light switches
Using clean or disposable cloths to wipe surfaces so you don’t transfer germs from one surface to another
Giving everyone their own towel and making sure they know not to share toothbrushes etc
Keep your home dry and airy (bugs thrive in musty environments)
The Government is advising that people stay at home and practice social distancing.
The Oxford vaccine is about 70 per cent effective but easier to manufacture and distribute.
Immunologist Professor Uğur Şahin, the founder of the BioNTech firm which has developed a vaccine alongside Pfizer, said that the jab has “no serious side effects”.
“Key side effects” included a mild to moderate pain in the injection site for a few days, and a “mild to moderate fever” for one or two days, he told the BBC on Nov 15.
But on Dec 9, the MHRA warned NHS Trusts not to give the jab to people with a “significant” history of allergic reactions, after two NHS staff reacted to it.
The Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine was approved for use in the UK on Dec 30 by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA). The rollout of the mass vaccination programme began on Jan 4. The AstraZeneca vaccine has now been approved for all adults in the EU.
The Moderna vaccine was also approved for use by the MRHA on Jan 8, although this will not be delivered until the spring.
A fourth Covid-19 vaccine could be approved for use in the UK within weeks as late-stage trials have suggested Novavax was 89% effective in preventing coronavirus.
The news comes as Johnson & Johnson announced their single dose vaccine was 66 per cent effective in preventing moderate to severe Covid-19.
Brtiain has ordered 30 million doses, and Johnson & Johnson said they will send final results to the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) next week, which will determine whether to approve the jab.
There are almost 200 coronavirus vaccine candidates in development, and at least 15 of these are in human trials.
Boris Johnson pledged on Jan 4 that the NHS is committed to offering a vaccination to everyone in the top four priority groups by Feb 15.
The second dose completes the course and is important for longer term protection.
“From today the NHS across the UK will prioritise giving the first dose of the vaccine to those in the most high-risk groups.”
What is ‘long Covid’ and what are the long-term symptoms?
Many people who have been infected with the virus and recovered from its acute phase have had other lingering complaints, or what has become known as ‘long Covid’. Symptoms of this often include tiredness and muscle aches.
Guidance issued by the NHS and seen by The Telegraph warns that lung disease is also likely to be an important consequence of Covid-19, in addition to an array of other long-term complications.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that weakness on being discharged from intensive care units is prevalent among more than half of Covid patients, with mild brain damage also persisting in approximately a quarter of the patients who suffer acute respiratory distress syndrome.
Whilst anyone who is critically ill is likely to suffer fatigue as they recover, the NHS guidance warns “patients who have had Covid-19 are reporting extreme fatigue beyond the usual reported levels”, and one in 10 patients could develop chronic fatigue.
The first parliamentary inquiry into the coronavirus pandemic heard from witnesses who spoke of lasting coronavirus symptoms, and found themselves being wiped out months after being first diagnosed with the virus.
An app developed at King’s College London traces progress of more than 4 million Covid-19 patients in the United Kingdom, Sweden and the US.
Some people also report confusion, muscle pain, shortness of breath and a cough.
A loss of smell, known as anosmia, has been identified as a common symptom of Covid-19, but now some long Covid sufferers have developed a strange symptom where they smell fish and burnt toast constantly.
Professor Nirmal Kumar, an ear, nose and throat (ENT) surgeon, said the “very strange and very unique” long-term symptom, known as parosmia, seemed to affect young people and healthcare workers, in particular.
More than three quarters of coronavirus patients have at least one ongoing symptom six months after initially becoming unwell, a landmark study has found.
Some 1,265 of the 1,655 patients (76 per cent) patients studied reported at least one health complaint during the follow-up period.
The most common long-term symptoms were fatigue and muscle weakness, sleep difficulties, and anxiety or depression.
This is the largest study with the longest follow-up period among those which explore the impact of Covid-19 on adult patients discharged from hospital to recover.
Published in The Lancet, a leading peer-reviewed journal, it examines the long-term effects of Covid-19 on people admitted to hospital in Wuhan – the Chinese city at the centre of the pandemic.
What is the difference between a coronavirus and a flu virus?
Coronaviruses and flu viruses might cause similar symptoms but genetically they are very different.
Coronaviruses don’t evolve in the same way as flu, with lots of different strains, but equally our body doesn’t generate very good immunity.”
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