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Your guide to COVID-19: the symptoms, vaccines and more
COVID-19 is a new coronavirus which originated in late 2019. This strain is particularly contagious and can spread rapidly from person to person. Coronaviruses include the common cold and more serious illnesses such as SARS.
Most people who contract the COVID-19 virus will make a full recovery, however a small percentage will experience severe symptoms that can prove fatal. The symptoms of COVID-19 can be managed and alleviated, and there are currently several vaccines available in Australia which can protect you from the severity of the illness. These are:
Take a look at this infographic for a quick overview of the current situation in Australia. You can also call the National Coronavirus helpline on 1800 020 080.
Symptoms to look out for
People with COVID-19 experience cold and flu-like symptoms, including:
- night sweats
- sore throat
- shortness of breath.
- loss of smell and taste.
Additional symptoms can also include:
- aches and pains
- runny nose
- loss of appetite.
It’s important to get tested for COVID-19 if you experience any symptoms. You can use this symptom checker to find out if you need to get tested for the illness.
“Most people who contract the virus will make a full recovery at home and will not require hospitalisation.”
Some people with COVID-19 are asymptomatic
This means they don’t show any symptoms. However, they can still carry the virus and transmit it to others, which is why it’s important to follow your State or Territory’s self-isolation rules if you are diagnosed with COVID-19, or if you’ve been in close contact with someone who has been diagnosed.
In most cases, symptoms are mild and people with COVID-19 recover at home. However, if your symptoms are serious you should seek medical attention immediately. If possible, call ahead to let your doctor know you are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19. In an emergency, call 000.
Hospitalisation for severe cases
The most serious cases may require hospitalisation and time in intensive care on a ventilator which is a machine that helps you breathe. There are a number of drug-based treatments for people with COVID-19 that have been approved for use in Australia. However there have also been reports of people self-treating their symptoms with off-label medications. For example, the effectiveness of hydroxychloroquine (an anti-malaria drug) in treating COVID-19 has not been substantiated. In fact, the World Health Organisation has suspended trials of the drug. There is also not enough evidence to suggest that Ivermectin is a safe or effective treatment for COVID-19, and the National COVID-19 Clinical Evidence Taskforce does not recommend its use.
“There are three vaccines available in Australia that can protect you from the severity of COVID-19 including, Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca.”
How do the vaccines work?
All vaccines that are currently available in Australia help to protect you from a severe and occasionally fatal case of COVID-19.
In summary, these vaccines train your immune system to identify and ultimately remove the virus from your system before you become seriously ill. The good news is that your body’s natural immunity will actually build this protection over time. And you will be fully protected 7 to 14 days after you’ve had your second dose.
How many doses of the vaccine will you need?
To get the full benefit, you will need two doses of the same vaccine. If you’ve already had both vaccine shots, you may now also be eligible for a booster shot if you’re aged 18 and over.
Your doctor may recommend a third dose of the vaccine if your immune system is severely compromised.
How does COVID-19 spread?
It can spread quickly from person to person through:
- Close contact with an infected person (even someone not showing signs of infection)
- Close contact with someone up to 48 hours before they show signs of infection
- Contact with infected droplets from someone sneezing, coughing, talking, laughing or singing
- Touching infected droplets on a surface or object then touching your mouth, face or eyes.
Dedicated COVID-19 testing centres have been set up around Australia.
The simple test involves taking a swab of your nose and throat. Results are generally back within 24-72 hours. If you’ve been tested for the illness, due to symptoms or close contact, you must self-isolate at home until you receive your test results. If it’s positive, you must continue to self-isolate and follow the advice of your State or Territory’s Government, and your doctor or health professional.
Self-isolation after testing positive for the virus
You will likely need to self-isolate if you have tested positive for COVID-19 or if you’ve been in contact with someone who tested positive. You may also have to self-isolate if you’re waiting for the results of a test or if you’ve recently returned from overseas.
You should follow these guidelines:
- Don’t leave home (or your hotel room) unless it’s for a medical emergency
- Separate yourself from others in your home
- Use a separate bathroom if you can
- Wear a mask if you have to go into shared areas and avoid touching things
- Cough or sneeze into a tissue then dispose of it and wash or sanitise your hands
- Frequently wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds or sanitise them
- Use separate utensils and crockery and avoid sharing household items
- You can spend time in your own garden or on your balcony if you have one
- Clean and disinfect any surfaces you touch.
If you live alone while self-isolating, you can access support with food delivery and meals. You can also access telehealth consultations with your GP.
“COVID-19 test results are usually back within 24-72 hours.”
If you’ve tested positive and you’re self-isolating you should also:
- Get plenty of rest
- Drink lots of fluids (avoiding alcohol)
- Eat nutritious food
- Stay connected with loved ones in a way that doesn’t compromise your self-isolation.
If your symptoms deteriorate, or if you have trouble breathing, seek medical attention immediately.
Is there a cure for COVID-19?
Currently there is no cure for this illness. All that medical professionals can do is treat the symptoms of the virus. Antibiotics don’t work on a virus. However, prevention is often better than cure, so, as well as getting vaccinated, you can also practice preventative measures:
The best way to prevent contracting the disease is to reduce your exposure.
- Stay 1.5 metres away from others where possible
- Avoid handshakes, hugs and physical greetings
- Avoid crowds
- Wash your hands frequently with soap and water for 20 seconds
- Use alcohol-based sanitisers if you don’t have soap and water
- Wear a mask when in public or where social distancing is more difficult
- Clean and disinfect surfaces and objects, including mobile phones and keys
- Avoid using cash
- Increase the flow of fresh air by opening windows.
This Government website has more information on ways to prevent COVID-19 spreading.
Do you still need to wear a mask?
Your State Government or the Australian Government will advise you if mask wearing is mandatory in your State or Territory.
A mask can help prevent the spread of COVID-19 the virus to others, but only if it’s worn and handled correctly. If you do wear a mask, change it regularly, don’t touch the front of it, and keep washing your hands often. Never re-use a single-use mask, and if you wear a mask when you’re exercising you’ll need to replace it if it becomes damp. Sweat promotes the growth of microorganisms and makes breathing more difficult.
The WHO has some guidelines on how to wear and remove different types of masks safely.
“If your immune system is weak, you’re more likely to catch a virus – any virus. You can strengthen your system through diet, rest and exercise.”
Protect your immune system
If your immune system is compromised or weakened, you’re more likely to catch a virus – any virus. There are ways you may be able to strengthen your immune system:
- Get enough sleep
- Don’t smoke
- Minimise stress
- Follow a healthy diet
- Get enough exercise
- Avoid excess alcohol.
All of these things can contribute to general good health, which in turn leads to a healthier immune system.
Who’s more at risk?
These people are more at risk of experiencing severe symptoms if they contract COVID-19:
- People over the age of 70
- People over 65 with chronic health conditions
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with a chronic health condition, or those over the age of 50
- People with compromised immune systems
- Those undergoing treatment for cancer
- People with a disability.
If you fall into an at-risk category, follow Government guidelines on how to protect yourself and others.
“It’s normal to feel stressed, anxious or upset during this time, especially if you, or your loved ones have been affected by the virus.”
Mental health impacts
If you’re feeling fear and uncertainty as a result of the global pandemic, and the knock-on effects of lockdowns, job losses and periods of self-isolation, these are very normal reactions.
- Try to maintain a healthy lifestyle, with good nutrition, daily exercise and a set routine
- Stay in touch with friends and family
- Stay informed so you can limit your exposure to COVID-19 and know what to do if you suspect you might have it
- Avoid checking social media for updates and stick to trusted sources of information
- Stay positive. The vast majority of people who get COVID-19 will make a full recovery.
If you feel overwhelmed, talk to someone you trust, or seek help from mental health professionals at organisations such as MindSpot (1800 61 4434) Kids Helpline (1800 55 1800) or Beyond Blue (1300 22 4636).
Remember, you can also use telehealth and claim Medicare rebates for mental health consultations, just as you would if you were seeing a doctor in person.
Pregnancy and birth
Pregnant women who contract COVID-19, have a higher risk of severe illness and pregnancy complications like preterm birth. The Australian Government recommends COVID-19 vaccination for women who are pregnant, breastfeeding or planning a pregnancy. This can help protect both you and your unborn baby. Currently, the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are recommended for pregnant people. The antibodies in the vaccine can also be passed on to your baby through the placenta and breastmilk, offering indirect protection after birth.
“As we emerge from lockdown and many months of uncertainty and fear, moving forward with hope and trust in humanity, is vital.”
A quick word on the Delta and Omicron variants of COVID-19
The Delta variant was first identified in December 2020 and began to spread globally as it became the dominant strain in the COVID-19 virus. It is believed to be 2x more contagious than the previous variants. Some data has also suggested that Delta may cause more severe illness in unvaccinated people. However, the approved and authorised vaccines both here and globally, have been found to be highly effective against the Delta variant.
Omicron emerged as a new variant of COVID-19 in November 2021. Scientists are currently assessing the variant so not much is known about how easily it spreads. The severity of the illness Omicron may cause is also unknown. The medical profession is also working to understand how effective the current vaccines and medications will be against Omicron.
Looking ahead to the ‘new normal’
Our world has gone through a profoundly challenging and often devastating two years.
The global pandemic has taken a vast number of lives and affected the mental health and livelihoods of millions. But as Australia slowly emerges from lockdown and many months of fear and uncertainty, one thing is clear – moving forward with trust and faith in the human spirit is vital if we’re going to navigate the ‘new normal’ with optimism and hope.
If you – or the people you love – have been affected by COVID-19 either directly or indirectly, speak with your medical professional for guidance and support. You are never alone.
All information contained in this article is intended for general information purposes only. The information provided should not be relied upon as medical advice and does not supersede or replace a consultation with a suitably qualified healthcare professional.
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