Coronavirus: Answering this week's top COVID-19 Google searches

 "Special danger needs special precautions."
"Special danger needs special precautions." Photo credit: Getty

Coronavirus panic has people rushing to their computers and Googling burning questions about the virus sweeping across the globe. 

As the virus spreads, people are growing desperate to understand the ins and outs of the disease - and Newshub is here to answer them.

Google Trends shows the top questions asked this week about COVID-19. 

Most revolve around staying safe amid the outbreak but some are also interested in why people are buying up toilet paper in such vast quantities.

1. Why has Italy got coronavirus so bad?

The outbreak of COVID-19 in Italy is bad - the latest figures from the World Health Organization (WHO) show 631 people have died from the disease and 10149 are infected.

The virus began when a 38-year-old man checked himself into hospital in Lombardy then tested positive for coronavirus. Now the whole country has entered lockdown.

However, health officials believe it's likely the virus was spreading long before it was officially diagnosed.

The country had seen an unusually high number of pneumonia cases according to news site La Repubblica. It's possible patients who were carrying the virus were treated as if they had a seasonal flu - allowing the disease to spread unnoticed.

Italy also has a relatively old population - the virus is thought to affect older people more severely. The aging population of Italy could contribute to the high number of deaths the country has seen.

2. What's with everyone buying toilet paper?

Panic affects people in strange ways - it seems the COVID-19 threat has added a new response to fear. 

Rather than stockpiling necessities like food or medication, it seems people are hoarding huge amounts of toilet paper.

But there is psychological reasoning behind the bizarre purchasing. Clinical psychologist and author of The Psychology of Pandemics Steven Taylor says mixed messages can cause extreme action.

Because the virus is new, people are scared. There's still a lot about COVID-19 which is unknown, and people are unsure how seriously they need to prepare.

"When people are told something dangerous is coming, but all you need to do is wash your hands, the action doesn't seem proportionate to the threat," Taylor told CNN.

"Special danger needs special precautions."

Justin Wolfers, an economic professor from the University of Michigan, says people are panic buying out of fear that others will stockpile and there will be none left when you need it. 

This leads to even more people buying up on necessities.

3. When to get tested for coronavirus? Should I get tested?

There are two factors to take into account when medical professionals decide whether you need to be tested for coronavirus: your symptoms and your history.

The World Health Organization says common signs of COVID-19 infection include:

  • fever
  • a cough
  • shortness of breath
  • breathing difficulties

The Ministry of Health urges anyone displaying the symptoms to call Healthline's dedicated CODIV-19 helpline 0800 358 5453.

If you are having breathing difficulties, seek medical attention.

But the Ministry has stressed that just because you have those symptoms doesn't mean you have COVID-19.

Doctors will also take into consideration the likelihood you have been exposed to the illness when deciding whether to test you for coronavirus. 

This includes people who may have returned from overseas recently, especially from hotspot areas such as China, South Korea and Italy.

Another consideration is if you may have come in contact with a person who is a confirmed case of the virus. 

If you do seek medical attention make sure you call your doctor first. 

4. Where do you get tested for coronavirus? 

If you suspect you have coronavirus, first call the Healthline COVID-19 helpline 0800 358 5453 and self isolate. From there you will be instructed on the best way to get tested.

From there you will be tested by a health professional, likely at a hospital or medical clinic.

A Wellington doctor has also started a petition on which is asking the government to set up "drive-through community-based COVID-19 assessment centres" to relieve the pressure on GPs.

5. When will coronavirus end? 

There is no certain answer for when coronavirus will end, or if it will end.

Professor James McCaw from the University of Melbourne told ABC News it is likely COVID-19 will become a permanent, seasonal disease.

"Just as for [2009 swine flu], the virus will cause a large initial epidemic, perhaps followed by subsequent waves of infection, and then reduce to low levels," he said.

"But it is unlikely to truly disappear, just like seasonal influenza doesn't truly disappear each year.

"This is different to SARS - which we truly eliminated because we successfully controlled it before it could fully establish itself in the human population."

But other experts say the virus will disappear over time.

6. How long does the test for coronavirus take?

Testing for coronavirus may include a blood test as well as an oral swab completed by medical professionals.

While the tests themselves don't take long to administer, it is the waiting for results that may take longer.

While patients wait for their results they must remain in self-isolation and may be required to retake tests to double-check if symptoms persist.

The first case of coronavirus in New Zealand took three tests to confirm it was positive. Other reports say some patients have been tested up to seven times before finally being diagnosed with the virus.

7. Where did coronavirus come from? 

The World Health Organization was first informed of cases of the virus in Wuhan, China on December 21, 2019, where it was believed to have come from a food market.

It was identified as a coronavirus on January 7 and is closely related to SARS disease which broke out in 2002.

8. How long does the virus last on surfaces?

There are a variety of factors which influence how long the virus can stay on surfaces for and new studies are bringing more clarity to the time frame. 

Some of the factors include the type of surface, whether it is exposed to sunlight and the temperature and humidity it is exposed to.

One study that used data from 22 other studies on coronaviruses found they could last on surfaces, at room temperature, for up to nine days.

But research from Germany has said the virus could stay on steel for up to 48 hours, glass and wood for four to five days and plastic for up to nine days.

Microbiologist Dr Siouxsie Wiles wrote for The Spinoff the best way to get rid of the virus from surfaces.

"If you are using a disinfectant make sure it says it is antiviral and follow the instructions. 

"Often, we just end up using a cloth to wipe the microbes around rather than actually letting them sit and stew in the disinfectant first so that it can do its job. Surfaces will need about 10 seconds soaking with the disinfectant for it to work."

She recommended looking out for disinfectants that contain hypochlorite or activated hydrogen peroxide.