A coronavirus is a common virus that infects the respiratory system, namely the nose, upper throat and sinuses. There are many types of coronavirus out there and most aren’t dangerous. But the one which has become a part of our daily lives today is the novel strain of coronavirus, named COVID-19.
COVID-19 Virus Definition
COVID-19 is caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes acute infections of the upper respiratory tract. The infection is so severe that it may also spread to the lower respiratory tract, namely the windpipe and lungs and things can then get deadly. COVID-19 is contagious from person to person.
From mild to severe, COVID-19 symptoms can be all or a few of those listed below.
Symptoms can appear anytime between 2 to 14 days of virus exposure. Patients can also go undetected as many are asymptomatic too. Asymptomatic patients can still infect others despite not showing any infection symptoms themselves, and hence pose a risk to others around them. Since asymptomatic patients have no reason to get tested and thus get detected and treated, isolation, social distancing and mask-wearing are the only ways to prevent transmissions in all, whether asymptomatic or otherwise.
Other than these initial symptoms that indicate signs of COVID-19 infections, the following symptoms indicate severe infections that definitely require medical intervention.
The only way to confirm a COVID-19 infection is to get yourself tested for it. To test for the virus, you need to provide either your nasal swab, throat swab or saliva to the testing lab. Though testing is not necessarily painful it does involve a 6-inch cotton swab scraping the back of your nose for about 15 seconds.
Two main types of COVID-19 tests can effectively diagnose an infection, namely diagnostic tests for active infections assessed from your saliva or mucus, and blood tests that look for antibodies generated post an infection. In the former, there are the more sensitive RNA tests (RNA PCR or molecular tests) that detect the nucleic acids of the virus, and the quicker and cheaper antigen tests (rapid tests). RNA tests, being sensitive, can show positive results even after you have passed through a bout of infection, while antigen tests, though faster, are prone to yielding false results at times. You can know more about these diagnostic tests here.
Though there are some authorized at-home tests available today, getting lab testing done is usually the best way to test for the virus. RT-PCR tests give results in a day or two (depending on how far the testing sites are from where the samples were collected), while POC test results can be obtained within 45 minutes.
COVID-19 treatment varies according to the severity of the symptoms. Most people can treat mild to moderate symptoms with at-home treatment, while others require in-hospital treatment under their doctor’s supervision.
When treating COVID-19 at home, you treat it just as you would treat cold or flu. Staying hydrated, eating nutritious but light meals, and taking adequate rest are keys to a speedy recovery. Active monitoring is also necessary so that patient condition does not deteriorate. Doctors also prescribe over-the-counter medications that work as regular cold and flu meds. In addition, at-home treatment can also involve traditional home remedies like inhaling steam, etc. and the following self-care pointers:
- Self-quarantine and isolation
- Wearing a medical mask at all times, even while maintaining a 1-meter distance from others.
- Cleaning hands frequently and sanitizing regularly.
- Doing easy exercises at home
Most COVID-19 patients do not need to be rushed into ER or require ICU beds. In severe cases (which can be assessed through X-rays and CT scans), patients may need assistance in breathing. In such cases, patients are connected with breathing machines, and their oxygen levels are carefully monitored. Fluids are also given through an IV to prevent dehydration, along with approved appropriate medications. Though scientists around the world are working to find effective COVID-19 treatments that work, the following seem to feature as the general medical consensus.
- Mild to advanced respiratory support for critically ill patients with low oxygen levels, in the form of ventilator support.
- Administration of medications such as dexamethasone (a corticosteroid known to save the lives of people with severe infections). There are other medications under investigation, such as Chloroquine, Lopinavir, Favilavir, and others and you can read about these here.
The WHO does not recommend self-medication for coronavirus infections and more details on treatments are available here.
If you have mild symptoms, recovery may take about 2 weeks, and it may go up to 6 or more weeks if you have severe or critical symptoms. Overall recovery rates for COVID-19 are good worldwide so the recovery outlook is bright. Even post complete recovery, your body may take a while to get completely back to normal since fatigue and tiredness stay for weeks after. Eating healthy and exercising to boost your immunity helps in recovering faster.
COVID-19 Long Term Effects
COVID-19 may leave you with long-term health problems especially if you’ve had a prolonged or severe illness that has resulted in organ damage.
Though several multi-year studies are currently underway to understand the full after-effects of a COVID-19 infection, remnants of severe fatigue and increased risk of organ damage (heart, lung, and brain damage) are known manifestations of the disease. It is also known that it takes months to fully recover and mild effects of the disease can still be observed even months after recovery.