COVID-19 is spreading rapidly across the world and has affected several parts of the United States as well. As healthcare providers try their best to save lives, everyone needs to be aware of the condition, its symptoms, and its progression. What happens when you get the coronavirus disease? Let us understand this in detail.
The coronavirus disease or COVID-19 is a respiratory illness that can spread from person to person. It is caused due to a novel virus, which was first identified in an investigation of an outbreak in Wuhan, China.1
What Happens When You Get The Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19)?
It is known that the risk of infection is higher in people who are in close contact with someone who has coronavirus disease (COVID-19). People who have traveled to areas where the spread of COVID-19 is high are at greater risk too. Those working with infected patients, in-hospital setting and those involved in care giving need can contract the infection.
Let us understand certain important basics of the coronavirus disease to know what happens when you get the coronavirus disease (COVID-19). The coronavirus disease spreads between people who are in close contact with one another. The virus can spread up to a distance of six feet, through the respiratory droplets that are released into the air when an infected person sneezes, coughs or spits. The droplets can also land on surfaces or objects, which when touched by other persons, can get transferred to their hands. On touching your nose, mouth or eyes, with the infected droplets on your hand, you can get infected too.1
According to the pathogenesis of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), studies suggest that there are three stages of this disease. This explains what happens when you get the coronavirus disease.
Incubation period- Stage 1 (asymptomatic)
With the known ways of spread, if you are exposed to infected persons or have come in close contact or traveled to such areas, you may have got infected too. Once you get the infection, it may take a few days, before it starts showing up any symptoms. This is called the incubation period, which is around 1 to 14 days in the case of COVID-19. During this period, you can spread the infection to others, without knowing that you have the coronavirus disease.
This is the first stage – the asymptomatic stage that occurs during the first 1 or 2 days of infection. This is the incubation period when the virus has entered your body and is replicating. During this period the SARS-CoV-2 virus that you have inhaled binds to the epithelial cells in the nasal cavity and begins to replicate.2 At this stage the virus propagates locally but very the immune response is limited. The virus can be detected through nasal swabs and although the viral load is less at this stage, the person is infectious.2
Symptomsof the Coronavirus Disease – Stage 2 (Upper airway infection)
Given the incubation period of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is up to 14 days, some people may show symptoms sooner while some later. It varies from person to person. This stage marks the upper airway response, which occurs over the next few days after getting infected. The virus spreads and moves down the respiratory tract along the airways. During this time, a strong immune response is triggered. This is when you may show symptoms of the coronavirus disease. Some people infected with coronavirus disease may not show any symptoms at all.3
So, when you get the coronavirus disease, you may show symptoms or may not.However, you must be aware of the possible symptoms of COVID-19, to take the right action. The commonest symptoms include fever, dry cough, sometimes with fatigue, loss of appetite and body ache.3
These are the main symptoms that can happen when you get the coronavirus disease. The mild symptoms can remain present for about a week and can worsen rapidly, in some cases. However, the further course of the disease and the chances of complications vary, depending on your health condition and existing co-morbid conditions. For about 80%of the infected patients, the coronavirus disease remains mild and is mostly restricted to the upper airways and air passages. In such cases, you may receive conservative, symptomatic treatment at home with regular monitoring.2
You will be advised to remain in isolation in a separate room to avoid spreading the infection to other family members. Maintain hand hygiene, wear a mask to cover your nose and mouth, use disinfectant to clean surfaces that you use, avoid sharing things or personal items with family members and avoid going in public expect to get medical aid.
Complications of the Coronavirus Disease – Stage 3 (Hypoxia and Respiratory Distress)
About 20% of the infected patients can progress to stage 3 disease and develop pulmonary complications that can result in a severe disease condition. In this stage, the virus reaches the gas exchange units of the lungs and infects the alveoli. This results in alveolar damage and affects lung function. The wound healing can then lead to more scarring and fibrosis.2 It results in diminished lung function, reduced oxygen or hypoxia, and respiratory distress, causing difficulty in breathing.
This is when you may observe severe symptoms of COVID-19, like high fever, severe cough and shortness of breath or breathing difficulty. These are the signs of pneumonia, a commoncomplication of COVID-19.3
Severe worsening symptoms may also include persistent pressure or pain in the chest, confusion, inability to arouse or bluish lips. If you get the coronavirus disease, you have to be very cautious about developing any of these severe symptoms and seek emergency medical help. The risk of developing complications is high in the elderly and those who have other co-morbid conditions like heart diseases, hypertension, diabetes, respiratory problems.
In the elderly, the immune responses are diminished with reduced ability to repair the damaged tissues. The elderly also have reduced mucociliary clearance, which allows the virus to spread to the lung cells and gas exchange units more easily.2 Similarly, if there are other co-morbid conditions you may have difficulty dealing with the infectious nature of COVID-19. If the immunity is low or the overall health condition is poor, fighting the virus and healing can become be challenging.
With timely management and treatment, however, the condition can be managed. However, the outcomes vary depending on a person’s health.
When you get coronavirus disease (COVID-19), it is necessary to get tested and seek medical treatment. Make sure that you report your travel history, any existing medical conditions to your healthcare provider. Your medical history is crucial to assess the risk of complications, as some people may need additional medical support.
If you show any symptoms of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), you should seek medical advice and follow the given instructions. Even if you do not show any symptoms, it is necessary to maintain social distancing, take practice proper handwashing, personal hygiene like covering the nose and mouth with a mask. Even if you get coronavirus disease, these measures can not only help you protect your health but also prevent others from contracting the infection.
As not all infected people show symptoms, when you get the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), you may or may not show symptoms. This means that a person can get infected, remain without any symptoms but can spread the infection to those coming in close contact. Hence, all must take appropriate measures to avoid the spread of infection.
The coronavirus disease limited to the upper airways and air passages is considered mild and can be treated at home. However, if the coronavirus disease has progressed to the lungs, careful monitoring and support are necessary. Now that you are aware of what happens when you get the coronavirus disease, you can take the right action, if needed.
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