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COVID-19: The Basics

By: Isabelle Burnett-Herkes

What is it?


COVID -19, commonly known as the coronavirus, is a virus that attacks the respiratory system, entering primarily through the nose, mouth, and eyes.  It infects and kills epithelial cells in the lungs, causing a variety of symptoms depending on how far the virus is into the respiratory tract. As the virus gets further into the respiratory system, the severity of the symptoms increase.


How does it spread?


The virus spreads through tiny droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes.  Such droplets land on nearby surfaces, where they can survive without a human host for as long as 9 days.  Some of the smaller droplets remain suspended in the air, where they can survive for as long as three hours.  Because of this, it’s extremely important to be wary of any public spaces, as you could contract the virus without coming into contact with any people.


What is the best way to stay safe?


Because COVID - 19 is a virus, there is no medication that will prevent it or help fight it once it has been contracted, so the only way to assure your safety is to stay at home and avoid as many social gatherings as possible.  As the virus can survive on surfaces for extended periods of time, disinfecting objects that may have come into contact with the virus is a good idea. Objects such as mobile phones, wallets, and car keys should be disinfected, ideally with 62% to 71% alcohol.  If you do leave the house, you should wash your hands and clothes immediately upon your return.  


How do I know if I have it?


Mild symptoms:  Mild symptoms occur when the virus is in the upper respiratory tract, beginning with the throat, and are similar to those of the flu.  Hospitalization is not necessary for mild symptoms.


Mild symptoms include:


Shortness of breath



Dry cough

Muscle pain and tiredness

In rare cases, diarrhea and nausea


Severe symptoms:  Severe symptoms occur when the virus has made its way into the lower respiratory tract, namely the lungs.  Severe cases of the virus can cause pneumonia and bronchitis. Pneumonia results in swelling of the alveoli, which are small air pockets in the lungs.  When they swell, the body has difficulty getting oxygen into the bloodstream, which can impact oxygen delivery to other major organs.


What do I do if I think I have it?


If you are showing mild symptoms, but have no underlying medical conditions, you should stay at home and rest.  If the rest of the members of your household are not self-quarantining, you should isolate yourself from them and stay in one room separated from everyone else.  If you already have a compromised immune system, and you are showing symptoms, you should call your doctor to see if you require hospitalization. While hospilitatition is necessary in some cases, it is generally uncommon.


The Bottom Line


Whether you think you have the virus or not, you should stay home and isolate yourself from others as much as possible.  If everybody abides by this rule, the outbreak will be much more manageable and thousands of lives could be saved.  

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