What is COVID-19?
COVID-19 is the name of the new coronavirus disease: “CO” stands for “corona”, “VI” for virus, and “D” for disease, while “19” refers to 2019, the year the disease first appeared.
The new Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 is a respiratory virus belonging to the larger family of coronaviruses (CoV); the name “Coronavirus” derives from the presence of crown-shaped tips on the surface of the virus.
Coronaviruses cause various pathologies of varying magnitude: from colds to more serious respiratory syndromes such as MERS (Middle East respiratory syndrome) and SARS (Severe acute respiratory syndrome).
What causes COVID-19?
COVID-19 arises from Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 infection. The new coronavirus was named Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 by the Coronavirus study group of the International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses (the commission responsible for classifying and naming viruses) because it was considered a sister virus of the pathogen responsible for SARS (SARS- CoV).
Coronaviruses are common in animal species such as bats and camels, but they can evolve and infect humans; this ability of viruses of the animal world to become pathogenic to humans is called “species jump” or “spillover”. To date we know of seven types of human coronavirus, the first were identified in the mid-seventies, while the others are more recent (SARS-CoV, 2002; MERS-CoV, 2012), up to the new coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 of 2019.
Respiratory droplets are the main way of transmitting the virus; these can pass from one person to another through a sneeze, a cough or direct personal contacts, but also through the hands. Infected individuals can transmit the virus to others through simple interactions: think of handshakes, for instance – if the infected person has contaminated hands, he or she can transfer the virus onto the hands of another person, who in turn can become infected by touching their mouth, eyes or nose. What is more, these droplets are too heavy to remain suspended in the air and therefore fall quickly, resting on the floor and the surfaces.
What are COVID-19 symptoms?
COVID-19 can manifest itself with symptoms such as cold, sore throat, cough and fever, but also pneumonia and difficulties with breathing. On the other hand, some patients may be asymptomatic.
The incubation period, or the time that passes between the infection and the manifestation of symptoms, is estimated to last from 2 to 11 days, up to a maximum of 14 days.
If you have symptoms or doubts, stay at home and not go to the emergency room or to your doctor. You should also call your family doctor, pediatrician or the Emergency Medical Service. If you are in Italy, call 1500 (Ministry of Health) or the regional toll-free numbers available here.
To confirm the diagnosis of COVID-19, the patient must undergo specific laboratory tests according to the “Real Time PCR” protocols for SARS-CoV-2 established by the World Health Organization.
The patient undergoes then a pharyngeal swab: a quick, non-invasive and painless examination aimed at taking a sample of the secretion at the level of the throat (in particular that found on the mucous membrane of the posterior pharynx) with a cotton swab inserted into the mouth. The analysis of the sample then allows to verify the presence of the virus.
With a role complementary to that of the swab, the CT scan can also provide very important information to identify Covid-19 patients in the early stages. A regular CT scan without a contrast medium is able to detect the signs of the disease in the lungs at an early stage.
Specific therapy for COVID-19 is not yet available. Treatment is based on the patient’s symptoms and the overall clinical picture.
How to prevent COVID-19?
COVID-19 prevention is possible through the adoption of some rules:
- Sneeze and cough in a tissue or in the crook of the elbow;
- Throw away used paper tissues immediately after use;
- Wash your hands often and thoroughly with soap and water for at least 20 seconds (or with 60% alcohol-based hand sanitizer) and in any case always wash your hands after sneezing, coughing or blowing your nose;
- Avoid touching your mouth, nose and eyes;
- Disinfect frequently used surfaces and objects (smartphone, computer, earphones) with disinfectants containing 75% alcohol (ethanol) or 1% chlorine (bleach);
- Keep a distance of at least one meter from other people, avoid handshakes and other close contacts, as well as all forms of gathering;
- Stay at home, going out only for work or health-related reasons or grocery shopping;
- Use a face mask in the presence of symptoms or if you are caring for infected relstives.