COVID-19 Explained: Your FAQs, Answered

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When the first cases of coronavirus disease were reported in South Africa, ER24 was ready to respond.

The World Health Organization (WHO) first reported a cluster of pneumonia cases in Wuhan, Hubei province, China, on 31 December 2019. Since then, the disease has spread rapidly across the world, and the WHO declared the outbreak a pandemic on 11 March 2020.

“When Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) first emerged in South Africa members of the public needed reliable and accurate information regarding testing, diagnosis and treatment,” says Dr Robyn Holgate: Chief Medical Officer at ER24. “There were many anxious and confused South Africans, clamoring for clarity. Although there is a wealth of information available now, always be sure it comes from a reliable source. As we move through the stages of this pandemic and gain more critical medical intelligence, information may change, so stay up to date with information from a credible source.”

The Mediclinic COVID-19 Hotline, 0860 24 00 24 is available to guide our patients through the pandemic.

What are the signs and symptoms?

Most people who get COVID-19 disease will have mild to moderate symptoms, like having bad flu. However, some people who have other illnesses, such as heart disease, diabetes, chronic lung diseases or kidney diseases may become sicker.

People who develop COVID-19 generally have the following symptoms:

  • Fever
  • Sore throat
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath/ dyspnea

Other signs:

Myalgia and fatigue are common; fatigue may be profound

Alteration in smell and/or taste is often an early symptom

Patients with moderate to severe disease complain of dyspnea  


Pleuritic chest pain has been reported

Upper respiratory tract symptoms (eg, rhinorrhea, sneezing, sore throat)


Gastrointestinal symptoms (eg, nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea)

In symptomatic patients, illness may evolve over the course of a week or longer, beginning with mild symptoms that progress (in some cases) to the point of respiratory distress and shock. It is important that patients with severe shortness of breath and respiratory signs go to hospital, as deterioration may be sudden or catastrophic.

How is the virus spread?

The virus can be spread by droplets when someone who has the virus coughs or sneezes on you. Generally, if you are more than two metres away, the droplets won’t reach you, and should not be able to infect you. However, those droplets can land on surfaces, like a table, or a door handle, or any other surface. It can survive on the surface for a long time, and if you touch that surface with the virus, and then touch your face, especially your eyes, mouth or nose, you could become infected.

Reduce the risk by reducing personal contact – such as shaking hands – and cleaning your hands before touching your eyes, nose or mouth, and after coughing or sneezing.

How can COVID-19 infection in humans be prevented?

Because the virus is spread by droplets and touching surfaces that have been exposed to the virus, you should do the following to prevent getting infected:

  • Frequently wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds – normal soap and water is enough to kill the virus; you don’t need special antibacterial soaps.
  • If you can’t wash your hands, use an alcohol hand gel or liquid that contains at least 60% alcohol – the alcohol in the gel will be enough to kill the virus.
  • Do not touch your face, nose, mouth or eyes.
  • Practice good cough etiquette – don’t use your hands to cover your mouth or nose when you cough or sneeze – use the crook of your elbow, or a tissue when coughing and sneezing, and throw the tissue away after you have used it. Then you need to wash your hands.
  • If you are in a public area, try to maintain a distance of at least two metres from other people.
  • Avoid close contact with other people if they are sick. They should stay at home.
  • Avoid social gatherings and travel.

Can a person spread the virus without having symptoms of the disease?

It may be possible for the virus to spread before a person has symptoms of the disease, but this is most likely not the main way the virus is spreading. It is more likely for the virus to spread by being in close contact with people who are sick and breathing in the respiratory droplets of a sick person’s cough or sneeze.

Is there a treatment or vaccine for this virus?

Currently, there is no vaccine to prevent coronavirus disease. Also, there are no medicines like antibiotics or antivirals to treat the virus. A person who becomes sick is given supportive care, which means rest and fluids. A person may also relieve his or her symptoms by using over-the-counter medicines that treat sneezing, coughing, and runny nose. These are the same medicines that a person takes for the common cold, but it’s best to consult with a healthcare practitioner first.

Call the Mediclinic COVID-19 Hotline on 0860 24 00 24 for assistance.

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