The number of coronavirus cases is currently increasing daily across the globe, including in the UK. Inevitably, this has resulted in some panic with stock markets plummeting, supermarket shelves emptying and many of us are worried about our relatives and friends.
With the world currently looking to lock down, we take look at this new coronavirus and the disease it causes to give you the lowdown on how you can reduce your risk of illness.
Coronavirus and Covid-19 – What’s the difference?
There is some confusion between the term’s coronavirus and Covid-19. Across many media platforms, these terms are being used interchangeably, but they mean different things.
What is a Coronavirus?
Coronaviruses are a family of viruses which cause illness in human beings. You’ll already be familiar with some, particularly the common cold and seasonal flu. The common cold is often just a mild infection with symptoms that often temporarily impact on your daily life and are a nuisance, more than anything. Some coronaviruses, however, result in a more serious infection, like the SARS and MERS outbreaks in previous years.
The current coronavirus which has spread around the world since the end of 2019, is new and hadn’t been seen in humans before. For this reason and the fact it is highly infectious, it is putting pressure on health services across the world.
What is Covid-19?
Covid-19 is the name given to the disease caused by this new coronavirus. The disease was first identified in Wuhan, China in late December 2019. The disease is a severe respiratory illness which usually resolves itself, but in approximately 2 per cent of cases, it appears to be fatal.
Common symptoms of the disease are:
- Breathing difficulties
- Shortness of breath
Current government advice states that if you or anyone you live with has symptoms you should stay at home for 14 days or if you live alone for 7 days.
How to Prevent Coronavirus
There are several steps you can take to help protect yourself from this new coronavirus infection. These measures may help to prevent you from contracting the disease, but there is no guarantee that this is the case. Because this coronavirus is a new illness, the medical world is still unsure about how the disease spreads.
It is assumed that it is passed on from person to person through droplets that leave the body like when coughing or sneezing.
Some ways you can help to reduce the spread of coronavirus, include:
- Wash your hands thoroughly and frequently with soap and preferably warm water or if you don’t have access to soap and water, you can use an alcohol-based hand rub. Although antibacterial handwashes and alcohol rubs have bacteria-killing qualities, they also destroy viruses present on your hands. Wash them for at least 20 seconds, maybe singing along to one of your favourite tunes.
- Try to avoid touching your face because contaminated hands can spread the virus to your eyes, nose or mouth where it can easily enter the body and make you ill.
- Social distancing is another measure which may be effective in reducing the spread of Covid-19. Current guidelines state that you should try to maintain a distance of at least a metre from anyone coughing or sneezing.
- Importantly, it’s paramount to follow the advice being given by the government and your healthcare provider. Most advice is being updated daily so it’s important to stay up to date.
Boosting Your Immune System and Covid-19
A healthy immune system is needed to reduce the chance of falling ill because it does a fantastic job in defending your body against invading microbes like bacteria and viruses.
When a virus enters your body, it invades cells so that it can survive and replicate. Essentially, it means the virus can hide from your immune system because the immune cells can’t see inside cells, so won’t know the virus is there.
However, cells are clever because they have a system which effectively enables the cells of the immune system to see if anything is lurking in them that shouldn’t be. For example, your cells use molecules to show pieces of proteins that are present on the inside of the cell on its surface, almost like a flag. So, if there is a virus inside the cell, small fragments of it will also be displayed on the cell’s surface which will alert your immune system to the invader. Your body can then begin its response to kill the virus.
In the case of some pathogens, your body’s immune cells will recognise the invader and can remove it using antibodies. These are proteins which recognise invading pathogens and stick to them to help eradicate the virus. However, in the case of Covid-19, because it is a disease caused by a new coronavirus, the human body does not yet have antibodies to work against it.
Covid-19 has now been called a pandemic. That means that the disease which the human population has no immunity against, has spread around the world beyond expectations. Although the disease is highly infectious and your immune system won’t have seen it before, it is still important to keep your immune system healthy and there are ways you can keep it functioning at its best.
The best way to keep your immune system working effectively is to adopt a healthy lifestyle. Making sure you are following the guidelines promoting good health and practising public health advice will go a long way to keep your immune system fighting fit.
Things to consider are:
- Eating a healthy, balanced diet incorporating at least 5 portions of fruit and veg per day as well as whole grains.
- Stay hydrated. Water is a key element in defending your body against invaders. For example, your saliva is 98% water which is your body’s first line of defence. Hydration can come in many forms whether it’s water, herbal tea, fruit juice (one glass only), milk and sugar-free squash.
- Exercise regularly, most adults should aim to complete at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise every week with two days of strength-based exercise. Activities might include walking, jogging, dancing, swimming, cycling, team sports, aerobics and anything that raises your heart rate and maybe gets a sweat on!
- Keep your weight within a healthy range and try not to fluctuate too far either way. Avoid fad diets and advice especially at a time like now, your body needs the essential nutrients you get from your diet
- Give up smoking. Smoking increases your chance of infections like pneumonia and flu. It also affects the ability of your immune cells to function adequately and causes oxidative damage, inflammation and cancer itself which also compromise your immune system.
- Drink alcohol in moderation. We all like to have a drink now and again but alcohol interferes with your body’s natural defence system.
- Get good sleep and rest. Your immune system is made up of all different cells which have their jobs to fight infection. One of these cells, T-cells, needs you to sleep to keep them strong. Not getting enough sleep can weaken their function and increase your risk of illness.
- Follow all the public health advice you are given like washing hands frequently and not touching your face.
How Do I Know If My Immune System is OK?
When it comes to looking after yourself over the coming months, your immune system should be at the top of your list. But how do you know if your immune system is working well?
There are a few tell-tale signs as to how well your immune system is working. If you’re currently feeling well then that is a good sign, however, because your body won’t recognise the new coronavirus it’s easy to see why that may change rapidly.
Signs that might indicate your immune system is down or fighting an infection include:
- Feeling achy
- Feeling tired
- Swollen glands
- Experiencing lots of colds
- Wounds take longer than usual to heal
- You frequently experience gas, diarrhoea or constipation
- Frequent infections
At Forth, our at-home immune system blood test can help you to see how strong your immune system is (it cannot tell you if you have the infection) by measuring the most important immunity biomarkers, checking for signs of inflammation as well as information regarding your blood cells.
More Information on Coronavirus
It’s important to stay updated with the latest development related to the coronavirus. Currently, the UK government is broadcasting daily updates regarding their response to the pandemic. Alternatively, the UK government website also has the latest information.
The NHS website has a web page dedicated to the coronavirus including advice about what you should do if you think you have symptoms. You can access it here. If you think you do have symptoms and need advice there is a dedicated online NHS 111 service.
British Society for Immunology. (2020). Immune Responses to Viruses. Available at: https://www.immunology.org/public-information/bitesized-immunology/pathogens-and-disease/immune-responses-viruses
National Health Service. (2020). Overview Coronavirus (COVID-19). Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/coronavirus-covid-19/
World Health Organization. (2020). Coronavirus. Available at: https://www.who.int/health-topics/coronavirus
Xu, Z et al. (2020). Pathological Findings of COVID-19 Associated with Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome. The Lancet Respiratory Medicine.