Coronaviruses are pathogens that can exist in both humans and animals. At the end of 2019, a novel coronavirus was identified as the cause of a cluster of pneumonia cases in Wuhan, a city in the Hubei province of China. Spreading rapidly, it turned into an epidemic throughout China, following which it became a global pandemic. In February 2020, the World Health Organization designated the disease as COVID-19 which stands for Coronavirus disease 2019. The virus that causes COVID-19 is designated as a Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2).
People that are infected with the virus generally experience mild to moderate respiratory illness and can recover without requiring any special treatment. However, some people might become seriously ill and require medical attention. Older people and those with underlying medical conditions such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, chronic respiratory disease, or cancer are more likely to develop serious issues. However, one must note that anyone can get sick with COVID-19 and become seriously ill or die at any age.
How Does the Virus Spread?
The virus can spread from an infected person’s mouth or nose in small liquid particles, when they cough, sneeze, speak, think or breathe. The particles can range from larger respiratory droplets to smaller aerosols. Hence it is quite important to practice respiratory etiquette, for example coughing into a flexed elbow and staying at home, and self-isolating until you recover, in case you are feeling well.
What are the Symptoms of COVID-19?
The most common symptoms of COVID-19 are
- Dry cough
Other symptoms that are less common and may affect some patients include:
- Loss of taste or smell,
- Nasal congestion,
- Conjunctivitis (also known as red eyes)
- Sore throat,
- Muscle or joint pain,
- Different types of skin rash,
- Nausea or vomiting,
- Chills or dizziness.
Symptoms of severe COVID‐19 disease include:
- Shortness of breath,
- Loss of appetite,
- Persistent pain or pressure in the chest,
- High temperature (above 38 °C).
Other less common symptoms are:
- Reduced consciousness (sometimes associated with seizures),
- Sleep disorders,
- More severe and rare neurological complications such as strokes, brain inflammation, delirium, and nerve damage.
On average, it takes about 5 to 6 days from the time of exposure to COVID-19 to the moment when the symptoms begin to show. It can at maximum range from 1 to 14 days, this is why people who have been exposed to the virus are generally advised to stay at home and remain there, away from others, for up to 14 days, to prevent the spread of the virus, especially when testing may not be easily available.
People of all ages who experience fever and/or cough associated with difficulty breathing or shortness of breath, chest pain or pressure, or loss of speech or movement should seek medical care immediately. If possible, call your health care provider, hotline or health facility first, so you can be directed to the right clinic
What are Some Preventative Methods that I Can Exercise?
Coming to the important part, which is the prevention and slowing down the transmission of the disease; it can be done by being well informed about how the virus and disease spread. One can protect oneself and others from infection by staying at least 1 m apart from others and practising social distancing, wearing a properly fitted mask and washing your hands, or using an alcohol-based sanitizer frequently. It is also recommended to get vaccinated and follow the local guidance issued by the government.
When Should You Get a Test for COVID-19?
Anyone who is exhibiting symptoms should be tested, whenever possible. People who do not have symptoms but have been in close contact with someone who is or may be infected should also consider testing and while waiting for test results, one should remain isolated from others.
In most situations, a molecular test is used to detect SARS-CoV-2 and confirm infection. Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) is the most commonly used molecular test, wherein samples are collected from the nose or throat with a swab. A molecular test helps in detecting the virus in the sample by amplifying the viral genetic material to detectable levels. This is the reason why a molecular test is used for confirming an active infection usually within a few days of exposure and around the time that symptoms may begin.
Rapid Antigen Tests detect viral proteins (known as antigens). These tests are generally cheaper and quicker than a standard PCR test, however, they perform best if there is more virus circulating in the community and when samples from an individual are taken at the time when they are most infectious.
What are the Various COVID-19 Variants?
In December 2020, the news media reported a new variant of the virus that causes COVID-19, and since then, other variants have been identified and are under investigation. The questions that the appearance of new variants raises include – Are people at more risk of getting sick? Will the Covid 19 vaccine still work? Are there new or different things that one should do now to stay safe?
In order to answer these questions, we need to understand why mutations happen that lead to the creation of variants. Experts tell us that it is the basic nature of an RNA virus such as the coronavirus to evolve and change gradually with time, owing to the geographical separation that tends to create genetically distinct variants. The mutation of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 is neither new nor unexpected since all RNA viruses mutate over time, though some might mutate more than others. One can take the example of flu viruses that change quite often, which is why doctors recommend taking a new flu vaccine every year.
There are multiple variants of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus that are different from the version first detected in China. Different variants have emerged in England, Brazil, California, and other areas, for example, the Beta variant which first appeared in South Africa, may have had the increased ability to re-infect people who had recovered from earlier versions of the coronavirus, and was somewhat resistant to some of the coronavirus vaccines in development. In order to categorise the variance better, the world health organisation (WHO) and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have come out with three different categories that the parents can be classified in, which include:
- A variant of Interest: A variant of interest is a coronavirus variant, that compared to earlier forms of the virus has genetic traits that can predict greater transmissibility, evasion of immunity or diagnostic testing or more severe disease.
- A variant of Interest: A variant of concern, is one that has been observed to be more infectious, is more likely to cause breakthroughs of the infections on those who have been vaccinated or previously infected. These variants are also more likely to cause severe disease, evade diagnostic tests or assisted anti-viral treatment. Alpha, Beta, Gamma and Delta variants of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus have been classified as variants of concern.
- A variant of High Consequence: A variant of high consequence is a variant, for which current vaccines do not offer any protection, as of now they are no SARS-CoV-2 variants that can be considered as variants of high consequence.
What is the Delta Variant?
Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus has been mutating, and the most recent variant of concern that has been making the news is the Delta variant. As of November 2021, Delta is regarded as the most contagious form of SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus so far.
According to the CDC here are a few things that you should know about it:
- Delta rapidly became the dominant variant of the SARS-CoV-2 virus in the U.S. in 2021.
- Delta variant SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, is now in most countries where SARS-CoV-2 is circulating, and people travelling internationally are likely to encounter it.
- Unvaccinated adults and children should strictly follow mask, distancing and hygiene safety precautions and avoid international travel if possible.
- Being fully vaccinated for COVID-19 can protect you from the delta variant, but breakthrough infections sometimes occur.
- All three of the F.D.A.-authorized COVID-19 vaccines can protect you from the delta variant. For Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, you need both doses for maximum protection. People should know that vaccines are very effective at preventing the most severe forms of COVID-19, but breakthrough infections can occur and caution is still warranted after becoming vaccinated.
- While the authorised COVID-19 vaccines are not perfect, they are highly effective against serious coronavirus disease and reduce the risk of hospitalisation and death.
- Other vaccines available in other countries may not be as effective in protecting you from the delta variant and other mutations of the coronavirus.