We’re all experiencing something that none of us has ever experienced before — a pandemic.
COVID-19 is spreading like wildfire over the globe, through countries, within towns, cities, and even our own homes. When you hop on the internet, it’s pretty much all that populates the news and social media outlets.
Yet, how much of the information you’re consuming is accurate? How much is currently up-to-date or relevant to your specific situation?
Understanding everything you can about how the virus is transmitted, what it does to your body, what to expect, how to detect the severity level, what to do if you contract it, and how to prevent it is the key to making it through this time safely.
Therefore, I’ve scoured the most reliable sources — including the Center for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization — and reviewed some of the most acclaimed medical university research — such as Johns Hopkins and Harvard — to compile a go-to Coronavirus and COVID-19 guide to help us consolidate, learn, and keep ourselves safe!
What are Coronaviruses?
In order to grapple with the fact that we’re in the midst of a pandemic — a “global outbreak of disease” — it’s probably a good idea to understand the disease itself.
So, first off, what exactly does this term coronavirus refer to?
It’s not necessarily referring to COVID-19 — the specific respiratory disease of this pandemic — but rather a “large family of viruses that usually cause mild to moderate upper-respiratory tract illnesses, like the common cold.” This virus got its name from the “crownlike spikes that protrude from its surface.”
While there are “hundreds of coronaviruses, most of which circulate among animals including pigs, camels, bats, and cats” only a few — currently 7 recorded — have made a transition into humans, which is referred to as a “spillover event.”
These spillover events include four mild viruses “229E, OC43, NL63 and HKU1” and three more worrisome diseases including Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), — the first coronavirus outbreak in 2002 — Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), — the second coronavirus outbreak in 2012 — and our third current pandemic disease of COVID-19.
Terminology Breakdown: Coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, and COVID-19
Outside of the terms coronavirus and COVID-19, you may be hearing the term SARS-CoV-2. While coronavirus is an umbrella term for hundreds of viruses, SARS-CoV-2 refers to the specific virus that causes the current respiratory disease COVID-19 in humans.
You’ll hear lots of terms mixed together such as Novel Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, or simply SARS-Cov-2. No matter the mixture, this is simply referring to that specific strain of coronavirus that is causing COVID-19.
When a human becomes ill — experiencing a myriad of symptoms that we’ll go over later — this is the disease COVID-19.
The Basics of COVID-19
You got the terms down, now let’s dive into the nitty-gritty about COVID-19. While it’s important not to inundate yourself with unpleasant news every day, especially during this time of social distancing, understanding everything you can about the disease COVID-19 can not only help you prepare, but also help you avoid contracting and transmitting the disease.
How is COVID-19 Contracted and Spread?
The virus COVID-19 is contracted “through droplets of saliva or discharge from the nose when an infected person coughs or sneezes.” It’s also possible to contract COVID-19 “by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching” your eyes, nose, or mouth. This is why many cities in the United States and whole countries like Italy are practicing “shelter-in-place” practices to help stop the rapid and overwhelming spread of the disease.
On top of the ease in which this virus spreads, it also happens to have a somewhat lengthy incubation period.
What’s an incubation period?
This term refers to the “time from exposure to the causative agent [the moment you’re exposed to COVID-19] until the first symptoms develop.” Being aware of the incubation period of a virus is incredibly important as you can unwittingly transmit the virus to others without knowing you yourself are a carrier.
While new information is regularly coming out about COVID-19, “it appears that symptoms are showing up in people within 14 days of exposure to the virus” and it’s looking like it can be transmitted up to one day after exposure. On average, symptoms show up within five days of exposure.
What’s your best course of action to avoid contracting and spreading?
Social distancing, sheltering-in-place, covering your mouth when you cough or sneeze, and washing your hands. This last one is super important! Turns out that SARS-CoV-2 is “enveloped in a bubble of oily lipid molecules, which falls apart on contact with soap.” When you wash your hands, you’re basically destroying the virus.
What are the Common Symptoms?
While there are common symptoms for COVID-19, it’s important to note that more and more information is still forthcoming. Keep in mind, that your specific symptoms may not exactly match those of the majority.
This means its more important than ever to practice social distancing!
With that said, there are a few things to look out for.
The World Health Organization states that the most common symptoms include “fever, tiredness, and dry cough,” while some people also experience “aches and pains, nasal congestion, runny nose, sore throat or diarrhea.”
Others may “become infected but don’t develop any symptoms and don’t feel unwell.” These patients are referred to as asymptomatic. While the CDC states that “asymptomatic infection with SARS-CoV-2 has been reported,” it’s still very unclear what “role asymptomatic infection plays in transmission.”
A high percentage of those that contract the virus — currently 80 percent — “recover from the disease without needing special treatment.”
On the other hand, those who are older or have “underlying medical problems like high blood pressure, heart problems, or diabetes,” have found themselves in need of serious medical attention. In fact, about “[one] in every [five] people who catch [COVID-19] need hospital care.” Generally, these patients are experiencing more severe symptoms such as “high fever, severe cough, and shortness of breath, which often indicates pneumonia.”
What about all this talk about the shortness of breath? How can you tell if you’re experiencing COVID-19 related shortness of breath?
First off, when you’re sick and feeling fatigued, — especially for those who are overanxious and stressed about being sick in the first place — it’s easy to experience temporary shortness of breath that passes. This is not generally a worrisome sign. When it comes to diagnosing shortness of breath as a COVID-19 symptom you’ll want to keep an eye out for “unexpectedly feeling out of breath or winded.” On top of that, if you are experiencing most of the other COVID-19 symptoms, plus you’re “breathing harder or having trouble getting air each time you exert yourself,” this may be a sign that COVID-19 is progressing and you should call your healthcare provider to consult.
Looking Inside: COVID-19 and Your Body
Let’s say you’re out for a walk, you turn the corner, and someone is right in front of you. Maybe they recently coughed or sneezed without covering their mouth. Maybe they say hello fervently and loudly. No matter how it happened, that individual may have COVID-19 and you have now just been exposed via saliva droplets.
What happens next?
Let’s track this virus from spittle to cell!
How does COVID-19 get inside?
The virus enters the body, “attaches to cells in the airway that produce a protein called ACE2,” then fuses “its oily membrane with the membrane of the cell” and begins to release “a snippet of genetic material called RNA.”
Once that virus RNA is released, your infected cell “begins making proteins that will keep the immune system at bay and help assemble new copies of the virus.” While the cell will eventually die, before it does so it releases “millions of copies of the virus,” which “may infect nearby cells, or end up in droplets that escape the lungs.”
Why does COVID-19 cause death?
Now that we’ve got a grasp on the actual virus entering and infecting the body, what kind of spiraling effects may take place in more severe cases?
As COVID-19 is a respiratory disease, it can have devastating effects on the lungs.
Specifically, COVID-19 patients with severe symptoms are developing Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS). Hospitals are already very familiar with ARDS as a “number of events can trigger it, including infection, trauma, and sepsis.” These triggering events — such as COVID-19 — “cause damage to the lungs, which leads to fluid leaking from small blood vessels in the lungs,” and that “fluid collects in the lungs’ air sacs,” called alveoli. This fluid collection makes it “difficult for the lungs to transfer oxygen from the air to the blood.”
The effects of the virus may also depend on how it enters the body.
For instance, as the virus has an easy time entering the body via the lungs, this is generally where doctors are seeing the most organ-related issues. With that said, it’s possible that the gastrointestinal system can be infiltrated causing “nausea or diarrhea,” as well as the heart and blood vessels, which “may show up as irregular heart rhythms, not enough blood getting to the tissues, or blood pressure low enough that it requires medication.”
While the virus doesn’t enter the body via the kidneys, these organs are not excluded from being negatively affected as well. Per Dr. James Cherry, a research professor of pediatrics in the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, ” kidney damage may be due to other changes that happen during coronavirus infection,” such as “when you have pneumonia, you have less oxygen circulating … and that can damage the kidneys.”
Lastly, let’s talk about the immune system.
Yes, your immune system is your knight in shining armor fighting off the big bad COVID-19. Yet, sometimes that knight in shining armor can get a little presumptuous with their sword.
This is oftentimes referred to as “collateral damage” of an “intense inflammatory response, sometimes called a cytokine storm.” What’s a cytokine storm? Your wonderful immune cells also “produce cytokines to fight infection, but if too many are released” they can negatively “affect the function of multiple organ systems.”
In severe COVID-19 patients, this is oftentimes seen represented as sepsis syndrome. Sepsis Syndrome is a “potentially life-threatening condition caused” when the body responds disproportionately to an infection by releasing an imbalanced amount of infection-fighting chemicals. This imbalance “triggers changes that can damage multiple organ systems.”
When to Seek Help
It’s true that most people will simply ride out COVID-19 at home — as you would the flu or common cold — yet in rare cases “COVID-19 can lead to severe respiratory problems, kidney failure or death.”
The crucial aspect of this sickness is understanding the difference between mild, moderate, serious, or severe/extreme symptoms. Getting yourself knowledgeable on the distinguishing factors can help stall the spread of the virus to our healthcare workers, leaving them free to aid those in need. We all need to do our part to help hospitals and clinics deal with the overflow of this pandemic.
- A mild form of COVID-19 is described as being accompanied by fever, some respiratory symptoms, some aches and pains, and a dry cough. Per Dr. Amesh Adajia, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, mild symptoms are “nothing that will make you feel like you need to run to a hospital.”
- A moderate form of COVID-19 is described as being accompanied by many of the same symptoms as a mild case with a few differences including a fever above 100.4, chills, more coughing, “a feeling that you don’t want to or can’t get out of bed,” and an increased risk of dehydration. Dehydration may cause additional symptoms such as “increased thirst, dry mouth, decreased urine output, yellow urine, dry skin, a headache, and dizziness.” Moderate forms of COVID-19 may also be accompanied by mild shortness of breath. If you’re experiencing shortness of breath, contact your healthcare provider, as it may be “caused by low oxygen levels in the blood,” which may lead to more severe issues.
- A severe or extreme form of COVID-19 is accompanied by mild and moderate symptoms, yet with the added stress of respiratory issues such as severe pneumonia, which can lead to “secondary bacterial infections.” While this isn’t necessarily severe for young, healthy individuals, those who are older or have underlying conditions may suffer life-threatening forms. In severe cases, “without giving a patient supplemental oxygen or if needed a respirator to aid breathing, a patient’s organs can shut down and the patient can die.”
It’s recommended that instead of trying to slot yourself into “mild, moderate, or severe” categories, use your symptoms as telltale signs and keep in regular communication with your healthcare provider.
ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS, start with a call to your general practitioner, family doctor, or a nurse helpline before panicking or visiting a hospital.
For instance, John’s Hopkins Health System is currently advising that if you’re experiencing a fever or respiratory difficulty “such as coughing or shortness of breath, call your doctor or a health care provider and explain your symptoms over the phone.” The healthcare provider will assess the immediacy of your situation and direct you to the next steps.
It’s not said enough these days, but it’s okay to feel worried, anxious, or scared about this virus no matter who you are.
Yet, knowledge means power to make educated decisions to keep yourself and others safe! For instance, the data is showing that around 80 percent of those that contract COVID-19 will only experience mild to moderate symptoms. This means that the chances of contracting a severe case isn’t that great at this point.
There are also success stories in flattening the curve and subduing the virus, such as has happened in China. This means we all just have to chip in, watch our social distancing, care for ourselves and our communities, and we’ll get through this!
In the meantime, if you have a specific question about COVID-19, don’t skim the news. Instead, focus on sourcing reliable and accurate outlets to find your answers such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or the World Health Organization.
Taking Care of Your Mental Health
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA): Tips for Social Distancing, Quarantine, and Isolation During an Infectious Disease Outbreak
- SAMHSA’S National Helpline 1-800-662-4357 (HELP) or 1-800-487-4889
- National Alliance on Mental Illness COVID-19 Resource and Information Guide
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Healthy Living
Protecting Yourself and Others
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Prevention of Coronavirus Disease
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: How to Prepare
- World Health Organization: Advice for the Public
Think You May Be Sick?
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: What To Do if You Are Sick
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Symptoms of Coronavirus
- Johns Hopkins Medicine, Coronavirus (COVID-19): What Do I Do If I Feel Sick?
General Coronavirus and COVID-19 Information
- World Health Organization: Q&A on Coronavirus (COVID-19)
- World Health Organization: Mythbusters
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Coronavirus (COVID-19)
- Harvard Medical School Coronavirus Resource Center
- Johns Hopkins Medicine, What is Coronavirus (COVID-19)
Learn How to Cook Plant-Based Meals at Home to Stay Healthy!
It’s a good time to reconsider your intake of animal products to stay healthy. Reducing your meat intake and eating more plant-based foods is known to help with chronic inflammation, heart health, mental wellbeing, fitness goals, nutritional needs, allergies, gut health and more! Dairy consumption also has been linked many health problems, including acne, hormonal imbalance, cancer, prostate cancer and has many side effects. Learn about some Common Health Concerns That May Disappear Once You Ditch Dairy and 10 Calcium Supplements For Healthy Living on a Dairy-Free and 10 Carrageenan-Free Non-Dairy Products!
For those of you interested in eating more plant-based, we highly recommend downloading the Food Monster App — with over 15,000 delicious recipes it is the largest meatless, plant-based, vegan and allergy-friendly recipe resource to help reduce your environmental footprint, save animals and get healthy! And, while you are at it, we encourage you to also learn about the environmental and health benefits of a plant-based diet.
Here are some resources to get you started:
- Weekly Vegan Meal Plans
- Plant-Based Health Resources
- Plant-Based Food & Recipes
- Plant-Based Nutrition Resources
- The Ultimate Guide to Plant-Based Nutrition
- Budget-Friendly Plant-Based Recipes
- High Protein Plant-Based Recipes
- Plant-Based Meal Prep
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