How to protect yourself from COVID-19

Find out more about how COVID-19 is spread and how you can protect yourself and others
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Illustration of doctors giving patients vaccines

COVID-19 has affected our lives in many ways. It has changed the way we work and learn, limited the time we can spend with friends and family, and put plans on hold.

Although vaccines have allowed the country to start opening up more, COVID-19 is still here, and people can still get sick. It’s important to continue following COVID-19 safety guidelines, such as keeping your distance, wearing a face covering, and washing your hands.

This will help to prevent the spread of different COVID-19 variants and avoid more people getting sick with COVID-19. People who have not been vaccinated are especially vulnerable to COVID-19.

What is COVID-19?

COVID-19 is also known as the coronavirus. Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that cause illness. These viruses can be transmitted between humans and animals. There is more than one type of coronavirus, including the common cold, but COVID-19 is the most recent.

How does COVID-19 spread?

There are a number of ways that the virus can spread, but the most common way of becoming infected with COVID-19 is by coming into close contact with someone who has the virus. 

Close contact

COVID-19 is spread through small droplets from the nose or mouth that come into the air when a person coughs, sneezes, or exhales, and it can also be passed on by talking loudly, singing or shouting. It’s possible to breathe in these droplets if you are standing close to the person who has the virus, usually when you are within one to two metres from each other.

Staying two metres apart from others can help to reduce the spread of the virus.

If someone has been diagnosed with COVID-19, the HSE will attempt to make contact with everyone that person may have been in close contact with. Close contact includes:

  • Face-to-face contact
  • Spending more than 15 minutes within 2 metres of an infected person
  • Living in the same house as an infected person

Airborne transmission

It is also possible for tiny water particles called aerosols to spread over longer distances. This means COVID-19 can also easily spread in crowded areas, or spaces with poor ventilation (air flow).

It is much safer to meet people outdoors, and indoor spaces should be kept well ventilated by opening windows to air the space out. Avoid stuffy and/or crowded spaces. 

Infected surfaces

If someone who is infected with the virus coughs or sneezes, droplets can also land on objects or surfaces. If you touch these surfaces, and then touch your nose, eyes or mouth, you could catch the virus.

Becoming infected from surface transmission is a lot less common than getting it through close contact, but it is still very important to wash your hands often. Using a household disinfectant can kill the virus on surfaces.

What are the symptoms of COVID-19?

It can take up to two weeks for symptoms of COVID-19 to appear. 

Look out for these symptoms:

  • Fever (high temperature of 38 degrees Celsius or above)
  • A new cough (any kind of cough)
  • Shortness of breath or breathing difficulties
  • A loss or change to your sense of taste or smell – either you can’t taste or smell anything, or things smell or taste different to normal.

You may not have all of these symptoms, and they can take up to 14 days to appear.

If you are very short of breath and cannot complete a sentence, call 999 or 112.

What should I do if I have symptoms?

If you have symptoms of COVID-19, you must self-isolate (stay in your room), and others in your house should restrict their movements

If you have symptoms, you will need to arrange to get tested for COVID-19.

Can I get vaccinated if I have symptoms?

If you are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19, do not attend your vaccination appointment if you have one scheduled. Instead, you will need to contact the service you booked your vaccine through to request a new appointment date. This means contacting the pharmacy if you booked a Janssen vaccine, or your GP if your vaccine was arranged through the local surgery.

If you registered via the HSE vaccine registration portal, you can call HSELive on 1800 700 700 to request a new appointment date.

How to get tested for COVID-19

If you have symptoms of COVID-19, you must self-isolate (stay in your room) and arrange a free COVID-19 test. 

To book your free COVID-19 test, you can:

COVID-19 variants

Viruses have the ability to change through a process called mutation. This creates different variants of the virus. When a new variant emerges, it can sometimes give the virus certain advantages, for example making it easier to transmit or making it easier for it to survive the response from a person’s immune system. This can then increase case numbers of the virus, and make it harder to contain. Variants that have caused concern in Ireland include the British variant or the Delta variant.

What is the Delta variant?

The Delta variant is a highly transmissible variant of COVID-19, which means that it’s very easy to spread. The symptoms of the Delta variant can also be different to the symptoms usually associated with COVID-19.

Delta variant symptoms can include:

  • Headache
  • Sore throat
  • Blocked or runny nose

These symptoms can be similar to a cold or flu, or to hayfever. If you experience these symptoms, you must self-isolate and arrange to get tested. 

How do I protect myself from coronavirus?

There are many things we can all do to prevent the spread of COVID-19:

  • Getting vaccinated is the best way to protect yourself against COVID-19
  • Wear a face mask on public transport, in shops and other indoor settings, and in crowded spaces. Learn more about when to wear a face mask.
  • Wash your hands properly with soap and regularly
  • Use hand sanitiser wherever it is available, and wash your hands fully as soon as you can, particularly after being in public places or on public transport
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve when you cough and sneeze
  • Put used tissues into a bin immediately after use and wash your hands
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces
  • Try to avoid touching your eyes nose and mouth
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