Coronavirus - What you need to know

This article was originally written by Dr. Jen Tan, Immune System Expert - A.Vogel UK 

What is coronavirus?

The coronavirus is actually a very common kind of virus. Most types cause infection in the nose, sinuses and upper respiratory tract, causing symptoms of the common cold such as a runny nose, headache or sore throat. Most coronaviruses are not dangerous and symptoms usually subside within 3 to 7 days.

There are currently 6 recognised types of coronavirus that can infect humans. Common types include:

  • 229E (alpha coronavirus)
  • NL63 (alpha coronavirus)
  • OC43 (beta coronavirus)
  • HKU1 (beta coronavirus).

However, there are certain rarer types of the virus that can be more dangerous to humans. One type called MERS-CoV, which causes Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), killed around 858 people in the Middle East between 2012 and 2015. Another type, known as SARS-CoV, is the coronavirus responsible for severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), which killed 774 people in 2003.

In early January 2020, the World Health Organisation identified a new type of coronavirus called 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV), the virus responsible for the current epidemic in China. There have been around 580 confirmed cases to date and 25 deaths in China; however, these numbers continue to rise as the virus spreads to other countries.

What are the symptoms of 2019-nCoV?

The virus can cause severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), which is the disease responsible for the recent deaths in China. This is a serious form of pneumonia that causes extreme respiratory distress, resulting in difficulty breathing, and sometimes death.

Symptoms may include:

  • Fever, sweating, and chills
  • Dry or mucus cough
  • Sore throat
  • Headache
  • Sore muscles
  • Loss of appetite, low energy, and fatigue
  • Chest pain
  • The virus may also cause 'stomach flu' symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, abdominal discomfort, and diarrhoea.

Don't panic if you feel you have a selection of these symptoms, as they can be caused by a bad bout of flu. However, it is sensible to check with your doctor or A&E if your symptoms check out with those listed, especially if you have recently been travelling abroad.

Those with a weakened immune system will be most at risk of developing serious symptoms, such as elderly people and people with heart disease. Those who have died following contraction of the virus have been known to be in poor health already.

How is coronavirus spread?

Coronaviruses spread the same way as other cold-causing viruses: through infected people coughing or sneezing onto surfaces/objects or into the air surrounding other people; close contact with an infected person; touching infected surfaces such as door handles, taps, or toilet flushes, and then touching your mouth, nostril, or eyes.

There is no vaccine for the coronavirus, in any of its forms; however, to help reduce your chances of becoming infected, you should do the same things you do to avoid other illnesses:

  • Wash hands thoroughly with hot water and soap after using the toilet, before eating or handling food, and if you have been touching surfaces which could be contaminated, such as when using public transport, or using a trolley or basket in the supermarket.
  • Avoid close contact with infected people.
  • Keep hands and fingers away from your eyes, nose, and mouth unless you have just washed them.
  • Disinfect any surfaces or objects which could be contaminated.
  • Don't share towels or flannels with others.

Preventative measures

As well as following the preventative techniques above, there are other things you can do to strengthen your immune system and help reduce the chance of suffering a coronavirus infection.

The human immune system responds well to sufficient sleep1, reduction in stress levels2, moderate exercise3, good diet full of vegetables and unprocessed/unrefined foods, and low intake of refined sugar, processed fats, alcohol and nicotine.4

Vitamin C and zinc are important for the health of the mucous membranes in your respiratory tract, and for maintaining the normal function of your immune cells.5 Keeping your intake of these nutrients up is therefore a good strategy for supporting immune function and respiratory tract tissue.

Whilst dietary and lifestyle measures can support good immune function, and many natural remedies are useful and effective for countering common colds and flu infections, natural remedies such as herbal extracts are not indicated in treating serious infections such as SARS-CoV. Anyone who is concerned that they may have come across the virus should seek medical advice immediately.


1 Kristen L. Knutson & Malcolm von Schantz. Chronobiology International 2018 DOI: 10.1080/07420528.2018.1454458 

2 Segerstrom SC and Miller GE. Psychological Bulletin 2004; 130 (4): 601-630 

3 Peake JM. Exerc Immunol Rev 2002; 8: 49-100 

4 Reidel B et al. American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine 2017; 197 (4) doi: 10.1164/rccm.201708-1590OC

5 Wilson JX. Regulation of vitamin C transport. Annual Review of Nutrition, 2005, 25:1, 105-125. Wintergerst ES, Maggini S and Hornig DH. Immune-Enhancing Role of Vitamin C and Zinc and Effect on Clinical Conditions. Ann Nutr Metab, 2006, 50: 85-94

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