What is Coronavirus?
A large number of epidemiologists out there would probably like you to know that Coronavirus is the name of a subset of viruses in the Coronaviridae family. The common cold, SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome), and MERS (Middle East respiratory syndrome) are all types of Coronavirus. One of the reasons they’re all under this family is that the viruses look like crowns, the Latin word for which is “corona”. Coronaviruses are zoonotic, which means they can be passed between humans and animals; this group of viruses can affect mammals and birds.
The specific strain of Coronavirus that is of concern to the medical community right now is the virus SARS-CoV-2 – this stands for severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 – and the condition it causes is COVID-19, or Coronavirus disease 2019.
At the moment, because the virus is so new, there is no vaccine which can prevent people from getting COVID-19; for the same reason, there are also no specific anti-viral medications to treat COVID-19. The World Health Organisation, China’s National Health Commission, and many other health organisations around the world are working to produce effective medication that can be used to treat the viral infection.
Am I at risk?
It’s very difficult to say at this stage what the risk is of getting COVID-19. The UK’s Chief Medical Officers have increased the risk to the public from low to moderate, but there are factors which can increase your risk of infection.
At this very early stage, we aren’t sure exactly how the virus spreads, but scientists are fairly certain that it does pass from person to person via droplets from coughs and sneezes. This does mean that we’re not entirely sure how contagious the virus is.
You are at a higher risk of catching COVID-19 if you live with a weakened immune system, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, or conditions which cause weakness in your lungs. If you have a weakened immune system, you will be at a higher risk of actually catching the virus, which your body may struggle to fight off. For people who may live with conditions which have damaged or weakened their respiratory system, extra care needs to be taken, as COVID-19 is an acute respiratory infection which can lead to additional complication which affects this important system.
We can logically say that working at a hospital will increase your risk of exposure to COVID-19, but it doesn’t necessarily mean you will catch it. As OTs, you may see lots of patients in a week, and being around a lot of people will also increase your risk.
Many people are taking the stance that we should “not be worried” about COVID-19. This is a deeply unhelpful thing to say to disabled and chronically ill people, who will likely be disproportionately affected by COVID-19. While we should not catastrophise COVID-19, we should all be aware of our part to play in preventing people who are at additional risk of catching the virus.
What are the symptoms of COVID-19?
The symptoms of COVID-19 are very easily confused with the common cold or flu. According to the World Health Organisation, the primary symptoms are:
- A dry cough
Infected people may start off feeling as if they have a fever. They will then develop a dry cough, which after a week or so, may become shortness of breath. They may also experience aches and pains, nasal congestion, a runny nose, sore throat, or diarrhoea.
It’s important to note that around 80% who catch COVID-19 will recover without needing medical intervention, but around one in six people will become seriously ill.
Complications to COVID-19 include pneumonia, acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), and multi-organ failure. It’s for this reason that if you do live with a weakened or compromised immune system that you, your family, and your friends take additional care while the NHS agrees there is an elevated risk of COVID-19 spreading.
WHO recommends that if you have a fever, cough, and difficulty breathing, that you should seek medical attention. If you live with a weakened immune system, asthma, diabetes, or conditions related to your heart, it is vitally important that you do not ignore or underestimate these symptoms. It’s always safer to get these things checked out.
If you think you have COVID-19, do not go to your GP. Call NHS 111. They will give you all the information you need on how to keep yourself safe.
How can I keep safe?
It does not matter if you are at an increased risk of catching COVID-19 or not: we are all responsible for helping to prevent the spread of the virus. It’s the same principle as herd immunity: if we all act to prevent the virus from spreading, we can reduce the risk of people who may be at increased risk of catching COVID-19 from coming to harm.
One of the biggest pushes from WHO, the NHS, and other health organisations is the emphasis on regular handwashing. This is because using soap and water or hand sanitiser kills viruses on your hands. The NHS recommends that you wash your hands for at least 20 seconds: just so you know, this is the length of time it takes to sing the chorus of Truth Hurts by Lizzo.
Avoid touching your face, your eyes, nose, or mouth, with dirty hands. This is an easy way to get the virus from dirty surfaces and into your system.
Engage in good respiratory hygiene: cough and sneeze into a handkerchief, then dispose of it or wash it. If you can’t do that, sneeze into your bent elbow, or your hand, then immediately wash it. This prevents the virus from spreading through coughs and sneezes.
If you feel unwell, stay home. This is important to prevent the spread of the disease; if you do catch COVID-19, you will be told to self-isolate.
If you have no respiratory symptoms, you don’t need to wear a mask. WHO says that the best way to avoid catching COVID-19 is to keep washing your hands, practice good respiratory hygiene, and keep a good distance from people who are coughing or sneezing. Don’t buy masks if you don’t need them; buying up valuable supplies like masks and medication in order to stockpile them prevents people who may need them urgently from accessing them.
For families and friends of people who live with any of the conditions which can make them more susceptible to COVID-19, it is imperative that you follow the advice given by the NHS and WHO to stay safe: if you live with a neurodiverse person or someone who can’t wash their hands constantly, it’s important to keep yourself and your surfaces clean. If you or your child likes to chew or touch any objects as part of stimming or to calm, you can give them a good wipe with disinfectant cleaners, or with 75-99% isopropyl alcohol. Just make sure to rinse it off before they use it again.
Your keyboard and your phone are also massive breeding grounds for viruses. As we’re not sure how long the virus can live on surfaces, it’s important to keep things like these which you touch and bring to your face constantly, clean. Disinfectant wipes or isopropyl alcohol will also do the trick here.
The Business Disability Forum has also published advice specifically for disabled people who are worried about taking time off due to sickness from COVID-19, or would like to self-isolate in fear that they catch it. If you’re worried about what to do and what your legal rights are, this is a great resource.
It’s worth remembering that, as an OT, you may be working with people who are immunocompromised. That means it’s imperative for you to maintain good hand and respiratory hygiene in order to help your patients maintain good health. Keep a solid supply of liquid soap and hand sanitiser, but don’t buy more than you need.
What should I not do?
Also, don’t worry about your pet or service dog. WHO says there’s no evidence that this specific strain affects cats or dogs, so no need to worry about your four-legged friend; concentrate on yourself.
Don’t eat raw meat, handle unpasteurised milk, or touch animal organs. Make sure all your food is cooked well.
Please, please, don’t take antibiotics. Don’t ask your doctor for antibiotics, either. COVID-19 is not a bacterial infection; antibiotics will do absolutely nothing except (hypothetically) increase your resistance to the said antibiotic.
Try as much as possible to not fall into the habit of panic buying; it’s great to be prepared, but you may be preventing people who really need liquid soap, face masks, or other things, from getting these items when it’s necessary for them.
Don’t tell people not to worry: it’s not your place to determine how worried another person should be about catching COVID-19. You don’t know their situation or risk factors. Focus instead on making sure you’re doing what you can to prevent it from spreading. Also, don’t tell people they should worry more about the flu. You can worry about more than one thing at the same time; that is one of the wonders of the human mind.