Understanding coronavirus

Illustration shows a young person washing their hands. The text above reads: "Understanding coronavirus"

I’m feeling worried about about coronavirus

If you’re worried about the recent spread of coronavirus, we’re here to help. It’s easy to get swept up in the news headlines and feel anxious or panicked, but there are lots of simple things you can do to help you stay well.

If you are feeling anxious then that’s ok. It’s perfectly natural to worry about your health and to want your loved ones to be safe. There’s no need to be embarrassed that you feel this way, but it’s important to keep your worries in perspective; if you follow the official advice, you’re likely to be fine.

But what is coronavirus? How does it spread and what the hell is an epidemic anyway? Here’s a handy guide to answer all the questions you might have (and hopefully make you feel a lot more chilled). And don’t forget to visit our coronavirus hub for information about how to manage your finances, mental health and your rights. 

What is coronavirus?

Coronavirus, or COVID-19 as it’s also called, is a new illness caused by a virus. This virus can affect your lungs and your airways.

How does it spread?

The illness is still new, so medical professionals don’t know yet how the virus spreads, but other similar viruses are spread via droplets when people cough. It’s unlikely that the illness can be spread through food or packaging.

What can I do to protect myself?

  • Wash your hands regularly with hot water and soap or clean them with an alcohol-based hand rub
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth where possible
  • If you cough or sneeze, make sure you cover your mouth, or catch it with a tissue and throw the tissue in the bin
  • Try to avoid close contact with people who are unwell

What are the symptoms?

  • A high temperature
  • A cough
  • Shortness of breath

If you have any of these symptoms, it may be a sign that you have coronavirus, but this doesn’t necessarily mean you do. These are also symptoms of more common illnesses like cold and flu, so there’s no need to panic if you catch yourself coughing.

What do I do if I notice these symptoms?

If you feel unwell, you shouldn’t go to a GP surgery, pharmacy or hospital, as the virus could then spread to other people. If you have symptoms that include a fever, cough or difficulty breathing, you should stay at home and call 111, who will be able to give you advice on next steps.

If there’s a chance you could have coronavirus, you may be asked to go directly to a local testing centre to confirm this, or you may be asked to self-isolate. This means staying at home for 14 days, keeping away from other people (and probably watching a lot of NOW TV!).

How many people recover from coronavirus?

Most people (about 80%) recover from the disease without needing extensive treatment. Older people, and those with underlying health issues like heart problems or high blood pressure, are more likely to become seriously ill if they become infected with the virus.

Is there a cure?

Because the virus is so new, there is currently no vaccination against it, and no specific treatment for the illness. The main treatments involve relieving the symptoms of the virus while your body fights it. Antibiotics unfortunately won’t help as they can’t fight viruses.

What’s the difference between epidemic and pandemic?

You’ve probably heard these words thrown around when people are talking about coronavirus, but what do they actually mean? An epidemic is a widespread outbreak of disease that increases rapidly and spreads through a community at a particular time. A pandemic is when a disease spreads throughout the world at a specific time.

The World Health Organisation have declared that coronavirus is a pandemic.

How do I know which information to trust?

Coronavirus is all over the media and it can be difficult to know what to read and which sources of information to trust. Part of the problem is that journalists will often use shocking and attention-grabbing language, which makes it sound like the situation is worse or more dangerous than it really is. This can lead people to spiral in to panic-mode, which can make others anxious too.

Here are some reliable and trustworthy pages and contacts with official and up to date advice and information:

WHO information: https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019

NHS information: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/coronavirus-covid-19/

UK government updates: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/coronavirus-covid-19-information-for-the-public 

Information for those with asthma: https://www.asthma.org.uk/about/media/news/coronavirus/#.XmD4DTqYAYQ.link

The Department for Education has opened a helpline to answer questions about COVID-19 related to education. Staff, parents and young people can contact the helpline: 0800 046 8687; [email protected]

Government advice on travel: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/travel-advice-novel-coronavirus

Coronavirus videos (BBC Newsround)

BBC Newsround has a number of videos around the topic of coronavirus to help you understand the issue better.

Coronavirus: Dr Chris answers YOUR questions (BBC Newsround)

What if I still feel anxious?

If you need support with managing your anxiety then The Mix are here to listen and to talk. You can contact our team of experts and trained volunteers here. You can also contact Anxiety UK and No Panic Helpline, who can help you talk through your worries.

Read our articles on understanding anxiety  and managing anxiety. You can also find out more about OCD here.

Next Steps

  • If you're under 25 and would like free confidential telephone counselling from The Mix to help you figure things out complete this form and we'll call you to arrange your first session.
  • AnxietyUK run helplines, email support, live chats and therapy services for people with anxiety disorders. 08444 775 774
  • Mind offers advice and support to people with mental health problems. Their helpline runs nine to six from Monday to Friday. 0300 123 3393
  • Visit bemindful for more information on mindfulness and to search for a course near you.
  • Chat about this subject on our Discussion Boards.
  • Need help but confused where to go locally? Download our StepFinder iPhone app to find local support services quickly.

By Holly Turner

Updated on 10-Mar-2020