What’s COVID-19?

No, it’s really not like the flu

Please note, this information was accurate at the time of publishing (23 MARCH, 2020). Information may have changed. Please refer to the World Health Organisation’s website for recent updates.

First identified in a cluster of cases of viral pneumonia linked to a wet market in China the now called COVID-19 (which stands for COronaVIrus Disease2019) has been classed by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as a global pandemic.

In a special article titled: Coronavirus Infections in Children Including COVID-19 An Overview of the Epidemiology, Clinical Features, Diagnosis, Treatment and Prevention Options in Children the researchers explain why it’s called COVID-19 or what you may have also seen as referred to SARS-CoV-2 (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome-CoronaVirus-2). If you’re wondering what the ‘2’ stands for it’s there because the SARS-CoV-2 is a genetic cousin of the coronavirus which caused the SARS outbreak in 2002 (SARS-CoV).  The naming is similar to how we refer to AIDS and HIV. AIDS is the disease caused by the human immunodeficiency virus, HIV.

If you’re old enough to remember, a novel severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV) emerged in 2002 and the Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) appeared in 2012. In our current case, SARS-CoV-2 is the name given to the 2019 novel coronavirus. COVID-19 is the name given to the disease associated with the virus. SARS-CoV-2 is a new strain of coronavirus that has not been previously identified in humans (which is why you’ll sometimes see the word ‘novel’ or ‘new’ associated with the name.

What exactly is it?

SARS-CoV-2 is a part of a group of viruses known as coronaviruses. They consist of a core of genetic material surrounded by an envelope with protein spikes. As a virus is a non-living organism it needs to use our human cells to be able to inject its genetic material, hijack our cells to reproduce and then shed out of bodies through water droplets.

A bright yellow circle with orange rounded spikes protruding all around the perimeter of the circle against a dark background.
An image of the coronavirus responsible for causing the disease COVID-19. Credit: CSIRO

In Australia scientists and researchers at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) are actively working to understand what the virus is, how it behaves and how it spreads. Published as an expert commentary on the global pandemic by CSIRO, Professor S.S Vassan says they (CSIRO) are operating at ‘speed’ in response to the public health emergency but as they also have to adhere to strict attention to detail and regulatory requirements, it’s challenging.

“We’ve grown the virus for our research and have also reconfirmed the genomic sequence published by the Doherty Institute,” he said.

“Next we’re aiming to get a better understanding of the virus, so CSIRO can begin testing new potential vaccines and therapeutics being developed for efficacy. We have got promising results with our initial susceptibility studies and are in the process of conducting natural disease progression studies. We are also investigating the physical and molecular characterisation of this virus to find differences and similarities with other known coronaviruses.”

Dr Rob Grenfell from CSIRO also made comments in association with CSIRO’s work and research into the virus.

“A coronavirus is what is called an RNA virus. RNA is a molecule that is not as stable as DNA. And this is the reason that coronaviruses are such feisty adversaries because RNAs can mutate quite rapidly,” he said.

At the moment the virus is very contagious which means it’s spreading from person-to-person quickly. CSIRO are currently aiming to get a better understanding of the transmission rates because at this stage they are yet to be formally determined.

What are the symptoms according to the WHOo?

People may be sick with the virus for 1 to 14 days before developing symptoms. The most common symptoms of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) are fever, tiredness, and dry cough. Most people (about 80%) recover from the disease without needing special treatment.

More rarely, the disease can be serious and even fatal. Older people, and people with other medical conditions (such as asthma, diabetes, or heart disease), may be more vulnerable to becoming severely ill.

People may experience: cough, fever, tiredness, difficulty breathing (severe cases)

The World Health Organisation’s medical advice

According to the World Health Organisation its strategic objectives are:

  • Interrupt human-to-human transmission including reducing secondary infections among close contacts and health care workers, preventing transmission amplification events, and preventing further international spread
  • Identify, isolate and care for patients early, including providing optimized care for infected patients;
  • Identify and reduce transmission from the animal source;
  • Address crucial unknowns regarding clinical severity, the extent of transmission and infection, treatment options, and accelerate the development of diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines;
  • Communicate critical risk and event information to all communities and counter misinformation;
  • Minimize social and economic impact through multisectoral partnerships.

IMPORTANT: The most important aspect of these objectives for human health is to interrupt the human-to-human transmission. This can be achieved a number of ways and through a combination of public health measures including:

  • rapid identification
  • diagnosis and management of the cases
  • identification and follow up of the contacts
  • infection prevention and control in health care settings
  • implementation of health measures for travelers
  • awareness-raising in the population and risk communication

The case against Australia’s citizens

Advice from the World Health Organisation is clear. We need to stop the virus in its tracks by breaking the human-to-human transmission of the virus. People can catch COVID-19 from others who have the virus. The disease can spread from person to person through small droplets from the nose or mouth which are spread when a person with COVID-19 coughs or exhales. These droplets land on objects and surfaces around the person. Other people then catch COVID-19 by touching these objects or surfaces, then touching their eyes, nose or mouth. People can also catch COVID-19 if they breathe in droplets from a person with COVID-19 who coughs out or exhales droplets. This is why it is important to stay more than 1 meter (3 feet) away from a person who is sick.

There are a few questions arising from the expert health advice from WHO given to all member states of the UN.

  • Why is Australia lax on lockdown measures?
  • Why did the NSW health officials not test arrivals from the Ruby Princess cruise ship into Sydney?
  • Why are schools in Australia still open?
  • If schools are to remain open and the Australian Government wants to follow the Singapore route of keeping them open, why are they not following the same principles? (Temperature testing students as they left at the end of each day, mass cleaning).
  • Why are the states left on their own to decide what measures to implement?
  • Why did Scott Morrison not enforce stringent measures before heading to his church conference and the footy?
  • Why is Scott Morrison angry at Australians for not following procedures yet procedures have not been clear, concise and up-to-date?
  • Why has the Australian Government and Federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg not followed the same way as the UK and allowed for 80% of wages to be paid to casual and contract workers who’ve lost their jobs?
  • Why are we not actively testing, testing and conducting more testing of people who have presented with symptoms but have no known source or contact with a confirmed case?

Sources (fact-checked)