Questions and answers on COVID-19: Medical information
1. What are the symptoms of COVID-19 infection
Symptoms of COVID-19 vary in severity from none at all (being asymptomatic) to having fever, cough, sore throat, general weakness, fatigue and muscular pain. The most severe cases can develop pneumonia, acute respiratory distress syndrome and other complications, all potentially leading to death. Reports show that clinical deterioration can occur rapidly, often during the second week of disease.
Anosmia – loss of the sense of smell – (and loss of the sense of taste) have been recognised as symptoms of a COVID-19 infection.
2. Are some people more at risk than others?
Age accounts for most of the increase in risk of severe COVID-19. People over 60 years of age and those with multiple underlying health conditions (e.g. hypertension, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, chronic respiratory disease and immune suppression) are considered to be more at risk of developing severe symptoms. Men in these groups also appear to be at a slightly higher risk than women.
3. Are children also at risk of infection and what is their potential role in transmission?
Children make up a small proportion of COVID-19 cases in the reported data. According to data from The European Surveillance System (TESSy) between 1 August 2020 and 29 November 2020, children aged 1-11 years and 12-18 years represented 5.5 and 7.4% of cases, respectively. Children appear as likely to be infected with COVID-19 as adults, with increased transmissibility in adolescents. However, children tend to have a much lower risk of developing symptoms or severe disease than adults.
4. What is the risk of infection in pregnant women and newborn babies?
Existing data indicate that pregnant women who have contracted SARS-CoV-2 experience similar illness and symptoms to non-pregnant women. Pregnant women who have diabetes and/or are obese may experience more severe disease.
Current evidence on in utero transmission of SARS-CoV-2 is inconclusive. A limited number of cases have been reported with good overall outcomes and no severe illness for the newborn. All pregnant women should follow the same general precautions for the prevention of COVID-19, including regular handwashing, avoiding individuals who are sick and self-isolating in the event of symptoms. A healthcare provider should be consulted by telephone for advice.
For additional information on the scientific literature relating to COVID-19 in pregnancy see below.
5. Is there any treatment for COVID-19 disease?
The treatment for people who are hospitalised with severe COVID-19 disease is largely supportive (e.g. oxygen therapy, management of fluids), mostly using a symptomatic approach, targeting the symptoms rather than the virus.
Several pharmaceuticals have been studied or are currently being studied in clinical trials to assess their safety and efficacy as potential treatments for COVID-19. There is evidence that dexamethasone, a corticosteroid, is beneficial for severe disease (i.e. patients who require oxygen).
Several drugs and antibody preparations are under assessment.
6. When and where should I be tested for COVID-19?
Anyone who develops symptoms of COVID-19 should be tested for the virus, wherever possible. Testing is also recommended, if possible, for people who do not have symptoms but who have been in close contact with a case of COVID-19. These tests are called ‘PCR’ (polymerase chain reaction) tests and are molecular tests that can detect the virus. They are usually conducted on samples collected from the throat or nose using a swab.
Testing strategies will be adapted to the local situation and public health authorities may decide to test only sub-groups of suspected cases, based on the level of community transmission of COVID-19 and available resources.
In some circumstances rapid antigen detection tests can also be used which are faster, but less accurate than PCR.
A third type of testing called ‘serological testing’ is also available to check for antibodies. This provides information on whether someone has been infected with the virus in the past. These tests are conducted using a blood sample to detect antibodies which usually develop within a few weeks of the initial infection.
Contact your local authorities to inquire about whether and where you should be tested.
7. Do people with a pollen allergy or allergies in general have a higher risk of developing more severe COVID-19?
A large proportion of the population (up to 20%) reports seasonal allergic symptoms related to pollen, the most common of which include itchy eyes, nasal congestion, runny nose, and sometimes wheezing or skin rashes. All these symptoms are usually referred to as hay fever, pollen allergy or allergic rhinitis. Allergic rhinitis is commonly associated with allergic asthma in children and adults.
Allergies, including mild allergic asthma, have not been identified as a major risk factor for SARS-CoV-2 infection or for a more unfavourable outcome in studies so far. However, moderate-to-severe asthma, for which patients need daily treatment, is included in the chronic lung conditions that predispose to severe disease.
Children and adults on maintenance medication for allergies (e.g. leukotriene inhibitors, inhaled corticosteroids and/or bronchodilators) need to continue their treatment, as prescribed by their healthcare provider, and should not discontinue their medication due to fears of COVID-19. If they develop symptoms compatible with COVID-19, they need to self-isolate, and their caretakers should inform their healthcare provider and monitor their health, in a similar manner to everyone else. If progressive difficulty in breathing develops, they should seek prompt medical assistance.
8. Should people who suffer from pollen allergy self-isolate if they develop typical hay fever symptoms?
No. There is no reason for people suffering from a known pollen allergy to self-isolate if they develop typical hay fever symptoms. They should continue to follow the general guidance for physical distancing, wear a face mask as recommended, and seek medical advice if their symptoms get worse, if they develop fever or if they have progressive difficulty breathing.