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What To Do If You Think You Have Coronavirus

It can be hard to keep up with coronavirus health advice as authorities monitor the evolving outbreak around the world. Here's what you need to know.

Global governments are injecting billions of dollars in healthcare funding to manage its spread, with medical experts trying to learn more about the sickness and how to treat it.

As of Thursday, there are just over 100 confirmed cases in Australia, including three deaths.

But with health messaging being reassessed every day, doctors on the front line and members of the public say advice can often be inconsistent and confusing -- which can potentially lead to panic.

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The evolving coronavirus situation around the world and in Australia continues to be closely monitored and a leading topic of discussion in the media and among our peers.

Here's a simple guide to what we currently know about COVID-19, and what we're being told to help keep ourselves and our loved ones safe. 

What is COVID-19?

COVID-19 is an infectious disease caused by a new strain of coronavirus, a large family of viruses that generally cause mild illness in humans.

The new virus was first identified in the Chinese city of Wuhan in December 2019. It has since spread to hundreds of areas worldwide.

The illness can cause respiratory complications such as pneumonia and, in a small number of cases, death.

People wearing masks in Beijing while coronavirus spreads. Image: AP

What are the symptoms and when will they appear?

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), the most common symptoms of COVID-19 are fever, tiredness and a dry cough. Some patients might have aches and pains, a runny nose, sore throat or diarrhoea.

These symptoms are mild and begin gradually. In more severe cases, the infection can cause pneumonia with severe respiratory distress.

The virus can spread from an infected person to someone they're in close contact with. Small droplets from the nose or mouth are spread by coughing or sneezing, or through contact with dirty hands, surfaces or objects.

Common symptom and in cases of Coronavirus. Image: World Health Organisation.

New scientific evidence shows symptoms can appear roughly five days after a person is exposed to the virus.

That comes from this research -- the largest study of known global cases conducted by John Hopkins University in the U.S. It found the median virus incubation period before symptoms appear is about 5.1 days. About 97 per cent of studied patients who developed COVID-19 symptoms did so within 11.5 days, while a small minority took up to two weeks to show symptoms.

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Who is most at risk of developing the virus, and how serious is it?

People who have been in contact with a person who has COVID-19 along with those who have visited or transited through a higher-risk country are at most risk.

But it's important to remember about 80 per cent of people who develop the virus will experience mild symptoms -- similar to a regular cold or flu -- and will recover without needing special treatment, according to the WHO.

About one in six people might become seriously ill.

Based on current evidence, older people and those with pre-existing conditions -- such as high blood pressure, heart disease, lung disease, cancer or diabetes -- appear to develop more serious illness than others.

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The Australian government has warned other people at higher risk include those with suppressed immune systems, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, those in detention or group residential settings such as aged care homes.

What should I do if I feel unwell or have symptoms of COVID-19?

The current health advice from state and federal authorities is those who have symptoms of COVID-19 and have travelled overseas to another country in the past 14 days should get medical attention.

The Australian government is updating a list of countries and regions which pose a high risk of transmission to travellers arriving in Australia. This includes China, Iran, Italy and South Korea.

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If you have travelled to a higher-risk country in the past 14 days, you should self isolate from others for 14 days from the day you left that country, and monitor for symptoms.

If you develop symptoms in that time, you should call your GP and tell them where they have travelled, or if you have been in contact with a confirmed case.

If your GP tells you they're not equipped to help, you can call the Coronavirus Health Information Line or Healthline direct for advice on what to do next. The federal government has injected an extra $50 million in funding to ensure calls are answered promptly.

If you have more serious symptoms, visit your nearest hospital emergency department.

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Health consults by telephone, Facetime or Skype will also be available from March 13 under Medicare for people in home isolation or quarantine who are at greater risk of developing the virus.

The federal government will also set up 100 'pop-up' respiratory clinics across the country to help doctors safely assess patients.

What about if I'm unwell, but have not travelled overseas?

If you are unwell but have not travelled overseas, authorities say don't panic -- your symptoms could also be cold or flu.

"We are not saying to people who get acute respiratory symptoms -- a cold or flu -- to go and get tested for COVID-19. We are saying that if you've come back from a returning traveller or you've been in contact with someone who has been a confirmed case, then you should be tested," Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy said on Wednesday.

"But other Australians do not need testing, and all they are doing is putting an unnecessary burden on the testing."

Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Chief Medical Officer Professor Brendan Murphy. Image: AAP

What does testing for COVID-19 look like?

Testing can be ordered by your GP, or at a hospital emergency department, and is performed in public health laboratories across Australia.

The government said its pop-clinics will be staffed by doctors and nurses who will see up to 75 people a day over a six month period.

There will now be a dedicated Medicare-funded and bulk-billed pathology test that will check for COVID-19 and the flu.

Here's a behind-the-scenes look at what the test can look like:

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What's next?

If you have been tested for COVID-19, you are also required to self-isolate while you wait for the results. This means you do not go to work or school or to any outings except to see a medical practitioner.

If you need to travel, you are advised to use a car and minimise public transport. If taxis, trains buses or trams cannot be avoided, you are asked to wear a mask, if available, and avoid direct contact with other passengers, drivers and staff.

What else should I do to prevent infection?

Despite case numbers continuing to grow, this advice remains the same -- and is consistent with year-round protection from other infectious diseases.

People are being urged to regularly wash their hands for at least 20 seconds, cough and sneeze into their elbow, and avoid touching their face.

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