What are coronaviruses?
Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses. Some coronaviruses cause illness in humans and others cause illness in animals, such as bats, camels, and civets. Human coronaviruses generally cause mild illness, such as the common cold. Rarely, animal coronaviruses can evolve to infect and spread among humans, causing severe diseases such as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) which emerged in 2002, and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) which emerged in 2012.
What is the COVID-19 virus?
COVID-19 is a new strain of coronavirus that has not been previously identified in humans. It was first identified in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China, where it has caused a large and ongoing outbreak. It has since spread more widely in China. Cases have since been identified in several other countries. The COVID-19 virus is closely related to a bat coronavirus. There is much more to learn about how COVID-19 is spread, its severity, and other features associated with the virus; epidemiological and clinical investigations are ongoing. Outbreaks of new coronavirus infections among people are always a public health concern. The situation is evolving rapidly.
What are the symptoms?
Patients may have fever, cough, runny nose, shortness of breath and other symptoms. In more severe cases, infection can cause pneumonia with severe acute respiratory distress.
Who should be tested for coronavirus?
At the time of writing, testing is only available for the following people:
1.Returning travellers who develop symptoms (fever, runny nose, cough or shortness of breath) within 14 days of return from overseas
2.Has had contact* with a person who is confirmed COVID-19 case and has developed symptoms within 14 days of last contact
Also, if a person has severe community-acquired pneumonia (critically ill) and no other cause is identified, with or without recent international travel, they are classified as a suspect case and may be tested. If any healthcare worker with direct patient contact has a fever and an acute respiratory infection (e.g. shortness of breath, cough, sore throat), they are classified as a suspect case and may require testing.
*NSW Health defines close contact as either greater than 15 minutes face-to-face contact in any setting with a confirmed case in the period extending from 24 hours before onset of symptoms in the confirmed case, OR sharing of a closed space with a confirmed case for a prolonged period (e.g. more than 2 hours) in the period extending from 24 hours before onset of symptoms in the confirmed case.
What happens if I have symptoms and I do not meet the criteria for testing?
If you do not meet the criteria for testing, you cannot be tested for Coronavirus. If you have symptoms of fever, runny nose, cough or shortness of breath then you may be unwell with the common cold or influenza.
Where do I get tested if I meet the criteria for Coronavirus testing?
If you meet the criteria for testing then we recommend you present to Byron Bay Hospital for testing. Please note we are NOT testing patients for Coronavirus at Cape Byron Medical Centre. Any patients who are suspicious for Coronavirus we have asked them to NOT come into the building and instead present directly to Byron Central Hospital.
How is the virus spread?
Human coronaviruses are spread by contaminated droplets spread by coughing or sneezing, or by contact with contaminated hands, surfaces or objects. The time between when a person is exposed to the virus and when symptoms first appear is typically 5 to 6 days, although may range from 2 to 14 days. For this reason, people who might have been in contact with a confirmed case are being asked to self-isolate for 14 days. Most COVID-19 cases appear to be spread from people who have symptoms. A small number of people may have been infectious before their symptoms developed. It is unclear if the virus can be spread through clothing (tests are currently being conducted).
Can it be spread through food?
Coronaviruses are generally thought to be spread from person-to-person through respiratory droplets. Currently there is no evidence to support transmission of COVID-19 associated with food. Before preparing or eating food it is important to always wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds for general food safety. Throughout the day wash your hands after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing, or going to the bathroom. It may be possible that a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes, but this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads.
How long does COVID-19 last on surfaces?
According to the World Health Organization, it is not certain how long the virus that causes COVID-19 survives on surfaces, but it seems to behave like other coronaviruses. Studies suggest that coronaviruses (including preliminary information on the COVID-19 virus) may persist on surfaces for a few hours or up to several days. This may vary under different conditions (e.g. type of surface, temperature or humidity of the environment). If you think a surface may be infected, clean it with a common household disinfectant to kill the virus and protect yourself and others. Clean your hands with an alcohol-based hand rub or wash them with soap and water. Avoid touching your eyes, mouth, or nose.
What is the difference between COVID-19 and the flu?
The first symptoms of COVID-19 and influenza (flu) infections are often very similar. They both cause fever and similar respiratory symptoms, which can then range from mild through to severe disease, and sometimes can be fatal. Both viruses are also transmitted in the same way, by coughing or sneezing, or by contact with hands, surfaces or objects contaminated with the virus. As a result, the same public health measures, such as hand hygiene (hand washing), good respiratory etiquette (coughing into your elbow or into a tissue and immediately disposing of the tissue) and good household cleaning are important actions to prevent both infections. The speed of transmission is an important difference between the two viruses. Influenza typically has a shorter incubation period (the time from infection to appearance of symptoms) than COVID-19. This means that influenza can spread faster than COVID-19. While the range of symptoms for the two viruses is similar, the fraction with severe disease appears to be higher for COVID-19. While most people have mild symptoms, approximately 15% of people have severe infections and 5% require intensive care in a hospital ICU. The proportions of severe and critical COVID-19 infections are higher than for influenza infections.
Does the influenza vaccine protect against COVID-19?
No, the Influenza vaccine does not protect against the Coronavirus. The Influenza vaccine protects against Influenza A and Influenza B. We recommend to all patients over 6 months of age to have the Influenza vaccine. Free vaccines are eligible for the following people:
-If you are 6 months old to under 5 years old
-Have a chronic disease
-Over 65 years old
Vaccinations are due to be available in April 2020. If you are not eligible for a free Influenza vaccination, then please contact Cape Byron Medical Centre in April 2020 to organise your Influenza vaccine.
I have travelled to another country. What should I do?
If you have been overseas in the last 14 days, you should:
self isolate yourself from others for 14 days from the day you returned or arrived from overseas and monitor yourself for symptoms. If you develop a fever or respiratory symptoms, please call Cape Byron Medical Centre or healthdirect on 1800 022 222.
Do I need to be separate from other people in my home if I am isolating?
Yes. If you are sharing your home with others, you should stay in a different room from 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. Make sure that you do not 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. Visitors who do not have an essential need to be in the home should not visit while you are isolating.
What is social distancing?
Social distancing is an effective measure, but it is recognised that it cannot be practised in all situations and the aim is to generally reduce potential for transmission. While practising social distancing, people can travel to work (including public transport). For non-essential activities outside the workplace or attendance at schools, universities and childcare – social distancing includes:
• avoiding crowds and mass gatherings where it is difficult to keep the appropriate distance away
• avoiding small gatherings in enclosed spaces, for example family celebrations
• attempting to keep a distance of 1.5 metres between themselves and other people where
possible, for example when they are out and about in public place.
• avoiding shaking hands, hugging, or kissing other people
• avoiding visiting vulnerable people, such as those in aged care facilities or hospitals, infants, or people with compromised immune systems due to illness or medical treatment.
For more information about social distancing, refer to COVID-19 – Advice for the NSW community.
Who should practice social distancing?
Everyone should practice social distancing, as it reduces the potential for transmission.
Can pets be infected with COVID-19?
While COVID-19 seems to have emerged from an animal source, it is now mainly spreading from person-to-person. There is no reason to think that any animals including pets in Australia might be a source of infection with this new virus. There have been no reports of pets or other animals becoming sick with COVID-19 in Australia. There is also no evidence that companion animals including pets can spread COVID-19. However, since animals can spread other diseases to people, it’s always a good idea to wash your hands after being around animals.
What is a pandemic?
A pandemic is an epidemic (infectious disease outbreak) that spreads on a global scale. Pandemics usually occur when a new infectious disease emerges that can spread rapidly around the world.
For a new virus to have pandemic potential it must meet three criteria:
-humans have little or no pre-existing immunity against the virus
-the virus causes disease in humans
-the virus can spread efficiently from person to person.
Previous pandemics include Spanish Influenza in 1918 or H1N1 Swine Flu in 2009. Only Type A influenza viruses have been known to cause influenza pandemics. This COVID-19 pandemic is the first caused by a coronavirus.
There is so much information on social media and in the news, where should I get my information from?
NSW Health is the most up-to-date and reliable resource for information.
*Information compiled using information from NSW Health and The Royal Australian College of General