Covid Q and A

What is COVID-19?

It is a respiratory infection caused by a coronavirus called SARS-CoV-2.

What are the coronavirus?

Coronaviruses belong to the family Coronaviridae, which includes viruses that can cause infection in humans, other mammals (for example, bats, camels, civets) and birds. To date, we have identified eight coronaviruses that infect and can cause disease in humans. Typically, these infections affect the respiratory system and may be similar to common cold or progress to a more serious illness, such as pneumonia. Of the coronaviruses that infect humans, SARS-CoV, MERS-CoV and SARS-CoV-2 have crossed the species barrier, meaning, these viruses have been transmitted to humans from a reservoir or host animal of these viruses. SARS-CoV originated as an epidemic in 2002-2003 and MERS-CoV emerged in 2012 and caused sporadic cases of human infection or small clusters of cases of respiratory disease. The new coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, which causes the disease called COVID-19, was first identified in December 2019 in China.

What are the symptoms of Covid-19 infection?

The signs and symptoms of COVID-19 vary in severity, from the absence of symptoms called asymptomatic, to fever -temperature ≥ 38.0ºC, cough, sore throat, tiredness and muscle pain and in the more severe cases, severe pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, septicaemia, septic shock and eventual death. The data shows that the worsening of the clinical situation can occur quickly, usually during the second week of the disease. Recently, loss of smell and in some cases loss of taste or a skin rash has also been seen as a symptom of COVID-19. There is evidence from South Korea, China and Italy that patients with COVID-19 developed partial or total loss of smell, in some cases in the absence of other symptoms.

How is it transmitted?

COVID-19 is transmitted person-to-person by close contact with people infected with SARS-CoV-2 . This is called direct transmission, or through contact with contaminated surfaces and objects called indirect transmission. Transmission by close contact occurs mainly through droplets that contain viral particles that are released by the nose or mouth of infected people, when they cough or sneeze, and that can directly reach the mouth, nose and eyes of those close to them. Droplets can settle on objects or surfaces that surround the infected person and thus infect other people when they touch these objects or surfaces with their hands, then touch their eyes, nose or mouth. There is also evidence to suggest that transmission can occur from an infected person about two days before symptoms develop.

How long is the incubation time?

Currently it is estimated that the incubation period, which is the time from exposure to the virus to the appearance of symptoms, is between 1 and 14 days. Transmission is most likely one to two days before the symptoms appear, however, it is most infectious during the symptomatic period, even if the symptoms are mild and very nonspecific It is estimated that the infectious period lasts from 7 to 12 days in moderate cases and up to two weeks, on average, in severe cases.

Could a person be contagious without symptoms?

The simple answer is yes. Some people, even infected, never present any symptoms, but can nevertheless be contagious. At present the percentage of asymptomatic people is not known.

Severity

80% of COVID-19 cases have mild illness and symptoms, namely fever, runny nose, headache and body pain. Only 15% of cases become severe, with pneumonia and difficulty breathing, requiring hospitalization, and 5% may eventually need intensive care and assisted ventilation. Most deaths occur in older people and those with chronic diseases or underlying health issues.

Preventive measures

Two of the most effective measures are hand hygiene and respiratory hygiene. Hand hygiene should be done several times throughout the day. Before and after eating, going to the bathroom, arriving home or at work, or whenever justified. You should wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, starting by rubbing the palms, backs of each hand, each finger, then thumbs and then the wrists, drying them well at the end. If you do not have access to soap and water, disinfect your hands with an alcohol-based solution at 70% concentration. Do not forget to remove rings, bracelets, watches, or other objects before washing your hands. These must also be cleaned.

Respiratory hygiene should be applied to avoid transmitting droplets from the nose or mouth. When coughing or sneezing, protect your nose and mouth with a disposable handkerchief or with your forearm. After using throw the tissue away, and then wash your hands immediately.

The use of masks is an additional protection measure, which must be complementary to the measures of distance, hand hygiene and respiratory hygiene. Its use is mandatory in closed public spaces, such as public transport or commercial establishments. To use a mask effectively, you must ensure that you put it on and remove it safely. Try not to fiddle or touch you mask once placed on your face.

Is Treatment Available?

For now there is no specific treatment for Covid-19 infection. However numerous possible treatments are being evaluated by the World Health Organisation (WHO). At present treatment is directed at the signs and symptoms that patients have and aims to provide relief and greater comfort to patients.

Is a Vaccine available?

There is currently no vaccine to prevent SARS-CoV-2 infection. As a recently identified virus, research and development is underway in several countries to produce a vaccine with proven efficacy and which meets the necessary safety requirements.

What testing is available and when should you have it done?

Diagnostic test

The SARS-CoV-2 RT-PCR test is a real-time test and involves taking samples of the upper respiratory tract (throat and nasal swabs) collected from individuals suspected to have COVID-19, belonging to a risk cohort, or having been in contact with a confirmed COVID-19 patient.

You should be tested:

  • If you are experiencing any one of the symptoms suggestive of a Covid-19 infection
  • If you been in contact with a person infected with Covid-19. You should have a swab test at day 1 and repeat at day 9
  • In some countries a negative test swab is mandatory before departure, depending on where you are travelling to and from. We recommended you contact the embassy of the country you are travelling to. Please also remember to check the requirements when re-entering your home country

Blood test

The blood test is looking for antibodies against Covid-19 in your blood. If you have had an infection of coronavirus, after an average of 6 weeks your body produces antibodies. So to know if you have had a Covid-19 infection, we can do this blood test. For now we do not know how long these antibodies remain elevated after infection or if having these antibodies will protect you from re-infection.

Do Vaccines against pneumonia protect against the COVID-19 virus?

Vaccines against pneumonia, such as pneumococcal vaccine and Haemophilus influenza type B (Hib) vaccine, do not provide protection against the new coronavirus. The virus is so new and different that it needs its own vaccine. Researchers are trying to develop a vaccine against COVID-19, and WHO is supporting their efforts. Although these vaccines are not effective against COVID-19, vaccination against respiratory illnesses is highly recommended to protect your health.

Can people of all ages can be infected by the COVID-19 virus?

Anyone can be infected by the COVID-19 virus. Older people, and people with pre-existing medical conditions such as asthma, diabetes, and heart disease are more vulnerable to becoming severely ill with the virus. WHO advises people of all ages to take steps to protect themselves from the virus, for example by following good hand hygiene and good respiratory hygiene.

Can Antibiotics prevent or treat COVID-19?

Antibiotics work only against bacteria, not viruses. COVID-19 is caused by a virus, and therefore antibiotics should not be used for prevention or treatment. However, if you are hospitalized for COVID-19, you may receive antibiotics because bacterial co-infection is possible.

Are there are medicines that can prevent or treat COVID-19?

To date, there is no specific medicine recommended to prevent or treat the new coronavirus. However, those infected with the virus should receive appropriate care to relieve and treat symptoms, and those with severe illness should receive optimized supportive care. Some specific treatments are under investigation, and will be tested through clinical trials. WHO is helping to accelerate research and development efforts with a range or partners.

Can COVID-19 spread through food?

It is highly unlikely that people can contract COVID-19 from food or food packaging. COVID-19 is a respiratory illness and the primary transmission route is through person-to- person contact and through direct contact with respiratory droplets generated when an infected person coughs or sneezes. There is no evidence to date of viruses that cause respiratory illnesses being transmitted via food or food packaging. Coronaviruses cannot multiply in food; they need an animal or human host to multiply.

What is the recovery time for the coronavirus disease?

Using available preliminary data, the median time from onset to clinical recovery for mild cases is approximately 2 weeks and is 3-6 weeks for patients with severe or critical disease. However a longer convalescence period has been reported in numerous cases after prolonged or severe illness.

Can you contract the coronavirus disease by touching a surface?

People could catch COVID-19 by touching contaminated surfaces or objects – and then touching their eyes, nose or mouth.

Who is at risk for coronavirus?

The virus that causes COVID-19 infects people of all ages. However, evidence to date suggests that two groups of people are at a higher risk of getting severe COVID-19 disease. These are older people (that is people over 60 years old); and those with underlying medical conditions (such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, chronic respiratory disease, and cancer). The risk of severe disease gradually increases with age starting from around 40 years. It's important that adults in this age range protect themselves and in turn protect others that may be more vulnerable. WHO has issued advice for these two groups and for community support to ensure that they are protected from COVID-19 without being isolated, stigmatized, left in a position of increased vulnerability or unable to access basic provisions and social care.

Is the coronavirus disease more severe than the flu?

COVID-19 causes more severe disease than seasonal influenza. While many people globally have built up immunity to seasonal flu strains, COVID-19 is a new virus to which no one has immunity. That means more people are susceptible to infection, and some will suffer severe disease. Globally, about 3.4% of reported COVID-19 cases have died. By comparison, seasonal flu generally kills far fewer than 1% of those infected.

Travelling

The Portuguese government has been taking all necessary public health measures to protect the entire population, and is currently in the 3rd phase of their Deconfiguration Plan, started in May, with impacts on travel to and from the territory of mainland Portugal and the Autonomous regions.

If you are about to travel out of Portugal, please look carefully at the latest travel advice of the country you are going to. Especially think carefully if going outside Europe, where return travel to Portugal might be difficult or restricted in such an ever-changing environment where restriction are imposed or lifted very quickly with little warning.

Upon arrival at international airports in mainland Portugal, infrared body temperature screening is carried out for all arriving passengers.

In addition, in mainland Portugal, passengers on flights originating in countries considered to be at epidemiological risk must present, at the time of departure, proof of laboratory testing to check for SARS-CoV-2 infection with a negative result, performed maximum 72 hours prior to the moment of departure, under penalty of being refused entry into national territory.

In the autonomous regions of the Azores and Madeira, all passengers must present, upon arrival, proof of laboratory tests to check for SARS-CoV-2 infection with a negative result, carried out within 72 hours prior to departure. Passengers disembarking at airports in the Autonomous Regions, who have not performed a PCR test, will do so at their airport upon arrival. You may be charged for this.

In Europe, after June 30, Member States lifted temporary travel and border control restrictions. However, this is carried out in a phased manner in different countries, and the European Union website created for this purpose can be consulted. Therefore, before travelling, you should inquire about the conditions of entry, restrictions and current situation of COVID-19 in the country of destination as this is subject to change at very short notice.

To reinforce information and assistance to Portuguese travellers who may experience problems trying to return to Portugal, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs created the helpline +351 217 929 755 and the email covid19@mne.pt