By Advertiser health columnist Lucy Dunn

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

The largest-scale, pandemic-like disease outbreak since swine flu, coronavirus is all over the headlines.

Its insidious journey has been tracked from the realms of China right on to our doorstep, with the number of confirmed cases in the UK steadily rising as each day passes.

Coronaviruses are a family of individual viruses, responsible for diseases ranging from the cold to MERS. Like the flu, new strains can emerge: this one is COVID-19 and it causes a viral pneumonia.

READ MORE: Argyll and Bute health officials share advice on coronavirus

Pneumonia affects the lungs: the ‘lower’ part of our breathing system (respiratory tract). A cough, shortness of breath and a fever are indicative of illness, though you do not need to have all these symptoms to be ill.

COVID-19 is a viral pneumonia, different from community-acquired pneumonia – the version more commonly known – which is bacterial. The agents which cause these similar, yet separate, illnesses are different; therefore, the diseases act differently.

In bacterial pneumonia, antibiotics would be used. With coronavirus, antibiotics have no effect on viruses, and cannot treat infected patients.

READ MORE: UK moves to 'delay phase' on coronavirus, chief medic says

Using antibiotics to try and treat suspected coronavirus would have no positive effect, and it may put yourself and others at higher risk of untreatable bacterial infection in the future.

While the mode of tramsnission of COVID-19 is unknown, national measures are currently being put into place to ‘contain, delay, research and mitigate’ the spread of infection.

The mode of transmission of COVID-19 is unknown, but it is thought to be similar to other respiratory viruses, like the cold.

READ MORE: The four phases the UK government is using to fight spread of coronavirus

The single most important thing you can do to prevent the spread of germs is to regularly wash your hands, with soap, for at least 20 entire seconds. It is also important to use a tissue when coughing or sneezing, binning it immediately.

Times of uncertainty breed panic, but it should be remembered that COVID-19 is not a ‘deadly’ virus. There are parts of the population who are at higher risk of severe illness and death, especially elderly people or those with weaker immune systems.

The importance of good hand-washing cannot be emphasised enough: you will protect others’ lives, as well as your own.

READ MORE: Click here for all the latest Helensburgh and Lomond news headlines