Understanding and Protecting Yourself From Coronavirus COVID-19

This article was originally written and published on March 13, 2020. It was last revised on April 3, 2020 to reflect current data.

The recent strain of human coronavirus COVID-19 has quickly spread around the globe. As of April 3rd, there have been nearly 1.1 million confirmed cases and nearly 59,000 deaths worldwide. News about the coronavirus is everywhere, due to the rapid rate at which it continues to spread. It is crucial for everyone to understand the coronavirus and to recognize the signs and symptoms of infection to slow down its spread. Researchers are working to develop a coronavirus vaccine and an antiviral coronavirus treatment, but these could take up to a year to produce successfully. While they can’t cure coronavirus infection yet, healthcare professionals can help you manage the symptoms. Over 225,000 individuals around the world have completely recovered from coronavirus infection.[1]

What Are Human Coronaviruses?

Coronaviruses are a group of viruses that have crown-like spikes. They infect both humans and animals. Human coronaviruses were first discovered in the 1960s and often cause respiratory infections. As a result, the coronavirus is often transmitted through respiratory droplets. Coronaviruses can spread through droplets when an infected individual coughs or sneezes. They can also be spread through close personal contact with an infected individual, or by touching one’s face after touching a contaminated surface.

The most well-known human coronaviruses likely originated from bats; they are as follows.[2]

Coronavirus Disease 2019 COVID-19

Coronavirus COVID-19 is thought to have originated in a seafood and poultry market in Wuhan, China, in December 2019. As of April 3rd, over 12,000 Canadian cases were confirmed, with 188 Canadian deaths and over 2,300 complete recoveries. The United States have the greatest number of cases, at over 275,000. Italy has reported the greatest number of deaths, at nearly 15,000.[3]

Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV)

MERS-CoV first passed to humans from camels in Saudi Arabia, in 2012. Evidence suggests that bats transmitted the virus to camels in the distant past.[4] MERS-CoV spread from Saudi Arabia to 25 countries. [5] As of 2012, there were globally 2,494 reported cases, 858 deaths—with 0 cases in Canada.[6],[7]

Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV)

SARS-CoV first passed to humans from small mammals in Southern China, in 2002. Evidence suggests that small mammals, such as civet cats, had been infected by bats.[8] SARS-CoV spread to 26 countries with more than 8,098 probable cases and 774 deaths by 2003. Although the estimated global death rate was 9.6%, the rate was 17.1% (44 deaths) among Canadians.[9]

Coronavirus COVID-19 Symptoms

Many symptoms of infection are not unique to coronavirus and are also symptoms of other diseases. Coronavirus infection can also sometimes occur without symptoms. Most people with symptoms will not need to see a doctor. However, untreated coronavirus infection can lead to more serious complications in vulnerable individuals, so you should seek medical attention if you have mild symptoms that start to get worse.

The following is a list of coronavirus symptoms, according to a World Health Organization report. The numbers in parentheses are the percentages of cases of coronavirus infection in which a particular symptom was observed.

  • Fever (87.9%)
  • Dry cough (67.7%)
  • Fatigue (38.1%)
  • Sputum production (33.4%) (sputum is thick mucus that occurs due to lung disease)
  • Shortness of breath (18.6%)
  • Muscle or joint pain (14.8%)
  • Sore throat (13.9%)
  • Headache (13.6%)
  • Chills (11.4%)
  • Nausea or vomiting (5.0%)
  • Nasal congestion (4.8%)
  • Diarrhea (3.7%)
  • Coughing up of blood (0.9%)
  • Pink eye (0.8%)

In confirmed cases of coronavirus, healthcare professionals observed the following:

  • Mild or moderate diseases such as pneumonia (80%)
  • Severe diseases such as difficulty breathing, lung disease, and lower than normal levels of oxygen in the blood (13.8%)
  • Critical diseases such as respiratory failure due to insufficient oxygen or excess carbon dioxide, widespread infection throughout the body causing organ failure, and extremely low blood pressure (3.1%)
  • Death (6.8%)

The risk of serious complications or death is highest for people over the age of 60, as well as people with pre-existing health conditions, such as hypertension, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, chronic respiratory disease, and cancer. Therefore, people in either of these categories should watch themselves carefully for symptoms and consult a healthcare provider immediately if they notice any. While there is not yet a cure for coronavirus, a doctor can help manage symptoms to facilitate recovery from the infection.

Coronavirus and Mental Health

Media focus on the coronavirus pandemic combined with perceived health risk is increasing feelings of anxiety and stress around the world. Especially, individuals with hypochondriac tendencies may feel increased helplessness and anxiety surrounding fears of coronavirus infection and the possibility of dying. Symptoms of agoraphobia may become more severe due to the perceived risk of coronavirus transmission in public areas.

The general practice of physical distancing, as well as quarantining and isolating individuals who are suspected or confirmed to have coronavirus infection, helps slow the spread of coronavirus. However, these often result in feelings of social isolation that can have many negative mental health consequences such as the following:

  • Loneliness
  • Depression
  • Feeling a lack of freedom
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Insomnia and difficulty sleeping
  • Stress regarding how long a person will remain in quarantine
  • Frustration and anger due to detachment and separation from other people

Healthcare providers can help mitigate many of these problems by communicating frequently with quarantined patients to address their concerns. Increasing public access and education about how to prepare oneself for adverse events related to coronavirus can also help reduce negative mental health consequences. In addition to being isolated and in quarantine, adverse events can include things like involuntary changes to one’s lifestyle or routine, changes to one’s workplace or job, and financial loss.

There are many strategies that you can use to maintain your mental health and wellness during the coronavirus pandemic, this article describes eight useful concepts.

How to Protect Yourself and Others From Coronavirus

To protect yourself from getting infected by the coronavirus, it is recommended to practice proper hand hygiene by regularly washing your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds and frequently using alcohol-based hand sanitizers that are at least 60% alcohol. Additionally, avoid touching your face as much as possible unless you have very recently sanitized your hands.

For the protection of both yourselves and others, Canadians should stay at home as much as possible. When out in public, you should maintain a minimum physical distance of two meters from other people. Carry disposable tissues with you to contain coughs and sneezes, and dispose of them immediately after use—otherwise, sneeze or cough into your elbow.

You should especially limit contact with more vulnerable individuals, such as the elderly, or people in poor health or with compromised immune systems. Avoid leaving your home for non-essential purposes and do not gather in groups.

To maintain a strong immune system, follow healthy lifestyle habits: eat healthy nutritious meals, stay hydrated, avoid smoking, avoid using drugs or alcohol, exercise regularly, and sleep at least eight hours each night. Finally, as mentioned before, it is strongly recommended to seek medical care if you display symptoms—especially if symptoms get worse.

It is currently not recommended that Canadians wear medical masks—these are in short supply and needed by healthcare providers.

Have a plan ready in case you get infected and quarantined

Everyone should create a plan so that they feel more in control in the event that they must quarantine or isolate themselves. They should then discuss their plan with family members, neighbours, employers, and other relevant people to decrease disruptions in the event that they are quarantined.

Employers should create special work-from-home and sick-leave policies. Employees should feel comfortable self-isolating and requesting paid sick leaves, without experiencing financial loss and stress due to potential loss of pay or employment.

EHN Canada’s Coronavirus COVID-19 Action Plan

EHN Canada places top priority on the health of its patients and staff. We have gone beyond standard protocols to ensure the necessary screening and prevention measures are in place so that our facilities are as safe as possible from coronavirus COVID-19 exposure. Patients continue to be supported wholeheartedly in their recovery. EHN predicts no foreseeable interruption in daily operations, and admission of patients to our residential programs will continue as planned.

EHN Canada continues to work with local Public Health Departments to ensure that rigorous Infection Prevention and Control (IPAC) measures are in place. We follow best practices and continuously monitor them for updates. EHN Canada has advanced IPAC practitioners on staff and our entire team has received additional, updated training on preventative and reactive measures to protect our patients and staff from coronavirus infection.

To learn more about what we’re doing, visit our Coronavirus COVID-19 Action Plan page.

Coronavirus and Getting Treatment for Addiction and Mental Health Disorders

On March 16, 2020, one of our peers, Fresh Start Recovery Centres posted “Recovery is not cancelled” on Instagram. This was an important message for all of us.

As our public health agencies are scrambling to deal with the coronavirus pandemic, with the media in overdrive, and the difficulty we experience buying simple things like toilet paper, it is hard to think about anything else. Many want to put their addiction to the side and focus on how to deal with this pandemic.

But, thus far, addiction is far more lethal than the coronavirus, with less than 200 Canadian lives lost, compared to over 5000 Canadians who died from opioid overdoses and related suicides last year. Addiction’s death toll is much higher when you factor in alcohol related deaths.

We are being advised to stay home and practice physical distancing. That approach works for many, but for individuals suffering from mental health and addiction it can actually make things worse. And going to seek help in this environment is difficult, given emergency rooms are overflowing and physicians are hard to reach.

A number of patients at EHN Canada treatment facilities have commented on the relative safety and comfort that they feel from being in treatment at this time.

“I’m being told to go home and watch Netflix. That feels like how I acted back when I was using.  I can’t do that, I am sure I will relapse.”

“I can’t self isolate—I need to be in a safe place and talk to people who are dealing with the same issues as I am.”

“I’m more afraid of my addiction than I am of COVID—I won’t get my family back if I don’t get sober”.

“I’ve been in a basement for four years dealing with my Trauma. I am just getting starting to get over that—going back to that basement is the worst thing I could do”

Being at a quality residential treatment center, right now, may be the right thing for many people.  Make sure that any treatment center you’re considering follows, if not exceeds, the latest public health recommendations, including limiting group sizes, enforcing physical distancing, hand and surface hygiene, prohibiting visitors, and providing 24/7 access to medical staff. One our patients described the safety that they felt at an EHN Canada facility.

“On the outside I would be afraid to go to a doctor’s office and spend hours in a congested waiting room. At Edgewood the doctor is right here and can see me right away.”

Also if you have completed treatment and need aftercare, but your aftercare group has been cancelled, there are online options such as Wagon which is free to all patients completing EHN Canada residential programs. Some other treatment centers across the country are offering Wagon as well.

Stay safe and take care of yourself. Which means taking care of your mental health and addiction issues. If we can be part of the solution, we are here for you.

Additionally, this article offers tips on how to stay connected with others during self-isolation. If you’re in recovery, this article offers tips on how to stay sober during the coronavirus pandemic.

Contact us for more information

Please contact us if you have any questions about EHN Canada’s addiction and mental health treatment programs, or if you would like to enrol. Please also call us if you have comments, concerns, or questions about EHN Canada’s response to coronavirus COVID-19. Our phone lines are open 24/7—so you can call us anytime.

Latest Canadian Updates

You can get the latest updates on the Government of Canada’s coronavirus webpage.

References

[1] Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center (2020, March 6). Coronavirus COVID-19 global cases. Retrieved from https://www.arcgis.com/apps/opsdashboard/index.html#/bda7594740fd40299423467b48e9ecf6

[2] Banerjee, A., Kulcsar, K., Misra, V., Frieman, M., & Mossman, K. (2019). Bats and coronavirus. Viruses, 11(1), 41. doi: 10.3390/v11010041. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6356540/

[3] Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center (2020, March 6). Coronavirus COVID-19 global cases. Retrieved from

https://www.arcgis.com/apps/opsdashboard/index.html#/bda7594740fd40299423467b48e9ecf6

[4] World Health Organization (2019, March 11). Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-CoV). Retrieved from https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/middle-east-respiratory-syndrome-coronavirus-(mers-cov)

[5] National Foundation for Infectious Diseases (n.d.). Coronaviruses. Retrieved from https://www.nfid.org/infectious-diseases/coronaviruses

[6] Government of Canada (2019, September 3). Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-CoV) in Saudi Arabia. Retrieved from https://travel.gc.ca/travelling/health-safety/travel-health-notices/108

[7] World Health Organization (n.d.). Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-CoV). Retrieved from https://www.who.int/emergencies/mers-cov/en

[8] World Health Organization (n.d.). SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome). Retrieved from https://www.who.int/ith/diseases/sars/en

[9] Infection Prevention and Control Canada. Information about Coronavirus. Retrieved from https://ipac-canada.org/coronavirus-resources.php#SARSINFO