COVID-19

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COVID-19

DEFINITION

COVID-19 is a respiratory illness caused by a new form of coronavirus.

DESCRIPTION

WHAT IS A CORONAVIRUS?

Coronaviruses form a large family of viruses that can cause a range of illnesses. These include the common cold as well as more serious diseases like SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) and MERS (Middle East respiratory syndrome). COVID-19 is a newly discovered coronavirus.

Many animals also have coronavirus-related illnesses. When one of those viruses mutates and passes onto humans, the disease can be more severe because the human body has not developed immunity to it. Both the SARS and MERS diseases are examples of this happening in recent years1.

WHO IS AT RISK?

The following people are at increased risk of developing serious illness if they get COVID-192:

  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, 50 years and older, with one or more chronic medical conditions
  • those 70 years or older
  • those with a chronic condition or compromised immune system
  • people with a disability

DELTA VARIANT

The COVID-19 Delta variant was first identified in December 2020. Within a matter of months, this particular variant spread to over 98 countries around the world. The Delta variant is now the dominant variant of COVID-19 worldwide. It is highly transmissible and causes more severe disease than previous variants. COVID-19 vaccines available in Australia are effective at preventing severe illness, hospitalisation or death from Delta3.

OMICRON VARIANT

The Omicron COVID-19 variant was first reported in South Africa on 24 November 2021. It is now the dominant variant in some regions of Australia. Early studies suggest that Omicron is less likely to make people seriously ill than previous Covid variants, however, large numbers of Omicron infections will have a negative impact on the health system in Australia. Omicron is highly contagious and can infect people even if they are fully vaccinated.

The Omicron BA.1 variant accounts for most cases of COVID-19 in Australia. The new Omicron sub-variant BA.2 has now been detected and is causing a surge in COVID-19 cases across the globe. The World Health Organisation (WHO) says studies have shown the BA.2 variant appears to be more transmissible than BA.1.

While the BA.2 variant can infect people more quickly, there is no evidence that it causes more severe disease than Omicron's BA.1 and available vaccines work just as well in providing protection against it4.

SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS

Symptoms of COVID-19 can range from mild illness to pneumonia. Some people will recover easily, and others may get very sick very quickly. People with COVID-19 may experience symptoms such as5:

  • fever
  • coughing
  • sore throat
  • shortness of breath

Other symptoms can include:

  • runny nose
  • acute blocked nose (congestion)
  • headache
  • muscle or joint pains
  • nausea
  • diarrhoea
  • vomiting
  • loss of sense of smell
  • altered sense of taste
  • loss of appetite
  • fatigue

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, seek medical advice and get tested.

PREVENTION (AUS)

or at least making it less deadly.

The Australian Government has secured the following COVID-19 vaccines:

  • Pfizer (Comirnaty)
  • AstraZeneca (Vaxzevria)
  • Moderna (Spikevax)
  • Novavax (Nuvaxovid)

COVID-19 vaccines are free for everyone living in Australia. You do not need a prescription from a GP to get vaccinated. The COVID-19 vaccination is voluntary. Vaccination protects against serious illness, hospitalisation and death from COVID-19. The vaccine you receive may depend on6:

  • availability
  • the clinical guidelines that determine who each vaccine is safe for

SAFETY CONCERNS

A rare but serious side effect has been identified, involving thrombosis(clotting) withthrombocytopenia (low blood platelet count) in a small number of people following vaccination with the COVID-19 AstraZeneca (Vaxzevria) vaccine. 

The Australian Technical Advisory Group (ATAGI) recommends that the COVID-19 Pfizer (Comirnaty) vaccine is preferred over the AstraZeneca (Vaxzevria) vaccine in adults aged under 60 years. The ATAGI also recommends that people under 60 years who have had their first dose of the AstraZeneca (Vaxzevria) vaccine should have their second dose7.

COVID-19 vaccination is available through general practice respiratory clinics, and state and territory vaccination clinics. These sites have been expanded to participating general practices.

WHO IS ELIGIBLE FOR COVID-19 VACCINATION?
Access to Pfizer (Comirnaty)

People aged 5 years or over are eligible to receive the Pfizer vaccine. Pfizer is a messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccine. This type of vaccine uses a genetic code called RNA to make your body's cells produce the coronavirus’ specific spike protein. The RNA from the vaccine does not change your DNA in any way, and your body quickly breaks it down. Pfizer does not contain any live virus and it cannot give you COVID-19. 

Access to AstraZeneca (Vaxzevria)

You can book an appointment for the AstraZeneca vaccine if you are:

  • 60 years old and over
  • 18 to 59 years old – you can choose to have AstraZeneca after discussing with your health professional.

The AstraZeneca vaccine uses a harmless, weakened animal virus (called a viral vector) that contains the genetic code for the coronavirus spike protein. The AstraZeneca vaccine does not contain any live virus, and it cannot give you COVID-19. 

Access to Moderna (Spikevax)

You are eligible to receive the Moderna vaccine if you are 12 years old or over8.The Moderna vaccine is a mRNA vaccine. Like Pfizer, this type of vaccine uses a genetic code called RNA to make your body's cells produce the coronavirus’ specific spike protein. The RNA from the vaccine does not change your DNA in any way, and your body quickly breaks it down. Moderna does not contain any live virus and it cannot give you COVID-19. 

Access to Novavax (Nuvaxovid)

You will be eligible to receive the Novavax vaccine if you are 18 years and over. Novavax is a protein-based vaccine that has received provisional approval from the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA). Subject to successful TGA batch testing, the Novavax vaccine will be available from the week of 21 February 2022. This type of vaccine contains part of the coronavirus spike protein. It also contains an adjuvant called Matrix-M, which helps create a stronger immune response. Novavax does not contain any live virus and it cannot give you COVID-199

BOOSTER VACCINATION
You are eligible for a COVID-19 booster (third) dose if10:

  • you are 16 years and older, and
  • have had your second dose of your primary dose course of COVID-19 vaccination at least 3 months ago.

Booster doses are not mandatory, however they are recommended to maintain immunity against COVID-19. A booster dose increases your protection against:

  • infection with the virus that causes COVID-19
  • severe disease
  • dying from COVID-19

A booster vaccine will help to increase the strength and length of protection you have from severe disease and hospitalisation. It should help prevent spread of the virus11.

WHO IS ELIGIBLE FOR A FOURTH BOOSTER?
ATAGI recommends a fourth booster dose of COVID-19 vaccine to increase vaccine protection before winter for vulnerable population groups who have received their primary vaccination and first booster dose. These groups are:

  • adults aged 65 years and older
  • residents of aged care or disability care facilities
  • people aged 16 years and older with severe immunocompromise
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 50 years and older

The additional winter booster dose can be given from 4 months or longer after you have received your first booster dose. If you have contracted COVID-19 since you have had your first booster dose, it is recommended to wait at least four months after your infection before you have a fourth booster. Your Pharmacist or GP can provide advice if you have any questions about vaccination12.

OTHER SAFETY MEASURES

You can also reduce your chances of being infected with or spreading COVID-19 by taking some simple precautions12:

  • regularly and thoroughly clean your hands with an alcohol-based hand rub or wash them with soap and water
  • maintain at least 1.5 metres distance between yourself and others
  • avoid going to crowded places
  • avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth
  • cover your mouth and nose with your bent elbow or tissue when you cough or sneeze. Dispose of the used tissue immediately and wash your hands
  • face masks help stop droplets spreading when someone speaks, laughs, coughs, or sneezes, including someone who has coronavirus (COVID-19) but feels well. Face masks are an additional protective physical barrier to protect you and your loved ones
  • stay at home and self-isolate even with minor symptoms such as cough, headache, mild fever, until you recover. Have someone bring you supplies. If you need to leave your house, wear a mask to avoid infecting others
  • if you have a fever, cough and difficulty breathing, seek medical attention, but call by telephone in advance if possible and follow the directions of your local health authority

PREVENTION (GENERIC)

You can reduce your chances of being infected or spreading COVID-19 by having the COVID-19 vaccination (see your GP for advice) and taking some simple precautions13:

  • Regularly and thoroughly clean your hands with an alcohol-based hand rub or wash them with soap and water.
  • Maintain at least 1.5 metres distance between yourself and others.
  • Avoid going to crowded places.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with your bent elbow or tissue when you cough or sneeze. Dispose of the used tissue immediately and wash your hands.
  • Face masks help stop droplets spreading when someone speaks, laughs, coughs, or sneezes, including someone who has coronavirus (COVID-19) but feels well. Face masks are an additional protective physical barrier to protect you and your loved ones.
  • Stay at home and self-isolate even with minor symptoms such as cough, headache, mild fever, until you recover. Have someone bring you supplies. If you need to leave your house, wear a mask to avoid infecting others.
  • If you have a fever, cough and difficulty breathing, seek medical attention, but call by telephone in advance if possible and follow the directions of your local health authority.

NOTES (Aust)

Wearing a face mask protects you and your community by providing an additional physical barrier to coronavirus (COVID-19).  For a face mask to be effective, it must fit well and cover your nose and mouth. This means that face shields, bandanas, or scarves or loose snoods, loose buffs or loose neck gaiters on their own will not provide effective protection from COVID-19.

Call 1800 020 080 if you are seeking information on coronavirus (COVID-19) or help with the COVIDSafe app. This line operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week. If you need to get tested, you can:

  • attend a free COVID-19 respiratory clinic
  • contact your doctor and they will arrange the test, this may attract a fee

COVID-19 respiratory clinics are dedicated health centres located around the country, focusing on testing people with symptoms of respiratory infection.

TREATMENT OPTIONS

Vaccination is a safe and effective means of preventing serious illness and death from COVID-19. There is  no cure for COVID-19, however medical care can treat most of the symptoms. Seek medical attention and testing if:

  • you think you might have COVID-19
  • in the last 14 days you have been to a country or area with a high risk of COVID-19
  • you have been in close contact with someone with COVID-19

WHAT TO DO IF YOU HAVE COVID-19

If you have been diagnosed with COVID-19, stay at home. You will need to do this for at least 7 days to help reduce the possible spread of infection. Some states and territories may require you to be tested to exit isolation14. Follow these steps:

  • having some basic things on hand will help with infection control and managing symptoms
  • stay at home and ask other people to get food and other necessities for you and leave them at your front door
  • rest, drink plenty of fluid, and eat nutritious food
  • only people who usually live with you should be in your home. Do not let in visitors
  • stay in a separate room from other family members and use a dedicated bathroom if possible
  • clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces
  • if you need to leave home to seek medical attention, wear a surgical mask and practise regular hand washing to protect others15

PHARMACIST'S ADVICE

Ask your Pharmacist for advice.

  1. Ask your Pharmacist for the most up-to-date information about the COVID-19 vaccination.
  2. Ensure everyone in your family has enough medication at home. If any prescriptions are due for a refill, make sure you submit them to your Pharmacy.
  3. If you do become unwell, ask your Pharmacist if medical supplies can be delivered to your home.
  4. To help prevent spreading or contracting the virus, practise regular hand washing. Soap is available from your Pharmacy. Hand sanitiser gel may also be available and can be used if soap and water are not available.
  5. Surgical masks can help prevent the spread of infection. These are available from your Pharmacy.
  6. If you do become unwell, paracetamol or ibuprofen will help to control your fever. Make sure you have enough on hand for yourself and family members. Ask your Pharmacist for advice.
  7. It is also important to stay well hydrated. Powders and solutions containing electrolytes are available from your Pharmacy.

Source

  1. About coronaviruses. Health Direct. Australian Govt Dept of Health. Last updated Dec 2021. Available from URL: https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/about-coronaviruses
  2. Advice for groups at greater risk. Aust Govt Dept of Health. Last updated Jan 2022. Available from URL: https://www.health.gov.au/health-alerts/covid-19/advice-for-groups-at-risk 
  3. COVID-19 Delta variant. Australian Govt Dept of Health. Last updated Dec 2021. Available from URL: https://www.health.gov.au/health-alerts/covid-19/symptoms-and-variants/delta
  4. Hildenbrandt C. Here's what we know about the Omicron sub-variant BA.2. Mar 10 2022. Available from URL: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2022-03-10/what-we-know-about-covid-omicron-sub-variant-ba2/100899980
  5. What you need to know about Coronavirus. Last updated 30 July 2021. Available from URL: https://www.health.gov.au/news/health-alerts/novel-coronavirus-2019-ncov-health-alert/ongoing-support-during-coronavirus-covid-19/what-you-need-to-know-about-coronavirus-covid-19#symptoms
  6. COVID-19 vaccines. Aust Govt Dept of Health. Cited 17 Dec 2020. Available from URL: https://www.health.gov.au/initiatives-and-programs/COVID-19-vaccines
  7. COVID-19 vaccine update. 18 June 2021. Available from URL: https://www.qld.gov.au/health/conditions/health-alerts/coronavirus-covid-19/protect-yourself-others/covid-19-vaccine
  8. Who can get vaccinated. Aust Govt Dept of Health. Last updated Dec 2021. Available from URL: https://www.health.gov.au/initiatives-and-programs/covid-19-vaccines/who-can-get-vaccinated#:~:text=You%20can%20book%20an%20appointment,years%20old%20or%20over.
  9. Nuvaxovid (Novavax) Vaccine Factsheet. Aust Govt. Operation COVID Shield. Cited 08 Feb 2022.
  10. Eligible Australian Kids 16+ can now get a booster. Ministers Dept of Health. 04 Feb 2022. Available from URL: https://www.health.gov.au/ministers/the-hon-greg-hunt-mp/media/eligible-...
  11. COVID_19 booster vaccine advice. Aust Govt Dept of Health. Last updated 4 Jan 2022. Available from URL: https://www.health.gov.au/initiatives-and-programs/covid-19-vaccines/getting-your-vaccination/booster-doses
  12. ATAGI statement on recommendations on a winter booster dose of COVID-19 vaccine. Aust Govt Dept of Health. Cited 1 April 2022. Available from URL: https://www.health.gov.au/news/atagi-statement-on-recommendations-on-a-w...
  13. Coronavirus (COVID-19) advice for the public. World Health Organisation. Last updated 4 June 2020. Available from URL: https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/advice-for-public
  14. COVID-19 vaccines. Aust Govt Dept of Health. Cited 17 Dec 2020. Available from URL: https://www.health.gov.au/initiatives-and-programs/COVID-19-vaccines
  15. Recovering from COVID-19. Health Direct. Aust Govt Dept of Health. Last updated Feb 2022, Available from URL: https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/managing-covid-19/recovering-from-covid-19#recovery
  16. Coronavirus (COVID-19) advice for the public. World Health Organisation. Last updated 4 June 2020. Available from URL: https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/advice-for-public
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