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The Coronavirus: Symptoms, Treatment, and Prognosis

Larry Slawson received his Master's Degree from UNC Charlotte in 2018. He has a keen interest in virology.

The Coronavirus: Symptoms, Treatment, and Prognosis.

The Coronavirus: Symptoms, Treatment, and Prognosis.

Introduction

The SARS-CoV-2 virus, commonly referred to as the “Coronavirus” or “COVID-19,” is a highly contagious disease thought to have originated in Wuhan, China (December 2019). The virus is currently believed to be spreading around the world, with numerous infections recorded in China, Italy, Japan, South Korea, and Iran. Although other areas of the world have reported Coronavirus cases, these outbreaks are currently believed to be small in number for the time being, but will likely continue to spread in the weeks and months that lie ahead.

This works examines the Coronavirus in light of new information pertaining to its overall function and composition. It provides a direct analysis of the disease’s characteristics, transmission, and current prognosis. It is the author’s hope that a better (and clearer) understanding of this virus will accompany readers following their completion of this work. While little is known about the Coronavirus in these early stages of its development, education and consistent monitoring of the disease continue to offer the best line of defense for preventing its spread.

Coronavirus (yellow) emerging from a human cell in the body.

Coronavirus (yellow) emerging from a human cell in the body.

Virus Classification

  • Common Name: Coronavirus
  • Designation: SARS-CoV-2 “Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, Coronavirus-2”
  • Kingdom: Viridae
  • Realm: Riboviria
  • Phylum: Incertae sedis
  • Order: Nidovirales
  • Family: Coronaviridae
  • Genus: Betacoronavirus
  • Subgenus: Sarbecovirus
  • Species: Unknown

What is the Coronavirus?

Although the term “coronavirus” has been used to label the current outbreak affecting the world, it actually refers to a large group of viruses known to cause severe illness in both humans and animals. There are currently several variations to the Coronavirus that differ significantly in their overall symptoms and progression, with some causing mild cold and flu-like symptoms, and others causing severe infections ranging from SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) to MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome). The current Coronavirus strain, known to the scientific community as COVID-19, is believed to be a new strain (previously unknown to researchers) and is responsible for the current outbreak that began in Wuhan, China (who.int).

Origins

Coronaviruses, in general, are a large family of diseases that are common in a variety of animals, including bats, cattle, camels, and cats (cdc.gov). It is currently believed that SARS-CoV-2 originated in bats within a single animal reservoir around Wuhan, Hubei Province, China (cdc.gov). However, these beliefs remain theoretical, at best, as little else is known about the disease’s origins and progression at this time.

Up-close image of the Coronavirus.

Up-close image of the Coronavirus.

What are the Symptoms of Coronavirus?

Symptoms of the virus vary significantly between individuals, with some experiencing only mild issues (or none at all in other instances). In fact, the World Health Organization (WHO) suggests that nearly 80-percent of individuals that contract this newest strain of Coronavirus will recover without any special treatment (who.int). It is for this reason that the virus is capable of spreading so easily, as its symptoms are often mistaken for the common cold or flu and go unchecked by medical professionals.

The most common symptoms of the Coronavirus are coughing, fever, and general tiredness (similar to a mild case of the flu). Body aches, nasal congestion, sore throat, diarrhea, and runny noses have also been reported with this disease. Symptoms generally begin slowly, and progress in severity over time. Overall incubation period of COVID-19 is believed to be approximately 1 to 14 days, with most symptoms presenting themselves around five days after infection.

Individuals who believe they have been infected should seek medical care immediately. At this time, fever and coughing continue to be the two most typical symptoms of Coronavirus and occur in 87.9-percent and 67.7-percent of cases, respectively.

How is the Coronavirus Diagnosed?

  • Medical history evaluation, including questions about your symptoms and recent travel.
  • Blood test
  • Physical Exam
  • Lab Tests (i.e. throat swab or respiratory specimen)

In addition to basic blood and laboratory tests, the CDC has also developed a testing kit known as a “Real-Time Reverse Transcriptase (RT)-PCR Diagnostic Panel.” This kit uses “upper and lower respiratory specimens” to determine whether infections are present within individuals. Due to the special needs of this test (i.e. particular equipment and lab training), however, the CDC is currently developing a serology test that can “look for the presence of antibodies” (cdc.gov). Once developed, the CDC hopes that this new test will allow for easier identification of Coronavirus in individuals, even when symptoms are not presenting themselves in a clear manner.

What is the Coronavirus Death Rate?

Despite the fact that most individuals are capable of making full recoveries from the virus, the World Health Organization suggests that nearly 1 in 6 people who contract the disease will develop severe symptoms requiring hospitalization and palliative care. People most at risk for developing complications are the elderly, and individuals with underlying conditions such as heart problems, diabetes, and high blood pressure. In this particular group, death rates from the Coronavirus are approximately 2-percent. If you or a loved one suspects Coronavirus symptoms, it is recommended that you seek medical treatment immediately by a qualified health professional. Early diagnosis is crucial for alleviating symptoms and to prevent the spread of the virus elsewhere in your community.

As of June 2020, deaths from the Coronavirus have exceeded 465,000 (worldwide) with 80-percent of these fatalities occurring in patients older than sixty years of age. It is also believed that nearly 75-percent of deaths occurred in individuals with pre-existing conditions such as heart disease or diabetes. Although younger and middle-aged individuals appear to be least affected by the virus at this time, its effects on children (particularly infants) is largely unknown at this time.

5 Most Common Symptoms of Coronavirus

1.) Fever (88-percent of Cases)

2.) Dry Cough (68-percent)

3.) Fatigue (38-percent)

4.) Phlegm Production (33-percent)

5.) Shortness of Breath (20-percent)

Coronavirus within human cell.

Coronavirus within human cell.

Treatment and Prognosis

Treatment Options

Because the Coronavirus is a viral infection, antibiotics will not work against this disease as they are only effective against bacteria. And while various treatments are currently being devised by the global health community, it is also important to note that no vaccine or antiviral medication has proven effective in treating the Coronavirus (as of March 2020). Currently, hospitalization, bed rest, and palliative care offer the best treatment options for infected individuals. These measures have also proven helpful in alleviating symptoms:

  • Pain relievers (i.e. Ibuprofen and Tylenol)
  • Rest
  • Fluids and IVs
  • Humidifiers (to ease sore throats and persistent coughing)

How is the Coronavirus Spread?

Coronavirus is spread from person-to-person when small excretions from the mouth or nose exit an infected individual (i.e. through coughing or sneezing). Coming into direct contact with these droplets is the most common source of transmission, as these particles can be breathed in by unsuspecting individuals, leading to infection. Touching infected surfaces (or objects) can also lead to infection, particularly when an individual touches his/her mouth, nose, or eyes before washing their hands thoroughly.

Although more testing is necessary to determine the lifecycle of the Coronavirus, preliminary findings suggest that COVID-19 can survive on surfaces for several hours at a time (depending on temperature and humidity levels). To prevent the spread of the Coronavirus, experts suggest regular hand washing, and staying at least 3-feet (1 meter) away from individuals showing signs of sickness (who.int). If you suspect a particular surface (or object) is infected, experts agree that simple disinfectant (followed again with hand-washing) is sufficient to kill the virus.

When are Individuals the Most Contagious?

People with Coronavirus are believed to be most contagious when they are “most symptomatic” (i.e. at their sickest stage). Nevertheless, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) suggests that individuals can potentially be contagious before the onset of symptoms. More research is needed, however, before this theory can be determined with certainty.

Can I Catch Coronavirus from Pets or Animals?

Although it is believed that the Coronavirus first emerged from an animal source (i.e. bats), this source seems to be limited to China alone. As a result, CDC and WHO officials are currently not concerned about pets or animals transmitting infections at this time, as there has been no evidence of this in recent evaluations (cdc.gov). Nevertheless, government officials suggest that good hygiene (particularly after handling your pet or various animals) should always be followed since animals possess a number of diseases that can be passed on to humans.

Osterholm Quote

"And what should each of us do, beyond staying informed and washing our hands frequently? Keep calm and rational."

— Michael T. Osterholm

How to Prepare for the Coronavirus

Recommended Protective Measures for Yourself and Family Members:

  • Regularly wash hands with warm and soapy water, followed by alcohol-based hand sanitizers to eliminate the spread of germs. Regular washing is perhaps the most effective means of controlling the spread of Coronavirus as it helps the body to rid itself of infectious germs before they can enter through the nose, eyes, or mouth.
  • Avoid individuals with cold and flu-like symptoms (i.e. coughing, sneezing, or complaining of illness). Although individuals should always steer clear of sick individuals, it should be noted that social avoidance is particularly effective at preventing the spread of Coronavirus as person-to-person contact is believed to be its primary source of transmission.
  • Keep hands and fingers away from your mouth, nose, and eyes to prevent germs from entering your body.
  • Use protective masks to prevent airborne contact with germs. Experts suggest, however, that facemasks should only be used by individuals who are in close proximity to infected individuals as masks (alone) will do little to prevent the spread of the virus.
  • Avoid travel overseas if possible. Currently, China continues to be the epicenter of new Coronavirus infections. However, a number of other countries have also reported a significant number of new infections in recent weeks. As a result, individuals should check with the U.S. State Department, CDC, or WHO before planning trips overseas and abroad.

Countries That Have the Highest Infection Rates of Coronavirus:

  • China
  • Iran
  • Italy
  • South Korea
  • Japan

Will I Catch the Coronavirus?

Overall risk for catching the Coronavirus depends on a wide array of factors including your location and where you have travelled within the last few months. It is currently estimated that 95-percent of the Coronavirus infections are occurring in China; particularly in the Hubei Province (who.int). While infection rates are still remarkably low for the rest of the world, however, experts have repeatedly stressed the importance of individuals staying informed about the virus and for people to seek medical treatment if they suspect Coronavirus symptoms. Educating yourself about the virus and taking active steps to protect yourself from the spread of germs can go a long way in preventing the spread of infection worldwide.

Additional Preparation

  • Avoid going out in public when possible. With American authorities already discussing the inevitability of additional cases popping up in the United States, experts suggest stocking up on 30-day supplies of food, medicine, and household supplies to reduce potential contact with infected individuals (thus, slowing the spread of the virus altogether).
  • Discuss schedule plans (and the possibility of abrupt changes in your schedule due to closures or illness) with your school, college, and workplace to determine an appropriate course of action.
  • Stay calm; experts are already hard at work developing a vaccine for the virus. Simple hand washing and good hygiene can also go a long way in preventing the spread (or transmission) of the Coronavirus in humans.

What to do if you are Sick

If it is confirmed that you have Coronavirus (or if you suspect infection), it is important that you follow these steps to prevent the disease's spread:

Stay Home

  • Avoid public areas, and do not go to school or work.
  • Isolate yourself at home during your illness, and keep in touch with your primary doctor regarding the next steps you should take. Travel outside of the home should be restricted to medical visits only. However, before visiting your doctor, be sure to inform their office ahead of time so that they can initiate safety measures to prevent spread of the virus.
  • Avoid public transportation.

Social Distancing

  • Stay away from family members and friends. In conjunction with isolating yourself inside your home, try to remain in specific rooms that limit your contact with household members. This includes using a separate bathroom when possible.
  • Limit contact with your pets. Despite the fact that no cases of Coronavirus have been reported in pets or household animals at this time, the CDC recommends that distancing yourself from animals should still be practiced until additional information can be learned about this virus. If possible, have a friend or family member watch your pets until your doctor gives you clearance to interact with others.

Prevent the Spread of Coronavirus to Others

  • Wear a facemask if you are sick. Although facemasks are believed to be ineffective for individuals trying to avoid infection (in public), those who are already sick can prevent the spread of COVID-19 by keeping their mouth and nose covered with proper masks.
  • Cover your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing
  • Dispose of tissues in lined trash cans. If possible, designate a single trash can for your own personal use while sick.
  • Wash hands regularly. This includes lathering your hands with soap and rinsing them for approximately 20 seconds in hot water. If soap is unavailable, alcohol-based sanitizers (containing a solution of 60-percent alcohol) can be used to neutralize germs.
  • Avoid touching your nose, mouth, or eyes with dirty hands.
  • Avoid sharing items with others. As part of a social distancing approach to the virus, you should not share food, drinks, cups, utensils, towels, or bedding with others in your home (this includes pets as well). After using these household items, you should also thoroughly clean them with hot water and soap.
  • Sanitize and disinfect "high-touch" areas of your house. This includes counters, tabletops, toilets, phones, doorknobs, keyboards, and tablets.

Continue to Monitor Your Symptoms

  • If you suspect that your illness is worsening, you should seek immediate medical attention. Before visiting your doctor, however, it is vital that you call ahead so that your healthcare provider can prepare for your visit (i.e. taking precautions to limit the spread of the virus to others in the office).
  • Notify your local or state health department of your illness. While sick, your local health department can provide you with appropriate information regarding the steps you should take during the duration of your illness.
  • Continue to remain isolated until you are instructed to leave your home by healthcare providers or the health department.
  • Stay calm and do not panic! The majority of individuals will make full recoveries from the Coronavirus with proper treatment and precautions. Because every case is unique, individuals should maintain regular contact with their health provider while sick.

Conclusion

In closing, the current outbreak of Coronavirus has proven to be remarkably resilient against human efforts to contain its spread and transmission. Despite the large number of cases worldwide, it is also remarkable how little we currently know about the virus, its function, and overall capabilities. Nevertheless, great strides by the scientific community offer promising results in the fight against this troubling virus. Until vaccines and antiviral treatments are approved for public use, education (about the disease) and consistent monitoring of the Coronavirus continues to offer the best prospect for preventing the spread of the virus.

Works Cited

Articles/Books:

Images/Photographs:

Wikimedia Commons

This content is for informational purposes only and does not substitute for formal and individualized diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed medical professional. Do not stop or alter your current course of treatment. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

© 2020 Larry Slawson

Comments

Larry Slawson (author) from North Carolina on March 05, 2020:

Thank you DreamerMeg :)

DreamerMeg from Northern Ireland on March 03, 2020:

A good detailed hub about this new disease and how to avoid it or what to do if you get it.

Larry Slawson (author) from North Carolina on March 03, 2020:

Thank you everyone! Yeah, I've been hearing so much about the Coronavirus on the news. Figured it was time to do some fact-checking on the virus since it seems that we are only given bits and pieces of information from the media haha.

Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on March 02, 2020:

What a horrible thing. But how fascinating to study. From social to political to scientific to prevention and overall health.

Who knows it will probably kill thousands, but the alert on healthy immune systems may save millions.

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on March 02, 2020:

This article gives us some very good, specific information about the virus. I heard the news say two people that died in the U.S. had other pre-existing conditions, which corrolates with your information. I appreciate your update now as more is known about the virus.

AL from South Equator, East Pacific on March 02, 2020:

Very timely article Larry. Conversations about the Coronavirus are usually panic fueled, giving expressions of a new virus on the verge of wiping out entire populations. The truth is, the death rates from the virus are low and most likely occur in victims with an already weaker immune system. The strain of the virus is new, but the actual Coronavirus family is nothing new. It is important that more information like this is out there so that people are more familiar with what they are dealing with. The steps taken in avoiding catching any contagious diseases are not any different from steps taken to avoid contacting the Coronavirus. Less panic and more health awareness should be the way forward.

Cheryl E Preston from Roanoke on March 02, 2020:

Great informative article as usual. They are now saying not to use face masks and leave them for medical personnel.