Coronavirus FAQ: Symptoms, how it spreads, and what to do if you think you have it

TORONTO — Last Monday, the head of Iran’s counter-coronavirus task force told reporters that the country’s COVID-19 situation was “almost stable.”

One day later, he tested positive for the virus himself.

While Iraj Harirchi’s message may have been questionable – Iran’s total reported number of infections has risen from 61 to 978 in the past week – it’s perhaps more striking that the signs of his illness were apparent even as he was downplaying the impact of COVID-19 in the country.

Harirchi had been coughing and sweating as he spoke. Those are two of the most common signifiers of any respiratory illness, including the coronavirus-caused COVID-19.

SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS

The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) says there are four main COVID-19 symptoms to watch out for: fever, cough, difficulty breathing and pneumonia.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), symptoms can also include “tiredness … aches and pains, nasal congestion, runny nose, sore throat or diarrhea.”

These symptoms can occur anytime within 14 days of a patient’s exposure to the virus – and, as the virus can be transmitted from one person to another, it can be difficult to pinpoint exactly when exposure occurred.

The symptoms are common ones when it comes to respiratory diseases. In addition to COVID-19, they can suggest a far more typical illness such as influenza or the common cold. Some of those who contract the virus may never display any symptoms, and may pass it on to others without realizing they ever had it.

This makes it virtually impossible for the average person to determine whether their symptoms are being caused by the new coronavirus or something else.

Anyone worried they may have COVID-19 may want to consider where they could have picked it up. According to PHAC, there are three main ways the virus that causes the disease can be transmitted: close personal contact such as shaking hands, respiratory droplets spread through coughs and sneezes, and touching a surface with the virus on it then touching one’s own face without first handwashing.

Travel can also increase the risk of acquiring the coronavirus. Although PHAC has assessed the overall risk of travelling as low, this changes in specific areas that have been hit harder by the virus, including parts of China and South Korea.

WHAT SHOULD I DO?

PHAC recommends that anyone concerned they may have COVID-19 talk to their health-care provider.

“The sooner you consult your health-care provider, the better your chances are for recovery,” it says in a bulletin on its website.

Doctors cannot provide any specific treatment for COVID-19 – there is no known cure or vaccine – but can ensure a patient’s case is properly reported to public health authorities.

They may also request that patients self-quarantine, staying in their homes and minimizing contact with others while practicing good hygiene.

“When you’re sick, definitely stay home, cover your cough, wash your hands a lot. We can’t repeat that too frequently,” Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief officer of public health, told CTV News last week.

Quarantines of this type have been applied to Canadians flown here from Wuhan, China and the Diamond Princess cruise ship, as well as domestic coronavirus patients. In Iran, Hairichi self-quarantined following his diagnosis – even though just one day earlier, he had said that “quarantines belong to the Stone Age.”

The WHO estimates that 80 per cent of COVID-19 patients will recover without the need for any medical intervention.

AVOIDING COVID-19

Just as the new coronavirus presents similarly to other respiratory illnesses, advice for keeping it at bay runs along the same lines as tips for avoiding more commonplace colds and coughs.

PHAC says that anyone who appears healthy can improve their chances of staying that way if they avoid close contact with people who are sick, do not touch their face with unwashed hands, regularly wash their hands with soap for 20 seconds or more, and use their sleeves to cover coughs and sneezes.

“Try not to touch your face as much during respiratory season. It’s a good way to prevent the spread of virus to your own self,” Dr. Lisa Barrett, an infectious disease expert and assistant professor at Dalhousie University, said Sunday on CTV News Channel.

Additional recommendations include immediately disposing of used tissues and regularly cleaning surfaces that come into contact with human hands, such as toilets, doorknobs and smartphones.

Wearing face masks is not recommended unless illness has already set in, despite a rush on masks that has led to shortages in North America. U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams pleaded Saturday for Americans to stop buying face masks, calling them ineffective for the general population and saying the shortage has even made it difficult for hospitals to replenish their supplies.

The only situation in which masks should come into play outside the health-care sector, experts say, is for those who are sick or in close contact with someone who is sick.

“If you’re sick … putting a mask on a [healthy] person to prevent the transmission from the sick person is a smart thing to do,” Tam said.

Barrett suggested one method of prevention as being best of all: seeking out the latest information from local governments and health authorities, then passing it on.

“Your risk of getting this virus is most related to how things are in your own community,” she said.

“Talking about how we can each prevent the spread of this virus is the most important part of how we’re going to contain it in Canada and around the world.”

With files from The Associated Press

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