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Photo credit: Tam Wei/Unsplash

Photo credit: Tam Wei/Unsplash
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FAQs about the coronavirus disease (COVID-19)

Blog post | 03 Feb 2020

Alarming news headlines about the coronavirus that causes the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) are coming thick and fast, and many Australians are, unsurprisingly, worried. (The virus used to be known as the ‘novel coronavirus’.)

It’s important to be alert, but not alarmed — and to get your updates from reliable government sources, not just social media.

For the latest updates on COVID-19 worldwide, visit the World Health Organization website.

Scroll down for the answers to some common questions about COVID-19.

If you have flu-like symptoms

If you have severe difficulty breathing, call triple zero (000) immediately and tell the call handler and the paramedics on arrival about your recent travel history.

If you have recently travelled to mainland China, and have developed a fever or respiratory symptoms, use the healthdirect Symptom Checker to help you decide what to do next.

When you visit your doctor or the hospital emergency department, it is very important that you call before visiting to describe your symptoms and travel history.

You can also call the healthdirect helpline on 1800 022 222 to speak with a registered nurse.

If you do not have symptoms

For general information on the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), you can call the Australian Government's Coronavirus Health Information Line on 1800 020 080.

For the latest updates on COVID-19 in Australia, visit the Department of Health website.

What are the symptoms of COVID-19?

Coronaviruses can cause a range of illnesses so the symptoms, which can vary, include:

Keep in mind that coronaviruses are nothing new — they're a family of viruses that has been around for many years. The coronavirus that causes COVID-19 was first identified in Wuhan, in the Hubei province of China, at the start of 2020.

Should I isolate myself at home?

In some situations, you must isolate yourself — even if you have no symptoms. These situations are:

  • if you have been in close contact with a confirmed COVID-19 case, you must isolate yourself at home for 14 days after you were exposed
  • if you have travelled to Hubei province in China within the past 14 days, you must isolate yourself for 14 days after leaving Hubei province
  • if you have left, or transited through mainland China on or after 1 February 2020, you must isolate yourself for 14 days after leaving China

Please check with your local state or territory health department for any additional advice on self-isolating.

You may leave home to seek medical care if you develop symptoms, but make sure that you call before visiting your doctor or hospital emergency department and that you let them know your travel history.

Visit this NSW Health web page for more advice, including how to reduce stress and boredom and to reassure your children if you need to be in isolation.

Who is most at risk of the COVID-19 coronavirus?

Anyone who has recently travelled to mainland China or anyone who has had close contact with someone confirmed to have the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 is at risk of contracting the virus.

People with existing illnesses that make them more vulnerable to respiratory diseases, including those with diabetes, chronic lung disease, pre-existing kidney failure, suppressed immunity and older people may be at a higher risk of infection.

I think I have COVID-19. What should I do?

If you have severe difficulty breathing, call triple zero (000) immediately and tell the call handler and the paramedics on arrival about your recent travel history.

If you have recently travelled to mainland China, and have developed a fever or respiratory symptoms, use the healthdirect Symptom Checker to help you decide what to do next.

When you visit your doctor or the hospital emergency department, it is very important that you call before visiting to describe your symptoms and travel history.

What happens if I have suspected COVID-19?

Your doctor will test you for the COVID-19 coronavirus (using a swab from the throat or fluid from the lungs). It may take a few days for the test results to come back. If your symptoms are serious you will need to go to hospital and will be isolated from other patients to prevent possible spread of the virus.

If your doctor says you're well enough to go home while you wait for the test results, you should:

  • stay at home and do not attend work or school
  • wash your hands frequently, using soap and water
  • cough and sneeze into your elbow
  • avoid cooking for, or caring for, other members of your household
  • wear a mask (provided by your doctor) if close contact with other people is unavoidable

Will I die if I catch the COVID-19 coronavirus?

You are unlikely to die from this coronavirus. One in 5 people infected with the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 develops a severe illness, such as pneumonia. Most people who are diagnosed as infected will experience mild illness, such as the common cold.

As of 20 February 2020, more than 2,100 people have died from COVID-19. The World Health Organization (WHO) reported that all but 8 of these deaths occurred inside China.

You are more likely to get seriously ill from influenza. Every year, there are an estimated 1 billion cases of the flu, according to the WHO, of which 3 to 5 million are severe. This results in up to 650,000 influenza-related respiratory deaths worldwide every year.

Will face masks prevent the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus?

Face masks are currently not recommended as a preventative measure for people who have not had any potential exposure to the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

People who have returned from China, or who have had close contact with a person infected with the COVID-19 coronavirus, and who have symptoms should wear a surgical face mask if one is available when seeking medical advice. This will reduce the risk of spreading the coronavirus to others.

For more information

Visit these websites for more information on COVID-19 and the coronavirus that causes it:

You can call the healthdirect helpline on 1800 022 222 to speak with a registered nurse.

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