Everything you need to know about coronavirus - including how to tell if you have a fever and how to self isolate

We asked an expert to explain all on the coronavirus - and how it could affect you.

At the time of writing, over 186,000 people worldwide have been affected by coronavirus, with a reported 7,477 deaths across the globe.

When the coronavirus first began to spread, the majority of the cases were in China. However, there have now been outbreaks in many other countries, including the UK.

It's estimated that there have been around 1,543 confirmed cases of the disease in the UK (though the unofficial number is thought to be much higher) both from people who have not travelled recently, and those who have recently travelled to Italy, Germany, Iran and Japan.

And recently, the virus has been declared a pandemic.

MORE: Don't have time to see your GP? 12 health problems your pharmacist can help with

We spoke to Dr Richard Dawood - a travel health and tropical diseases specialist at London’s Fleet Street Clinic - for the answers to our burning questions.

What is the coronavirus?

Dr Richard Dawood tells GoodtoKnow, “Coronaviruses are a large group of viruses that includes some of the viruses responsible for the common cold.

“Mostly, these viruses attack the upper respiratory tract, causing the symptoms we are all familiar with of the common cold."

How to tell if you have a fever

Officials have explained that the main symptoms of coronavirus now appear to be a high fever and a continuous cough. However, it's left some questioning whether or not they actually have a fever. Working out if you have one is simple if you have a thermometer at home - a fever is occurs when your body temperature rises above 38C for a sustained period. Take regular measurements of your temperature to work out if you have a fever.

But, if you don't have a thermometer at home, and can't find one in the shops it can be a little tricker to tell. There are still some ways of figuring it out though.

Touching a person's forehead with the back of your hand is a common method. If they feel very hot, it's likely that they have a fever. This won't work if checking your own fever though - it will need to be done by someone else. Looking for flushed cheeks can also be a way of noticing a fever, as can checking urine colour. Fever will leave your body dehydrated, so if your urine is much darker than normal, you may have one.

As for the rest of the symptoms that could be characteristic of coronavirus, Dr Richard says, "A person suffering from infection will have a high temperature and a cough, with shortness of breath.”

Where has the coronavirus come from?

Dr Richard adds, “In recent years, there have been outbreaks of two viruses that have resulted from human contact with animals.

“The first of these was the virus causing SARS, which spread from members of the cat family, causing a serious outbreak originating in China in 2002 to 2003. The second was the virus causing MERS that spread from camels in the Middle East in 2008.

“This new coronavirus variant has originated from Wuhan province in central China. The outbreak has centred on a large food market in which live animals were in close contact with large numbers of people.”

How to self-isolate

This is the topic on everyone's minds this week, as Italy was put on lockdown following 3,000 new cases of the coronavirus in three days. Across the country, people have been asked to stay inside in an attempt to contain the virus from spreading any further.

In the UK, the NHS has issued advice (opens in new tab) about how to self-isolate in the event you think you might have contracted coronavirus.

They say if you have been told by a health professional to self-isolate, you must avoid contact with other people for 14 days.

Here's how to self-isolate, according to the NHS: 

  • Stay at home
  • Separate yourself from other people, for example try not to be in the same room as other people at the same time
  • Only allow people who live with you to stay
  • Self-isolate in a vented room with a window that can be opened
  • Ask friends, family members or delivery services to carry out errands for you (but get them to leave items at the door)
  • If you share the bathroom with other people, think about a cleaning rota, with the isolated person using the facilities last before cleaning the bathroom themselves
  • Do not go to work, school or public areas
  • Avoid public transport like buses, trains, tubes and taxis
  • Make sure you have your own towels for use, as well as utensils for eating and that after use, all are thoroughly washed.

Can people in Britain still travel abroad amid the coronavirus outbreak?

With the virus now spread across many corners of the world, many people are asking whether it is safe/allowed, to travel (opens in new tab).

And it's a pressing issue, given planned and pre-paid-for holidays.

woman waiting for travel

Credit: Getty

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has issued advice about travelling abroad, and at the moment, it has advised against travel to:

  • China
  • Hong Kong
  • Macao
  • Cambodia
  • Iran
  • Italy
  • Japan
  • Laos
  • Malaysia
  • Myanmar
  • Singapore
  • South Korea
  • Taiwan
  • Thailand
  • Vietnam

Given that coronavirus is developing on an hourly and daily basis, it is difficult to predict travel restrictions looking ahead. If you are worried about whether or not to cancel your holiday, or whether you will lose money if it is cancelled, Money Saving Expert Martin Lewis advises getting travel insurance ASAP, or as you book a holiday for this year. You can see more of his advice on the subject here (opens in new tab).

Dr Richard says, "The best advice is to keep plans as flexible as possible and to be aware of updates and changes in advice published by the foreign and Commonwealth office on its website, and also the official source of health information for international travel from Public Health England."

How does the coronavirus spread?

Dr Richard says, “In general, coronaviruses are spread by airborne droplets that are exhaled or coughed out (opens in new tab) by people suffering from infection, that are either inhaled by a susceptible person, or that can contaminate hard surfaces and can then be spread by her hand hygiene. We may yet discover that there are other factors at play in this outbreak.

“Since the new coronavirus causes pneumonia, it has been speculated that it may be less easily transmissible than coronaviruses that cause upper respiratory tract infection.”

How can we protect against coronavirus?

“Sensible precautions include: careful attention to hand hygiene with frequent washing and use of hand sanitisers; and 'social distancing' – staying at least a metre away from anyone exhibiting cough or cold symptoms." Dr Richard said.

"In general, face masks are only limited value: there's no point wearing them outdoors, and if worn at all, care must always be taken when handling them after use, so as to avoid contaminating oneself.”

Lizzie Thomson
Freelance writer

With a BA hons in English from the University of Liverpool Lizzie has over 7 years' experience writing all things lifestyle for national titles such as Evening Standard, Woman and Home and the Metro.