COVID-19 FAQs

General

What are coronaviruses?
What does "novel" mean?
Who is at risk for infection?
Are pregnant women at higher risk for severe disease?
What are the symptoms of COVID-19?
Do people with COVID-19 lose their sense of smell or taste?
What does cough etiquette mean?
Is there a vaccine?
Where is the outbreak predicted to spread?
Where does International SOS get its information?

Transmission

How does COVID-19 spread?
Does COVID-19 spread through the air or air-conditioning?
Can the virus be transmitted through packages shipped from an area with COVID-19?
Is protective equipment needed to handle a package shipped from an area with COVID-19?
Can COVID-19 spread through bank notes and coins?
Can a person with no symptoms spread the infection?
Can I get re-infected with COVID-19?

Treatment

Can COVID-19 be treated?
Is Tamiflu useful?
What about alternative treatments?
If I am sick in China, can I choose which clinic to go to?

Prevention

What can I do to protect myself?
Should I wear a face mask?
What is the difference between quarantine and isolation?
What environmental measures can be taken?
Should we stop face-to-face meetings?
Where can I find guidance for my workplace?


General

What are coronaviruses?

Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses, some of which can infect people. Some cause mostly mild illness, such as the strains responsible for some common colds. Others can potentially also lead to severe, or even fatal, disease - such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-CoV), which continues to circulate in some parts of the world. The Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) outbreak was caused by a coronavirus. It caused severe and fatal disease, however, is no longer in circulation. The natural reservoir for coronaviruses is thought to be animal hosts. New strains emerge from this reservoir, infect an 'intermediate' host, and from there infect people. The viruses may then be capable of being transmitted from one person to another. Some are efficient at human-to-human transmission, while others are not.

What does "novel" mean?

Novel means new. In this case, the 2019-novel coronavirus was given a new name SARS-CoV-2 as of 12 February, reflecting that the new virus is related to the SARS coronavirus seen in 2002. The virus is a previously-unidentified strain of coronavirus. It is responsible for the outbreak of pneumonia which began in Wuhan, China in December 2019. The disease caused by the virus has been called COVID-19, or Coronavirus Disease-2019.

Who is at risk for infection?

The disease can move from person to person, but it is not yet known how easily or sustainably it spreads. Scientists are studying the data as it becomes available. The initial cases reported having visited a seafood/animal market, which may have been a source of exposure. However now the main way the disease is spreading is from person to person.

Some people have had a mild illness and recovered. Others have had more severe infections. Critical and fatal cases have occurred. Preliminary evidence indicates that people with underlying medical conditions, elderly people and those with compromised immune systems may be at higher risk for severe illness.

Are pregnant women at higher risk for severe disease?

So far there is little information about whether pregnant women are more likely to have a severe infection than other healthy adults. The Royal College of Obstetricians & Gynaecologists states "Pregnant women do not appear to be more susceptible to the consequences of coronavirus than the general population. As this is a new virus, how it may affect you is not yet clear. It is expected the large majority of pregnant women will experience only mild or moderate cold/flu like symptoms." The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control states "There is no published evidence yet on the severity of illness among pregnant women after COVID-19 infection." See the United States Centers for Disease Prevention and Control Frequently Asked Questions and Answers: Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) and Pregnancy

What are the symptoms of COVID-19?

The illness is still being studied. So far, we know that common symptoms include fever, fatigue, cough, sore throat, shortness of breath and difficulty breathing. These symptoms are not limited to COVID-19. Respiratory illnesses and pneumonia caused by other organisms (including bacteria) and other viruses (such as influenza) can also cause these symptoms. Other less common symptoms of COVID-19 include muscle aches, headache, nausea and diarrhoea. Loss of the sense of smell and taste has also been described.

It is capable of causing severe illness, and some infected people have died. It is possible that people with underlying health conditions are at higher risk for severe disease.

Do people with COVID-19 lose their sense of smell or taste?

Several groups of doctors, particularly those who work in the ears/nose/throat field, have reported that some people who lost their sense of smell or taste and tested positive for the disease even without other symptoms. Though a reduced ability to taste to smell can be common in people with a ‘stuffy nose’ (nasal congestion) attributed with seasonal allergies and other medical conditions, these COVID-19 patients often reported the change in senses without any stuffy nose. The medical groups reporting this information suggested that it might be useful for people who lose their sense of taste or smell to self-isolate for at least 7 days to prevent spreading the virus – which they can do even if they have no other symptoms. They also suggested these symptoms might be added to COVID-19 screening tools used by clinicians to determine who should be tested and advised to self-isolate. The World Health Organization is investigating the situation and has not yet made a formal declaration on any changes to protocol based on these symptoms.

What does cough etiquette mean?

Cough etiquette, or respiratory hygiene, is a measure taken to reduce person-to-person transmission of infected droplets. Individuals should distance themselves, cover their mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing and sneezing. It is important that tissues are disposed of correctly (in nearest waste bin) after use and that hands are washed immediately with soap and water or alcohol based hand sanitizer (containing 60-85% alcohol).

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control

Is there a vaccine?

No. It may take months or years for a vaccine to be developed. Research and testing is underway.

Where is the outbreak predicted to spread?

Further imported cases into any location that has travellers from is occurring. Wherever there is an infected person, there is the potential for the virus to spread to people in close contact with them and local outbreaks can occur. Every location will be affected although when that will happen is uncertain.

Where does International SOS get its information?

The information provided to clients by International SOS through our membership and other services comes from many sources. Read More


Transmission

How does COVID-19 spread?

While the first cases in Wuhan may have 'jumped' from an animal or environmental source to people, the spread now is from a sick person to others who are in close contact. In general, coronaviruses spread through infected respiratory droplets, just like other respiratory infections, including colds and influenza. A sick person expels these droplets when they cough, sneeze, or talk. Others can get the disease via contact (direct or indirect) with these contaminated droplets.

The World Health Organization states as at 21 February 2020, "The spread of COVID-19 between humans is being driven by droplet transmission The virus is transmitted from a sick person to a healthy person through respiratory droplets when the sick person coughs or talks close to another person. Current diagnostic tests have yielded positive results from a variety of specimens including throat swabs from asymptomatic people and feces. These positive results are not a conclusive indication that people are contagious. People may have been exposed and infected but are NOT necessarily transmitting the disease. More investigations into potential other routes of transmission are ongoing. What has been reported so far it that the main driver of transmission is droplet transmission from people with symptoms."

Does COVID-19 spread through the air or air-conditioning?

So far there is no evidence that this virus is spread through the air or through air-conditioning systems. The patterns of spread are consistent with transmission through droplets from an infected person to someone who is in close unprotected contact. Nevertheless, in the hospital setting, patients are currently managed in special 'negative pressure' rooms if available, and healthcare workers will take 'airborne precautions' when performing certain procedures.

The World Health Organization stated in their 26 March Situation Report "The virus can spread directly from person to person when a COVID-19 case coughs or exhales producing droplets that reach the nose, mouth or eyes of another person. Alternatively, as the droplets are too heavy to be airborne, they land on objects and surfaces surrounding the person. Other people become infected with COVID-19 by touching these contaminated objects or surfaces, then touching their eyes, nose or mouth. According to the currently available evidence, transmission through smaller droplet nuclei (airborne transmission) that propagate through air at distances longer than 1 meter is limited to aerosol generating procedures during clinical care of COVID-19 patients."

"Aerosol generating procedures" are procedures and treatments that can generate very small droplets - such as ventilation, suctioning of airways, nebulising medication, and "induced" sputum.

Can the virus be transmitted through packages shipped from an area with COVID-19?

This coronavirus is primarily spreading to people who are in close unprotected direct contact with an infected person. The United States CDC advises "Currently there is no evidence to support transmission of COVID-19 associated with imported goods". The World Health Organization states "The likelihood of an infected person contaminating commercial goods is low and the risk of catching the virus that causes COVID-19 from a package that has been moved, travelled, and exposed to different conditions and temperature is also low. "

Is protective equipment needed to handle a package shipped from an area with COVID-19?

The World Health Organization in its 27 February 2020 interim guidance on Rational use of personal protective equipment for coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) does not recommend any type of mask is used, and gloves are only needed if they are ordinarily required to protect against mechanical hazards. "To date, there is no epidemiological information to suggest that contact with goods or products shipped from countries affected by the COVID-19 outbreak have been the source of COVID-19 disease in humans. "

Can COVID-19 spread through bank notes and coins?

Theoretically, cash, like any other frequently handled object, could become contaminated with the virus that causes COVID-19. People could potentially transfer the virus to their eyes / nose / mouth via their hands after handling cash. However the main way the disease is spreading is through direct contact with infected people. In 2006, the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control issued a report that in part looked at the risk of bank notes as a potential vehicle for influenza transmission. It concluded that for the general public “handling banknotes and coins is not practically avoidable and will confer no discernible increased risk compared with handling almost any other communal object used in daily life; and compared with exposure to respiratory droplets (coughs and sneezes) and communal hard surfaces and fittings (hand rails, escalator hand belts, door handles, etc.) the ability of money to transmit influenza will pretty much pale into insignificance compared with what else is going on in society at the time. The overwhelmingly important issue will be compliance with frequent handwashing and 'no-touch-face' advice.” Individuals who frequently handle money might have an increased risk and are advised to avoid licking their fingers while counting, and not to touch their face during and after handling money."Again these risks would be significantly reduced across a wide range of occupations by compliance with hand hygiene regimens and 'no-touch-face' advice."

Can a person have no symptoms spread the infection?

There have been instances of people with minimal or no symptoms of COVID-19 infecting others. Evidence suggests that the asymptomatic (no symptoms) patients can carry virus loads similar to those of infected people with symptoms. This indicates that asymptomatic people can potentially infect others. Virus particles were detected in the upper respiratory tract of asymptomatic confirmed cases for at least 5 days. These cases constitute a miniscule proportion of the total number of cases. A study from China comprising of 72,314 cases indicates about 1% of the people were asymptomatic.

Another study reports that people who showed minimal or no symptoms belonged to the younger age group, did not have severe illness, and none died.

Can I get re-infected with COVID-19?

The data around re-infected cases is emerging and still limited. The immune response to COVID-19 is not yet fully understood. Virus particles can persist in body fluids for long periods and may lead to a positive test although the person might not be infectious. False positive tests can also occur. Alternatively, it is also possible that the virus particles may reactivate under certain conditions.

Can COVID-19 be treated?

There are currently no medications that are proven to be consistently effective in the prevention or treatment of COVID-19. Patients receive supportive care, aimed at relieving their symptoms and preventing complications while they recover. This can include the use of mechanical ventilation if required.

Studies are underway to see if new or existing medications may be effective. These medications are generally available only on prescriptions, have significant side effects and potentially can cause serious adverse events. They should not be used except under the guidelines of local authorities or within hospital settings. The drugs being trialled include:

  • Remdesivir: an experimental antiviral medication which has been used to treat Ebola virus.
  • Chloroquine: oral prescription medication used for malaria prevention or treatment in areas where malaria remains sensitive.
  • Hydroxychloroquine: oral prescription medication used for treatment of rheumatoid arthritis.
  • Lopinavir-Ritonavir: antiviral medication used against HIV

United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Information for Clinicians on Therapeutic Options for COVID-19 Patients

Note that French Ministry of Health on 14 March advised against the use "non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS)" (such as ibuprofen) as they may make the disease worse. Several other authorities have stated there isn't sufficient evidence for this position. See the European Medicines Agency statement 18 March, the United States Food and Drug Administration statement 19 March, and World Health Organization Tweet 19 March.

Nevertheless all agree that paracetamol / acetaminophen can be used if required to relieve fever, mild pain and headache.

Is Tamiflu useful?

The antiviral medication Tamiflu (oseltamivir) is not effective against COVID-19. Tamiflu is used to treat influenza.

What about alternative treatments?

Some authorities have recommended alternative treatments for COVID-19. However, there is no evidence to confirm or disprove the effectiveness and safety of alternative treatments.

If I am sick in China, can I choose which clinic to go to?

Certain medical facilities in China have been designated by the Department of Health as “fever clinics”. These fever clinics manage any patients who suffer from fever and respiratory symptoms. Other facilities are mandated to refer any patients with fever and respiratory symptoms to these dedicated fever clinics.

If you are sick but do not have a fever or respiratory symptoms, then you can be treated in the non-fever clinic facilities.

International SOS advises its members in China who are suffering from symptoms of illness to call the Assistance Centre for advice before seeking care at a medical facility.


What can I do to protect myself?

Avoid potential exposure. Practice good hygiene measures and safe food practices.

  • Avoid direct contact with animals (live or dead) and their environment. Do not touch surfaces that may be contaminated with droppings.
  • Keep some distance from people who are obviously sick.
  • Maintain good personal hygiene. Wash your hands frequently with soap and water. Carry hand sanitiser for use when soap and water are not readily available. Some authorities are advising hand sanitisers containing 60-85% alcohol. Avoid touching your face.
  • Ensure food, including eggs, is thoroughly cooked.
  • Do not travel if you are sick. Note that some locations have implemented screening, and travellers may face quarantine and testing.

Should I wear a face mask?

If your location has guidelines for the public, please follow them.

In some locations, authorities are requiring people to wear a mask when in public places. You must comply with any official directives. In late March 2020, Austria, Czech Republic, and Slovakia made it mandatory for people to wear a mask or use a cloth to cover their mouth and nose when in public places. 

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated their advice on 3 April. “CDC recommends wearing cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain (e.g., grocery stores and pharmacies) especially in areas of significant community-based transmission.” This will not be enforced in the United States, it can be done on a voluntary basis.

In other locations, authorities are asking only people who are sick, or if they can't, those in close contact with them, to use a face mask to cover their coughs and sneezes while they are seeking medical attention. Other authorities encourage groups at higher risk for severe complications e.g. older adults or those with underlying illness, to consider wearing a mask. Some authorities have advised to use masks while travelling or working in public places to reduce the chances of droplet transmission.

While surgical face masks may stop people touching their mouth, they do not stop them breathing in the virus, nor the virus entering the eyes. They will also catch some of the droplets that are coughed and sneezed out.

Fitted respirators, such as ‘P2’, 'P3' or ‘N95’ masks, require training and fitting. These are generally not being recommended for use by the public. They may be recommended to be used by those in close contact with infected people, such as healthcare workers or family members caring for sick relatives.

The World Health Organization in its 27 February 2020 interim guidance on Rational use of personal protective equipment for coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) does not recommend any type of PPE for people in public areas who do not have any respiratory symptoms. However people who are looking after a sick person in their home should use a medical mask when in the same room as the sick person, and gloves and an apron if there are fluids when providing direct care.

To prevent getting infected with COVID-19 : Covering nose and mouth to prevent infection in the general public isn’t “proven” by scientific standards to work. The potential problems – you need to protect infection through your eyes as well, the mask won’t stop droplets that land anywhere else on your face, and if you aren’t meticulous you can transfer virus from the mask to your eyes / nose / mouth or contaminate other people. Potential upside – we do know that used properly, appropriate personal protective equipment does stop healthcare workers being infected.

BOTTOM LINE – most important is to avoid exposure (stay at home as much as possible),don’t touch your face, wash your hands. If you must go out in public – keep 2 metres away from other people, avoid crowded places, keep any essential face to face interactions as short as possible. Covering your eyes, nose and mouth when you are face to face with others might help prevent infection but you MUST be sure to handle those coverings as ‘contaminated’ items when you take them off – remove carefully, wash your hands, dispose or clean and disinfect in a safe manner. Same goes for your clothes.

To prevent spread of virus to others: All authorities recommend a mask for sick people when they are seeking healthcare / when in healthcare facilities. We are learning that people with COVID-19 that have no symptoms/ minimal symptoms (such as a sore throat), may be able to transmit the virus to others through the infectious droplets they create when they talk. The potential problems – masks are in short supply and if the general public uses them, then the healthcare workers that need them most miss out. They may give a ‘false sense of security’ that being out in public is risk free if everyone is using a mask. Potential upside: As people may not know if they are infected and potentially spreading virus, it might reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19 if everyone were to cover their mouth when in public 

BOTTOM LINE – most important is to stay at home as much as possible and not expose others to any virus you might have . If you must go out in public – keep 2 metres away from people, avoid crowded places, keep any essential face to face interactions as short as possible. Covering your mouth with a mask / cloth when you speak may help reduce the risk that you are spreading virus,  but you MUST be sure to handle the mask  / cloth as ‘contaminated’ items when you take them off – remove carefully, wash your hands, dispose or clean and disinfect in a safe manner.

What is the difference between quarantine and isolation?

Quarantine is the separation and monitoring of people who have been exposed to an infected person (or have been to an outbreak area) to see if they become ill. This separation helps reduce the risk that the quarantined person will spread the disease. Quarantine generally requires a person to remain in a nominated place or at home for a certain period of time after exposure to a disease. The duration of quarantine will vary depending on the estimated incubation period. For COVID-19, early estimates indicate a quarantine duration of 14 days.

Isolation is the separation of people who are ill with a potentially contagious disease from those who are healthy.

What environmental measures can be taken?

Environmental measures aim at reducing transmission of infection and include the routine cleaning of frequently used surfaces and objects; minimising shared objects; and good ventilation. Frequently touched surfaces and objects should be washed with water and detergent, followed by a dilute household bleach solution. These objects /surfaces may include desks, phones, keyboards, doorknobs and toilets. Laundry should be washed according to detergent manufacturer’s instructions at the warmest specified temperature. Shared objects should be kept to a minimum including such things as drinking glasses, eating utensils, towels and linen. Good air ventilation is important in rooms where people gather regularly.

European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control

A traveller has recently returned from an affected location. What should they do?

If there are local procedures in place from the local health authorities, these must be followed. Many locations are requiring travellers from some or all locations to quarantine themselves for 14 days.

If there are no requirements, anyone who has been in an affected location should monitor their health for 14 days. If symptoms develop, seek medical care according to the local procedure. When travelling to medical care, consider wearing a mask, use private transport, avoid contact with others as much as possible. Ensure you provide your travel and potential exposure history to the medical facility.

Should we stop face-to-face meetings?

If there are local restrictions on gatherings, you must comply with these. Any activity that involves gathering people in close proximity in an enclosed space risks spreading the virus and in the event that someone is confirmed infected, there are potentially large numbers of contacts who must self-quarantine for 14 days. Non-essential meetings are best postponed, or carried out via remote video link if possible. 

Where can I find guidance for my workplace?

The International Chamber of Commerce has also published Coronavirus Guidelines for Business.

Many local authorities also provide guidance:

Hong Kong Centre For Health Protection Guidance includes a section for Businesses & Workplace

Singapore Enterprise Singapore Advisory on COVID-19 for businesses

United Kingdom Public Health England COVID-19: guidance for employees, employers and businesses

United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Resources for Businesses and Employers