Loss of smell, loss of taste, and the truth about the L and S strains. Dr Sam Hay explains what families need to know about the forever-changing virus and new symptoms of COVID-19.
As a parent without any health training at all, it’s a daunting and overwhelming task keeping up to date with the COVID-19 crisis. But as a health professional, let me tell you – it’s just as difficult for us.
As the weeks move on there’s increasing opportunity to collate data, statistics, and clinical information. Whilst we struggle with the reality of the increasing number who become unwell, it does provide medical researchers a chance to get a better grasp of how the virus affects us. And as the virus spreads throughout the world, we are getting a greater understanding of how age, genetics, race, and comorbid health influences the effects of the virus on any one person.
So here are the basics we know so far.
The seemingly magic number 14
We’re constantly seeing the number 14 when it comes to discussing COVID-19, and it all relates to the ‘incubation period’. The incubation period is the time, usually expressed in days, from when you’re exposed to a disease and when symptoms first appear. It’s influenced by a raft of factors – for example, the bug itself, climate, and the overall health of the person in question.
When it comes to COVID-19, there’s good evidence to suggest that the incubation period could be as long as 14 days, so to be sure someone is ‘safe’, the 14-day timeframe is used to govern how long people need to isolate for – to be sure.
But what’s the most likely incubation period? Most cases occur within 4-5 days after exposure. But that doesn’t mean you can become complacent once you’re into your sixth day, rather, think of it more as a sign of reassurance that your risk is starting to drop.
‘14 days’ is also a strong guide for the period of ‘infectivity’. Whilst we don’t have hard facts yet, current opinion suggests the greatest majority of patients with COVID-19 clear the infection within 14 days. But for those who do become confirmed cases, when you can go back out into the world depends on lots of factors, not just ‘14 days’.
New symptoms of COVID-19: Dr Sam explains everything we need to know about COVID-19. | Photo: iStock
What are the common symptoms?
By now we are all aware that COVID-19 presents as a ‘common cold’. So for parents out there, it is challenging enough to work out when your kids have a simple cold virus, and when it’s COVID-19, which only adds to our fears and anxieties.
We do know that overall symptoms for adults and kids are the same, but they’re generally milder for kids – increasing the difficulty in determining the difference between the common cold and COVID-19.
The most common symptoms include the following:
- Dry cough
- Sore throat
- Loss of appetite
- Aches and pains
- Shortness of breath
- Phlegm from the chest
When it comes to fever, there’s no magic number. Many are presenting with a mild fever, whilst some are clearly ragingly hot. Anything above 38 needs close monitoring, and over 38.5 definitely needs attention.
Pneumonia, which is when an infection gets into the smallest regions of the lungs, is the most serious complication of COVID-19, and is responsible for the majority of serious cases. It would present with worsening shortness of breath, cough, and fever, with classic findings on a chest x-ray.
Nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, runny nose, and sneezing have been reported, but not as commonly.
When a child presents with cold symptoms, one of the first things doctors consider is ‘what are the chances?’ If you’ve been distancing well, then the risks to your family are low, and any ‘cold’ that pops up is more likely to be a common cold virus. Secondly, if they’ve just got a sniffle, once again, we are more reassured because the likelihood it’s COVID-19 is lower. But no one can say zero – so that’s why you have to be careful, stay in contact with your doctor, and they’ll consider testing kids if necessary.
How pregnant women can protect themselves amid coronavirus pandemic
- Wash hands regularly and frequently with an alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water.
- Avoid anyone who is coughing and sneezing.
- Avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth.
- Practise social-distancing and reduce general community exposure.
- Early reporting and investigation of symptoms.
- Prompt access to appropriate treatment and supportive measures if the infection is significant.
Source: Royal Australian College of Gynaecologists and Obstetricians
Is loss of smell one of the new symptoms of COVID-19?
There’s been a massive push in recent days to include anosmia – the loss of smell – as a main symptom for COVID-19. We commonly see loss of smell with conditions such as bad hay fever, sinusitis, and significant head colds.
Increasing evidence from South Korea, Italy, and Germany indicate that a ‘significant number of people’ are reporting they lose their sense of smell as COVID-19 starts to take hold. And it could be as high as one in three sufferers.
There are also increasing reports that it can be the only symptom of COVID-19.
So experts across the globe are calling for any person who loses their smell to self isolate immediately and contact your doctor, as it just might be the first sign COVID-19 is brewing. For doctors out there, including loss of smell on the symptom list will mean we can be more targeted in our testing.
What about loss of taste?
Once again. Momentum is gaining. This is an emerging symptom that needs to be monitored, and could be peculiar to COVID-19.
New symptoms of COVID-19: Dr Sam explains what we need to look out for. | Photo: iStock
Is the virus itself changing?
Viruses contain a long genetic profile. What makes them brilliant at their job is the ability for parts of their genetic make up to change – mutate.
Early on ion the pandemic scientists discovered two primary strains of COVID-19, ‘L’ and ‘S’ type. Little mutations are to be expected for any virus, and generally make no difference to how it behaves. But significant mutations mean the virus starts to ‘look’ completely different – so that means different symptoms and presentations, making diagnosis all that much harder. And it could also mean all that much more deadly.
But recent reports indicate that COVID-19 is not mutating significantly as it circulates the globe. This is brilliant news. Being more stable means it’s far less likely to become more deadly as it spreads.
It’s also good news for scientists developing vaccines. It will make the task of developing a vaccine that much more simple, and possibly mean we will only need one, rather than ‘seasonal’ vaccines like we see with influenza.
When can we expect a vaccine for COVID-19?
It’s a race across the world! Can you imagine the fanfare that awaits the genius who develops one first!?!!
The University Of Queensland is leading the charge as one of a handful of institutions across the globe charged with developing a vaccine. Usually, we’d expect a 12 to 18-month timeframe to develop a safe vaccine, but they’ve just received a vital boost in funding which will be invaluable, and gives every chance of getting a vaccine out there quickly.
This post was first published on Kidspot and was republished on theAsianparent with permission.
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