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Since January, the news has been hyper-focused on one thing: COVID-19. The viral infection is a new disease in the coronavirus family – a large group of diseases that differ from strain to strain. COVID-19 is also referred to as the novel coronavirus or 2019-nCoV.
The first documented instance of COVID-19 occurred in late December of 2019; the virus then spread rapidly across China. Since then, documented cases have been reported in many countries throughout the world. Doctors and researchers believe that the disease originated in bats and was spread to humans at a food market in Wuhan, China.
With so much information (both true and false) circulating about COVID-19, it’s important to know the facts and how to protect yourself from the coronavirus – particularly if you already have chronic health problems. Here is how to prepare for the coronavirus if you’re chronically ill.
What are the facts about COVID-19?
At the time of writing, there were just over 110,000 confirmed cases of the disease across the globe. Of these cases, just over 3,800 people have died from complications of the disease, with the majority of those cases being in China. Italy and Iran have been hit the second hardest, with just under 600 deaths combined.
Considering these numbers, the risk of death may sound high, but it’s actually quite low: between 3–4%. The other 96–97% of those infected will recover, with around 80% experiencing only mild flu-like symptoms. Projections of the spread of the disease have been utilised to help health officials plan for containment, and the numbers vary according to different statistics and projections used.
What are the symptoms of the coronavirus?
Considering the outbreak occurred during flu season, it can be hard to distinguish between COVID-19 and influenza due to the similarity of both conditions’ symptoms. In cases of COVID-19, symptoms include fever, coughing and difficulty breathing. These symptoms can range from mild to severe, but the most severe repercussion of the virus include pneumonia, kidney failure and, in rare cases, death.
To put this in perspective, the influenza virus causes symptoms such as fever, chills, sore throat, cough, runny or blocked nose, muscle and body aches, fatigue and headaches. Symptoms for the flu tend to appear within four days of infection, but with COVID-19, the onset of symptoms can take anywhere from two to 10 days.
How to prepare for the coronavirus if you’re immunocompromised
As with many viral infections, it is assumed that COVID-19 is more of a threat to the elderly, and those who have weakened immune systems or chronic illnesses. Unlike the flu, COVID-19 doesn't seem to be affecting young children. While it's good news that our youth don't seem to be in danger, they could pose a threat to those who have a higher-risk of developing more severe symptoms by being asymptomatic of the virus and passing it onto others. If you have a compromised immune system, the thought of contracting COVID-19 might be causing some worry - rest assured, there are ways to protect yourself from the virus and strengthen your immune system besides the measures recommended by the WHO like washing your hands and not touching your face. For the latest guidelines and information please refer to your government's or the WHO's website."
To help build up the immune system as much as possible, it’s important to follow a healthy diet full of the proper amounts of nutrients, vitamins and minerals. Foods that contain high amounts of vitamin C will help boost the immune system, including peppers, thyme, kiwifruit, broccoli and black currants. Other foods to include in an immune-boosting diet include those high in zinc, such as lean red meat, shellfish and nuts; foods high in selenium, such as brazil nuts.
In addition to a healthy diet, getting enough sleep, drinking plenty of water and herbal teas, and undertaking daily exercise are all steps that can be taken to improve the immune system.
How to protect yourself from the coronavirus
With the confirmed cases of COVID-19 growing, it’s important to know what steps to take to protect yourself from the virus. In recent weeks, panic levels have been rising because of the rate of infection; subsequently, stores have been selling out of common items such as soap, hand sanitiser and protective face masks. But is stocking up on these items really necessary?
The overuse of hand sanitisers can sometimes exacerbate the spread of viruses such as COVID-19, so it’s important to keep your hands clean, but not go overboard. The most important times to wash your hands are following interaction with the general public, including handling money, touching public door handles, and shaking hands. Avoid touching your face prior to hand washing, and if possible, avoid large public gatherings. If you do come into contact with someone who is ill, staying at least three metres away from them is the best way to avoid contracting the virus. Remember that the risk of contracting COVID-19 outside of hotspot areas is low.
Steps to take after COVID-19 infection
If you do fall ill, it’s important to follow all protocols set in place to help contain the spread of the virus. Each country’s policy may be different. In the UK, swab tests have been set up in hospital car park areas for quick and effective testing. Avoiding the public by staying indoors while ill will help keep the virus contained. If travelling outside, avoid contact with other people, cover your cough or sneezes with your elbow, and wash hands thoroughly and as often as possible.
If you are caring for someone with coronavirus, whether it be a family member or as part of your profession, wearing a mask and gloves is the first and most important protection. Avoiding physical contact with both the patient and other people will ensure that you don’t contract the virus and help contain the spread of the disease. Patients suffering from chronic illnesses should consult with their doctor if they suspect they have contracted the virus.