The deadly coronavirus has now spread to at least 100 countries, infecting more than 109,000 people and killing close to 4000.
Governments and health authorities around the world are scrambling to contain the outbreak, closing schools, banning public gatherings, and declaring states of emergency.
In Australia, where close to 80 cases of coronavirus have been confirmed, and three people have died, authorities are preparing for the declaration of a global pandemic.
As the virus continues to spread rapidly around the world, so to does panic about what the virus could mean.
News.com.au asked for your burning coronavirus questions and took them to Sanjaya Senanayake, Associate Professor and infectious diseases specialist at the Australian National University’s Medical School.
Here are the first five of your biggest questions about coronavirus.
I THINK I HAVE CORONAVIRUS, WHAT SHOULD I DO?
If you think you have coronavirus, Prof Senanayake said that the first thing you should do was call your GP and seek instruction.
“It is really important to call ahead so that the GP practice can make arrangements for your arrival, or direct you to an emergency department if it sounds like you are unwell enough to need hospital,” Prof Senanayake told news.com.au.
“Other useful contacts to discuss concerns about what to do if you think you have the coronavirus include the Coronavirus Health Information Line (1800 020 080) and the healthdirect information line (1800 022 222).”
Australia’s chief medical officer Brendan Murphy told reporters on Monday that if you had a runny nose but were not showing any major symptoms and hadn’t had contact with anyone from China, South Korea, or Iran, you shouldn’t be tested.
“Not unless you are a returned traveller and you have symptoms, symptoms that suggest you might have an infection – a cough, a significant runny nose and fever,” Professor Murphy said.
“If you are a normal member of the community and are unwell enough – unless you want to seek medical attention anyway – we are saying you shouldn’t be tested at this time.”
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HOW LONG AFTER BEING EXPOSED TO THE VIRUS WILL I HAVE SYMPTOMS?
The “incubation period” for coronavirus – that is, the time between coming infected with the virus and becoming sick – is between two and 14 days, Prof Senanayake explained, but is most commonly around five or six days.
If you do have coronavirus, it’s likely you’ll look and feel like you have the flu.
The most common symptoms to look for are fever, tiredness and dry cough, though some patients may have aches and pains, nasal congestion, a runny nose, sore throat or diarrhoea.
While these symptoms are usually mild, more serious symptoms can include difficulty breathing.
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IS THERE ANYTHING WE CAN DO IF WE HAVE SYMPTOMS THAT WILL HELP REDUCE THE SEVERITY?
There is currently not a vaccination or medicine to prevent or treat coronavirus.
However, “80 per cent of cases are mild, with most people most likely being well enough to stay at home until you’re no longer infected,” Prof Senanayake said.
“Treatment of symptoms such as fevers and muscle aches can be reduced with paracetamol, but there are no approved treatments to kill the virus.”
Professor Senanayake said that a number of medications were currently being investigated to find out their potential role against the disease.
While you can’t completely prevent yourself from contracting the disease, the WHO advises that you take the same precautions you normally would to avoid catching the flu.
• Regularly and thoroughly clean your hands with an alcohol-based hand rub or wash them with soap and water.
• Maintain at least one metre distance between yourself and anyone who is coughing or sneezing.
• Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
• Make sure you, and the people around you, follow good respiratory hygiene.
• Stay home if you feel unwell. If you have a fever, cough and difficulty breathing, seek medical attention.
• Stay informed on the latest developments about coronavirus.
• Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces at home, work or school, especially when someone is sick.
IF YOU GET CORONAVIRUS, CAN YOU GET IT AGAIN AND HAVE TO GO THROUGH ISOLATION AGAIN?
While it’s too early to say whether you can contract coronavirus more than once, Prof Senanayake said that doctors “suspect that having the infection makes you immune to it, at least in the short-term, and possibly in the long-term”.
Concerns about the possibility of becoming infected twice have risen largely from an incident in Japan, where government officials reported that a woman had reportedly caught the virus a second time.
However, infectious disease physician and epidemiologist at the University of Minnesota, Susan Kline, told Wired the case in Japan – and in similar cases in China – were likely just a continuation of the original infection.
IF ONE PERSON GETS CORONAVIRUS, DOES THE ENTIRE HOUSEHOLD NEED TO BE ISOLATED?
“Rules around isolation may change as the outbreak evolves,” Prof Senanayake said.
He referred to the instruction from NSW Health, advising isolation if you are sharing a house with a confirmed case.
If you are the person in isolation, you should stay in a different room from the other people or be separated as much as possible. Wear a surgical mask when you are in the same room as another person, and when seeking medical care. Use a separate bathroom, if available.
You should also make sure that you don’t share a room with people who are at risk of severe disease, such as elderly people and those who have heart, lung or kidney conditions, and diabetes.
Other members of the household who are not infected with coronavirus are not required to isolate unless they have also:
• Been in or transited through mainland China (excluding Macau and Taiwan), Iran or South Korea in the last 14 days.
• Been a close contact of a confirmed COVID-19 case.
Other members of the household are not required to be isolated unless they have also:
• Been in or transited through mainland China (excluding Macau and Taiwan), Iran or South Korea in the last 14 days
• Been in close contact of a confirmed COVID-19 case.
What are your big coronavirus questions? Tell us in the comments below and we will take them to the experts.