**** UNDER REVIEW **** Frequently Asked Questions for the General Public

Section 1. General information about COVID-19

 

 

 

 

Q. What is COVID-19?

COVID-19 is a disease caused by a virus called SARS-CoV-2. SARS-CoV-2 belongs to the family of viruses known as coronaviruses and was first identified in the Wuhan province of China in December 2019. Coronaviruses are viruses that circulate among animals but some coronaviruses can also infect humans. SARS-CoV-2 stands for Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus-2.

Q. What is a variant?

Viruses constantly change and this is a normal occurrence. A variant means a virus has undergone one or more genetic changes also known as mutations. Most of these changes do not have a significant impact on the spread of a virus. However, some mutations can allow a virus to spread more easily and/or can reduce the effectiveness of the vaccines. Sometimes new variants emerge and disappear, other times new variants persist.

Multiple (mutations) of the virus that causes COVID-19 have been identified some of which are of particular concern, (variants of concern (VOC’s) e.g. Delta and Omicron, because of their increased transmissibility and the increased numbers of cases of COVID-19 seen in areas where they were initially identified. These are known as variants of concern.

HPSC produce a report on virus variant data which can be found here.

Q. What are the symptoms of COVID-19?

    The most common symptoms of COVID-19 are:

    • Fever
    • Dry cough
    • Fatigue

        Other symptoms that are less common and may affect some patients include:

        • Loss of taste or smell,
        • Nasal congestion,
        • Conjunctivitis (also known as red eyes)
        • Sore throat,
        • Headache,
        • Muscle or joint pain,
        • Different types of skin rash,
        • Nausea or vomiting,
        • Diarrhea,
        • Chills or dizziness.

        Symptoms of severe COVID‐19 disease may include shortness of breath, loss of appetite, confusion, persistent pain or pressure in the chest, high temperature (above 38 °C).

        If you have any new symptoms, even if mild, do not attend work or school, and limit contact with others until 48 hours after symptoms have substantially or fully resolved.

        If you are concerned that your condition is deteriorating, or that you may be at high-risk of severe disease, please contact your GP who will provide clinical assessment and arrange testing for COVID-19 and for other infections if appropriate.

        Q. How does COVID-19 spread?

        The virus that causes COVID-19 (SARS-CoV-2) is present in fluids in the mouth nose and airways of an infectious person. The virus spreads from person to person mainly through the air- as an infectious person breathes, blows, speaks, shouts or sings the virus is dispersed into the air as liquid particles. If these particles come in contact with another person’s nose, mouth, or eyes there is a risk that person might catch Coronavirus. This can also occur by mouth to mouth contact, for example by kissing. The virus spreads more easily in overcrowded poorly ventilated places where people for example cannot socially distance. To reduce this risk, it is advised spaces are adequately ventilated, social distancing is optimised and good respiratory hygiene and cough etiquette is maintained. The virus can also be spread indirectly as a result of getting the respiratory fluids of an infected person onto your hands or other surfaces and then touching your mouth, nose, or eyes. To reduce this risk, it is important we clean our hands regularly, avoid touching our face, and regularly clean (and disinfect when necessary) frequently touched surfaces.

        Q. Does that mean that the virus is spread on air?

        Yes, the virus can be spread on air when it is expelled from respiratory tract (the mouth, nose and upper airways) of an infected person and enters the respiratory tract of another person.

        The risk can be reduced by ensuring there is adequate ventilation in indoor spaces, by meeting outdoors, and by minimising the length of time we are in contact with each other.

        Q. Can the virus survive on surfaces and objects like door handles or pens?

        If the respiratory liquid particles of an infectious person land on a surface such as a table or door handle then these surfaces or items can become contaminated. If another person comes along and touches these surfaces and then touches their eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands they can become infected with the virus. The virus has been found to survive on some surfaces up to 72 hours after landing on it. Generally, SARS-CoV-2 virus can survive for up to 72 hours on plastic and stainless steel, less than 4 hours on copper, and less than 24 hours on cardboard.

        To reduce the risk of transmission we should clean our hands regularly, avoid touching our face, and regularly clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces. The use of a general purpose household detergent for cleaning surfaces is generally sufficient.

         

         

         

         

         

        Section 2. Measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19

         

         

         

         

        Q. What can I do to protect myself and others from the virus?

        The following measures are important in order to protect others and yourself from the virus. These apply if you are in high risk and very high risk groups:

        • Get vaccinated and have your booster dose when eligible. Vaccination offers the best protection against severe disease and hospitalisation for you, your family and for others
        • Stay at home and limit contacts if you develop symptoms of COVID-19 until 48 hours after your symptoms have substantially or fully resolved.
        • If you have been diagnosed with COVID-19 you should stay at home for 7 days and limit contact with others from date of onset of symptoms until 48 hours after symptoms have substantially or fully resolved. Additional protective measures for those who have exited isolation at home after day 7 (up to day 10) are advised.
        • Clean your hands thoroughly and regularly.
        • Demonstrate good respiratory hygiene and cough etiquette.
        • Wearing a face covering/mask is no longer mandatory, however, anyone who wishes to continue to wear a mask should not be discouraged from doing so. Mask wearing is also advised based on individual risk assessment.
        • When meeting indoors, avoid poorly ventilated spaces and keep windows open. Please see here for further information.
        • People who are at very high risk or high risk of severe COVID-19 can follow the general public health guidance that applies to everyone once they have vaccine protection. Those who are unable to be vaccinated may have to take extra precautions.
        Q. Can I transmit the virus to other people when I have no symptoms?

        Yes, available information indicates that infected people can transmit the virus when they are both symptomatic (showing symptoms) and when they are asymptomatic (showing no symptoms). It is essential that anyone who is showing symptoms suggestive of COVID-19 (even if they have completed their primary vaccination schedule and received their booster dose) stay at home and limit contacts, until 48 hours after symptoms have substantially or fully resolved. This includes not going to work.

        Q. Are there certain situations or places where the risk of spread of SARS CoV-2 is higher?

        Yes, there are certain situations where the virus is more likely to spread from one person to another. These include indoor settings, especially where there are high numbers present or crowding, and poor ventilation. Ensuring adequate and appropriate ventilation may reduce some of this risk.

        Q. Are there ways to reduce the risk of viruses spreading when indoors?

        As crowded poorly ventilated spaces, especially indoor spaces, may increase the risk of transmission, it is important ventilation is improved in all such spaces by introducing more fresh air. When meeting indoors, avoid poorly ventilated spaces and keep windows open. You can find more information in our ventilation guidance here.

        Q. How can you improve ventilation in indoor spaces?

        Room ventilation can be improved either naturally by opening windows and external doors or by mechanical means (e.g. central air-conditioning unit). Guidance on ventilation is available here.

        Q. Does everyone who comes in contact with an infectious person develop symptoms?

        No not necessarily, some people may have no symptoms, others may develop only mild symptoms and some people can become seriously ill.

        Q. How long after being in contact with someone who has COVID 19 and is infectious before I might get symptoms?

        The time between exposure to the virus and development of symptoms of disease (e.g. cough, fever, shortness of breath, loss or alteration of taste, loss of sense of smell) is known as the incubation period. The incubation period for COVID-19 is generally about 5-6 days, however, it can be up to 14 days. It is now known that during the incubation period, those who are infected can spread the virus to other people. Transmission of the virus before any symptoms (pre-symptomatic) can occur. This transmission can happen 1-3 days before onset of symptoms.

        Q. Are some people more at risk of becoming very ill with COVID 19 than others?

        Anyone can get COVID-19 but some people are at higher risk of getting seriously ill if they get COVID-19. There are two levels of risk: high risk and very high risk. A list of those at high and very high risk is available on the HSE website, as well as advice on the public health guidelines you should follow if you are in these risk categories.

         

         

         

         

         

        Section 3. Testing

         

         

         

         

        Q. What is the latest advice on COVID-19 testing?

        Testing for COVID-19 is no longer available for the general population. If you are at high-risk of developing severe disease, or you believe your condition is at risk of deteriorating, you may contact your GP who will provide clinical assessment and arrange testing for COVID-19 and for other infections if appropriate.

        Healthcare workers are no longer advised to undergo testing if symptomatic, however they should follow the latest guidance as it applies to the general population.

        You can find the latest guidance on testing for COVID-19 here.

         

         

         

         

        Section 4. Vaccine

         

         

         

         

        Q. Where can I find more information on COVID-19 vaccination?

        Vaccines are the safest way to prevent infectious diseases. They teach your immune system (your body's natural defences) how to protect you from a specific virus. Booster doses are recommended to extend the protection of COVID-19 vaccines.

        For more information on COVID-19 vaccination in Ireland please see here

        Q. Can I get COVID-19 after vaccination?

        Although all the COVID-19 vaccines authorised for use in Ireland have been proven to be highly effective in reducing the risk of severe disease or hospitalisation, they do not prevent all infection.

        The World Health Organisation released a video on 13/08/21 describing how this can occur.
        Episode #49 - Can I get infected after vaccination? (who.int)

        Q. Is one vaccine more effective than another?

        The investigation of COVID-19 vaccine effectiveness, and vaccine effectiveness against new virus variants, is an area undergoing continuous international research with new evidence emerging over time.

        HPSC will report Irish data on breakthrough infections and vaccine effectiveness to www.HPSC.ie as it becomes available.

        For more information see:

        HPSC produce a report on vaccination status here.

        Q. Do vaccinated individuals still need to follow personal protective measures?

        All individuals are advised to continue to observe all recommended public health and physical measures. These include, the use of masks (where required), good respiratory and hand hygiene and when meeting indoors, avoid poorly ventilated spaces and keep windows open. These measures are key to reducing transmission of SARS-CoV-2..

        Q. Are vaccinated individuals protected from COVID-19 and how long are they protected?

        It is not fully known to what extent individuals, who have completed their primary and booster vaccines, will be protected from COVID-19 or for how long they will be protected. The impact that vaccination has on transmission is not yet known. It is known that COVID-19 vaccines are shown to be effective at keeping people from becoming seriously ill and thus reducing the risk of hospitalisation even if they do get COVID-19. Therefore, people of all ages should get their primary and booster vaccines, and additional booster doses if they are offered

        You will be offered additional booster vaccines if you are:

        • Over the age of 50
        • Pregnant (from 16 weeks)
        • Aged 12 or over with a condition that puts you at a high risk of serious illness from COVID-19

        You can find more information on vaccination for COVID-19 here.

        Q. What is a COVID-19 booster vaccine dose?

        Booster doses are administered to a vaccinated population that has completed a primary vaccination schedule (two doses of a two dose vaccine schedule or one dose of a one dose vaccine schedule) or after an extended primary schedule. When with time the immunity and protection has fallen below a rate deemed sufficient in that population (this is known as waning immunity). The objective of a booster dose is to restore vaccine effectiveness from that deemed no longer sufficient. Booster doses are strongly recommended for those eligible.

        Additional booster doses (any further booster doses administered after the first booster dose) are currently being offered to certain groups of people, including those aged over 50 years old, pregnant women and people with a condition that puts them at a high risk of serious illness from COVID-19.

        An additional vaccination dose may be needed as part of an extended primary schedule for targeted populations where the immune response rate following the standard primary schedule is deemed insufficient. The objective of an additional dose in the primary schedule is to optimise and enhance the immune response to establish a sufficient level of effectiveness against disease.

        Q. How do I get my booster dose(s)?

        You can choose to:

        • Book a vaccine appointment on a day and time that suits you
        • Go to a walk-in booster clinic
        • Call HSELive for an appointment on 1800 700 700)

        Some people may also be able to get a booster dose from their GP or a participating pharmacy.

        You can get your COVID-19 booster and flu vaccine at the same time.

         

         

         

        Section 5. Returning to work, school or creche

         

         

         

         

        Q. Can I return to work if I still have symptoms?

        If you have symptoms of COVID-19, or other viral respiratory tract infection regardless of vaccination status, you should stay at home and limit contact with others until 48 hours after symptoms have substantially or fully resolved. Please see here for more information.

        Q. Can my child return to school or creche if they have symptoms?

        Children can return to school or crèche 48 hours after their symptoms have fully or substantially resolved. Please note children can have persistent minor symptoms e.g. a cough. However, if all new or acute symptoms have substantially or fully resolved, children can return to school or crèche. If their condition significantly deteriorates, please contact your GP for further advice.

         

         

         

         

        Other

         

         

         

         

        Q. What if I'm pregnant or breastfeeding?

        General information related to COVID-19 for pregnant women can be found here. Information related to vaccination for those who are pregnant or breastfeeding can be found here and here.

         

         

         

         

        Last updated: 04 November 2022