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Coronaviruses are a family of viruses that affect mammals and birds. In humans, they cause respiratory tract infections and can be mild (such as the common cold) or more serious (such as SARS and MERS). The current outbreak is a new coronavirus strain that has not been seen in humans before, and has been named SARS-CoV-2. It is this new virus that is causing the illness COVID-19.
Common symptoms have ranged from mild to severe and include:
Other reported symptoms include:
COVID-19 spreads primarily through droplets from the nose or mouth when an infected person exhales, coughs or sneezes. These droplets land on nearby surfaces and other people then catch COVID-19 by touching these surfaces and then touching their eyes, nose or mouth. People can also catch the virus if they breathe in the droplets from an infected person who coughs - so it is important to stay 2 metres away from a person who is sick, even if they have only mild symptoms.
It can take up to 14 days to become ill once a person has caught COVID-19. The time between catching the virus and showing symptoms is known as the incubation period. Even if a person doesn't show symptoms during this time, they may still be able to pass on the virus to someone else.
There are currently three vaccines approved for use against COVID-19 in the UK – the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine and the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine are currently being rolled out around the country, and the Moderna vaccine has also been approved.
Since COVID-19 is a virus, antibiotics are ineffective. However, the steroid dexamethasone and Remdesivir, an antiviral drug initially used for ebola, are both approved to treat COVID-19. The arthritis drug tocilizumab has also been shown to save lives and lower recovery times in hospitalised patients. Antibody therapies are also being trialled.
Right now, everyone in the UK should be practising social distancing:
You should cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the bin. Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces in your home, wash your hands often with soap and water or an alcohol-based sanitiser and avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
Those with symptoms and those in contact with someone with symptoms should self-isolate and people who are high risk (see below) should be self-isolating for 12 weeks.
There is some evidence that those with underlying health conditions such as heart disease, lung disease, hypertension (high blood pressure), diabetes and asthma are more likely to develop serious complications from COVID-19. Those over 70 are also thought to be more vulnerable because their immune systems are weaker.
The Government has also identified certain groups as extremely vulnerable and at highest risk of serious illness. These include:
If you have symptoms of coronavirus (a high temperature and a new continuous cough), it's important that you stay at home. Do not go to your GP surgery, pharmacy or hospital, as you could infect others. Try to avoid other people in your home as much as possible.
Use the NHS online 111 coronavirus service to get help and advice. Only call 111 if you can't get help online.
Always follow the Government's guidelines on self-isolation and social distancing – see gov.uk/coronavirus for more information and the latest updates.