13 COVID-19 questions answered

Wondering just how the coronavirus will affect your health should you contract the illness? We asked an expert to explain everything in terms we can all understand.


Dr Tshidi Gule answers some frequently asked questions regarding the coronavirus and how it affects your health.

In layman’s terms, what is COVID-19?

COVID-19 is a novel strain of a virus family that commonly causes respiratory illnesses. It is the newest strain of the other coronaviruses known to science. It has been identified to cause significant complications in some humans, which can lead to death.

What parts of your body does it attach itself to first?

Coronaviruses attach to any living cell in order to invade it and then replicate itself. Due to the nature of its transmission between human beings (droplet spread and contact with an infected person), the most common areas it will spread to first is the respiratory tract. It does so especially in the nasopharynx (the caudal portion of the nasal cavity that connects the nasal cavity to the larynx) and down into the lungs. But it can also invade the cells of the liver, bowels, and heart.

How does your body react to the virus?

The body’s natural immune response to any virus infection is to mount a defence. A huge array of cells and chemicals work together in order to rid the body of any virus. This is a complex system. The COVID-19 strain seems to initially evade the immune response for about 2 weeks before being detected. Once discovered, the body launches an aggressive immune response by mobilising the body’s various defence mechanisms (granulocytes, interferons, antibodies).

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What are the visible and non-visible symptoms of COVID-19?

According to the Centers of Disease Control (CDC), people with COVID-19 present with a wide variety of symptoms which usually appear within 2 weeks of being exposed to the virus. These symptoms include:

  • Fever
  • Dry cough
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Chills/rigors
  • Muscle pain
  • Headache
  • Sore throat
  • New loss of taste or smell

What happens to your body once you’re infected? 

The body’s initial response to any intruder is to mount an immune response to get rid of the virus. It does this in different ways by activating immunity pathways to kill the virus. The human immune system has learned over many years how to deal with novel viruses, and when healthy, is able to deal with the COVID-19 strain as it would deal with any other respiratory viruses. This is good news as this strain is known to cause mild illness in more than 80% of identified cases worldwide.

Can COVID-19 affect your mental health?

It is common to experience anxiety and acute stress to a positive result of COVID-19. However, along with self-isolation and the treatment of symptoms, it is important to reach out for emotional support while you are ill to avoid mental health challenges such as depression.

Is dizziness a symptom of the coronavirus?

Dizziness has not been noted as a symptom of COVID-19. However, you may experience dizziness if you have a headache or fever, as it is often associated with these symptoms. Checking your blood pressure is also important as this can be the underlying cause of any dizziness you experience.

Is a runny or blocked nose a symptom?  

The virus is known to cause flu-like symptoms so this would include nasal congestion, mild fever and inflammation of the ENT (ear, nose, throat) system.

Do you feel tired and fatigued if you are infected?

With virus infections generally, you will have periods of tiredness as the body conserves energy in order to increase the immune system response. This does ease up with each day of recovery and good self-care practices such as eating health meals, keeping hydrated, getting sufficient sleep, and keeping clean and warm while isolating.

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Does the virus affect your heart in any way? 

The virus’ effect on the heart has not yet been established. Studies on people in China who were hospitalised with COVID-19 found that some developed heart problems, including arrhythmias, but the exact cause and prognosis behind those problems is still being investigated.

Will you get very ill if you have a strong immune system?

In most healthy human beings who do not have an underlying chronic condition, COVID-19 will cause what we term “a mild respiratory illness”. It usually lasts between 10 and 14 days and is best described as being “flu-like”.

What happens if you have a weak immune system?

The risk of complications is high in immunocompromised patients. This is because there is a delay in the response by their immune cells to fight the virus effectively. It is estimated that 1 in 6 people will have complications, which may be caused by a condition known as cytokine release syndrome or a cytokine storm. This happens when an infection triggers your immune system to flood your bloodstream with inflammatory proteins called cytokines, which can kill tissue and damage your vital organs.

The most common complications recorded include:

  • Pneumonia
  • Acute respiratory failure – This is when your lungs struggle to pump enough oxygen into your blood or take enough carbon dioxide out. Both of these complications can happen at the same time. It is known to be the leading cause of death.
  • Acute respiratory distress syndrome – This is when your lungs become so severely damaged that fluid begins to build up inside them, resulting in a struggle for them to get oxygen into your bloodstream. This will often result in the need for a ventilator.
  • Septic shock – This occurs when the immune response of the body doesn’t work as it should and instead of killing the virus, it damages the tissues of the organs.
  • Blood clots
  • Acute kidney injury.

According to Dr Gule, scientists are working around the clock to combat the impact of this novel virus in at risk communities. “The primary goal at this stage is prevention through safe hygiene practices at work and at home,” she  concludes.

More about the expert:

Affectionately known as Dr G, Matshidiso “Tshidi” Gule, is a qualified medical doctor, health advocate, celebrated author and an entrepreneur.  In 2006, her passion for improving the health experience of all South Africans led her to establish the MediSpace Lifestyle Institute; a health solutions company providing education tools, programmes and health prevention. She is currently working alongside Discovery Isolation Hotels, providing gentle guidance to those infected with the COVID-19 virus during these uncertain times. Learn more about Dr Tshidi Gule here.

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