What is COVID-19?

Apr 1 2020

"I’ve been working in this field for about 20 years and this is the most extraordinary pandemic I have ever seen or been involved with" - Professor Josh Davis.

COVID-19 belongs to the family of coronaviruses. Around seven coronaviruses already circulate in society and cause a common cold.

We spoke to three HMRI expert researchers and clinicians who are working with COVID-19, to find out more about the virus.

Professor Peter Wark is a respiratory clinician and a member of the VIVA research team at HMRI.  “We have had viruses similar to this that have circulated over the years, but this particular virus has managed to adapt and move into human populations.”

Professor Josh Davis is an infectious disease physician and researcher with more than 20 years experience in the field, he’s also President of the Australian Society for Infectious Diseases. He’s at the frontline of COVID-19 and notes, “This is the most extraordinary pandemic that I’ve been involved with. This one is different because no one in the world is immune to it – and it’s very infectious.” 

Associate Professor Nathan Bartlett's research focuses on the common cold and other viruses, and he notes what is unique about COVID-19. “It’s only been in recent years that we understand that these coronaviruses can cause very severe disease.” Associate Professor Bartlett and his team are currently focusing on a drug delivery solution that will target the COVID-19 virus providing better treatment options for patients.

As we have seen with the rapid spread of the disease, it is a virus that is reasonably effective at being transmitted from one person to another.  And while it causes mild or even no symptoms in many people, in a small number of people it can cause a severe response that can lead to hospitalisation. For around 5% or these, this will lead to intensive care.

We know that people who are older are at greater risk, and that risk starts to go up from aged 60 onwards. Those with a chronic medical conditions such as diabetes, cancer or cardiovascular disease are also at greater risk as well. However, anyone can get this illness and the results can be serious.

COVID-19 is very infectious, so follow the Federal Government’s health advice and help keep our communities safe.

For up to date information and advice about the current COVID-19 situation please visit the Australian Government Department of HealthNSW Health and World Health Organisation websites.

To stay informed with what HMRI is doing and our community information campaign, click here to sign up for updates.