Everything You Should Know About the 2019 Coronavirus and COVID-19

In early 2020, a new virus began generating headlines all over the world because of the unprecedented speed of its transmission.

Its origins have been traced to a food market in Wuhan, China, in December 2019. From there, it’s reached countries as distant as the United States and the Philippines.

The virus (officially named SARS-CoV-2) has been responsible for millions of infections globally, causing hundreds of thousands of deaths. The United States is the country most affected.

The disease caused by an infection with SARS-CoV-2 is called COVID-19, which stands for coronavirus disease 2019.

In spite of the global panic in the news about this virus, you’re unlikely to contract SARS-CoV-2 unless you’ve been in contact with someone who has a SARS-CoV-2 infection.

Let’s bust some myths.

Read on to learn:

how this coronavirus is transmitted
how it’s similar to and different from other coronaviruses
how to prevent transmitting it to others if you suspect you’ve contracted this virus
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What are the symptoms?
Doctors are learning new things about this virus every day. So far, we know that COVID-19 may not initially cause any symptoms for some people.

You may carry the virus for 2 days or up to 2 weeksTrusted Source before you notice symptoms.

Some common symptoms that have been specifically linked to COVID-19 include:

shortness of breath
a cough that gets more severe over time
a low-grade fever that gradually increases in temperature
fatigue
Less common symptoms include:

chills
repeated shaking with chills
sore throat
headache
muscle aches and pains
loss of taste
loss of smell
These symptoms may become more severe in some people. Call emergency medical services if you or someone you care for have any of the following symptoms:

trouble breathing
blue lips or face
persistent pain or pressure in the chest
confusion
excessive drowsiness
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)Trusted Source is still investigating the full list of symptoms.

COVID-19 versus the flu
We’re still learning about whether the 2019 coronavirus is more or less deadly than the seasonal flu.

This is difficult to determine because the number of total cases, including mild cases in people who don’t seek treatment or get tested, is unknown.

However, early evidence suggests that this coronavirus causes more deaths than the seasonal flu.

An estimated 0.04 to 0.2 percentTrusted Source of people who developed the flu during the 2019–2020 flu season in the United States died as of April 4, 2020.

This is compared to about 6 percent of those with a confirmed case of COVID-19 in the United States, according to the CDCTrusted Source.

Here are some common symptoms of the flu:

cough
runny or stuffy nose
sneezing
sore throat
fever
headache
fatigue
chills
body aches
What causes coronaviruses?
Coronaviruses are zoonotic. This means they first develop in animals before being transmitted to humans.

For the virus to be transmitted from animals to humans, a person has to come into close contact with an animal that carries the infection.

Once the virus develops in people, coronaviruses can be transmitted from person to person through respiratory droplets. This is a technical name for the wet stuff that moves through the air when you cough, sneeze, or talk.

The viral material hangs out in these droplets and can be breathed into the respiratory tract (your windpipe and lungs), where the virus can then lead to an infection.

It’s possible that you could acquire SARS-CoV-2 if you touch your mouth, nose, or eyes after touching a surface or object that has the virus on it. However, this is not thought to be the main way that the virus spreads

The 2019 coronavirus hasn’t been definitively linked to a specific animal.

Researchers believe that the virus may have been passed from bats to another animal — either snakes or pangolins — and then transmitted to humans.

This transmission likely occurred in the open food market in Wuhan, China.

Who’s at increased risk?
You’re at high risk for contracting SARS-CoV-2 if you come into contact with someone who’s carrying it, especially if you’ve been exposed to their saliva or been near them when they’ve coughed, sneezed, or talked.

Without taking proper preventive measures, you’re also at high risk if you:

live with someone who has contracted the virus
are providing home care for someone who has contracted the virus
have an intimate partner who has contracted the virus
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Older adults and people with certain health conditions have a higher risk for severe complications if they contract the virus. These health conditions includeTrusted Source:

serious heart conditions, such as heart failure, coronary artery disease, or cardiomyopathies
kidney disease
chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
obesity, which occurs in people with a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or higher
sickle cell disease
a weakened immune system from a solid organ transplant
type 2 diabetes
Pregnant women have a higher risk of complications from other viral infections, but it’s not yet known if this is the case with COVID-19.

The CDCTrusted Source states that pregnant people seem to have the same risk of contracting the virus as adults who aren’t pregnant. However, the CDC also notes that those who are pregnant are at greater risk of getting sick from respiratory viruses compared to those who aren’t pregnant.

Transmitting the virus from mother to child during pregnancy isn’t likely, but the newborn is able to contract the virus after birth.

How are coronaviruses diagnosed?
COVID-19 can be diagnosed similarly to other conditions caused by viral infections: using a blood, saliva, or tissue sample. However, most tests use a cotton swab to retrieve a sample from the inside of your nostrils.

The CDC, some state health departments, and some commercial companies conduct tests. See your state’s health department websiteTrusted Source to find out where testing is offered near you.

On April 21, 2020, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)Trusted Source approved the use of the first COVID-19 home testing kit.

Using the cotton swab provided, people will be able to collect a nasal sample and mail it to a designated laboratory for testing.

The emergency-use authorization specifies that the test kit is authorized for use by people whom healthcare professionals have identified as having suspected COVID-19.

Talk to your doctor right away if you think you have COVID-19 or you notice symptoms.

Your doctor will advise you on whether you should:

stay home and monitor your symptoms
come into the doctor’s office to be evaluated
go to the hospital for more urgent care
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What treatments are available?
There’s currently no treatment specifically approved for COVID-19, and no cure for an infection, although treatments and vaccines are currently under study.

Instead, treatment focuses on managing symptoms as the virus runs its course.

Seek medical help if you think you have COVID-19. Your doctor will recommend treatment for any symptoms or complications that develop and let you know if you need to seek emergency treatment.

Other coronaviruses like SARS and MERS are also treated by managing symptoms. In some cases, experimental treatments have been tested to see how effective they are.

Examples of therapies used for these illnesses include:

antiviral or retroviral medications
breathing support, such as mechanical ventilation
steroids to reduce lung swelling
blood plasma transfusions
What are the possible complications from COVID-19?
The most serious complication of COVID-19 is a type of pneumonia that’s been called 2019 novel coronavirus-infected pneumonia (NCIP).

Results from a 2020 study of 138 people admitted into hospitals in Wuhan, China, with NCIP found that 26 percent of those admitted had severe cases and needed to be treated in the intensive care unit (ICU).

About 4.3 percent of the people who were admitted to the ICU died from this type of pneumonia.

It should be noted that people who were admitted to the ICU were on average older and had more underlying health conditions than people who didn’t go to the ICU.

So far, NCIP is the only complication specifically linked to the 2019 coronavirus. Researchers have seen the following complications in people who have developed COVID-19:

acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS)
irregular heart rate (arrhythmia)
cardiovascular shock
severe muscle pain (myalgia)
fatigue
heart damage or heart attack
multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C), also known as pediatric multisystem inflammatory syndrome (PMIS)
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How can you prevent coronaviruses?
The best way to prevent the transmission of infection is to avoid or limit contact with people who are showing symptoms of COVID-19 or any respiratory infection.

The next best thing you can do is practice good hygiene and physical distancing to prevent bacteria and viruses from being transmitted.

Prevention tips
Wash your hands frequently for at least 20 seconds at a time with warm water and soap. How long is 20 seconds? About as long as it takes to sing your “ABCs.”
Don’t touch your face, eyes, nose, or mouth when your hands are dirty.
Don’t go out if you’re feeling sick or have any cold or flu symptoms.
Stay at least 6 feetTrusted Source (2 meters) away from people.
Cover your mouth with a tissue or the inside of your elbow whenever you sneeze or cough. Throw away any tissues you use right away.
Clean any objects you touch a lot. Use disinfectants on objects like phones, computers, and doorknobs. Use soap and water for objects that you cook or eat with, like utensils and dishware.
Should you wear a mask?
If you’re out in a public setting where it’s difficult to follow physical distancing guidelines, the CDCTrusted Source recommends that you wear a cloth face mask that covers your mouth and nose.

When worn correctly, and by large percentages of the public, these masks can help to slow the transmission of SARS-CoV-2.

That’s because they can block the respiratory droplets of people who may be asymptomatic or people who have the virus but have gone undiagnosed.

Respiratory droplets get into the air when you:

exhale
talk
cough
sneeze
You can make your own mask using basic materials such as:

a bandana
a T-shirt
cotton fabric
The CDC provides instructionsTrusted Source for making a mask with scissors or with a sewing machine.

Cloth masks are preferred for the general public since other types of masks should be reserved for healthcare workers.

It’s critical to keep the mask clean. Wash it after each time you use it. Avoid touching the front of it with your hands. Also, try to avoid touching your mouth, nose, and eyes when you remove it.

This prevents you from possibly transferring the virus from a mask to your hands and from your hands to your face.

Keep in mind that wearing a mask isn’t a replacement for other preventive measures, such as frequent handwashing and practicing physical distancing. All of them are important.

Certain people shouldn’t wear face masks, including:

children under 2 years old
people who have trouble breathing
people who are unable to remove their own masks
What are the other types of coronaviruses?
A coronavirus gets its name from the way it looks under a microscope.

The word corona means “crown.”

When examined closely, the round virus has a “crown” of proteins called peplomers jutting out from its center in every direction. These proteins help the virus identify whether it can infect its host.

The condition known as severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) was also linked to a highly infectious coronavirus back in the early 2000s. The SARS virus has since been contained.

COVID-19 vs. SARS
This isn’t the first time a coronavirus has made news. The 2003 SARS outbreak was also caused by a coronavirus.

As with the 2019 virus, the SARS virus was first found in animals before it was transmitted to humans.

The SARS virus is thought to have come from batsTrusted Source and was transferred to another animal and then to humans.

Once transmitted to humans, the SARS virus began spreading quickly among people.

What makes the new coronavirus so newsworthy is that a treatment or cure hasn’t yet been developed to help prevent its rapid transmission from person to person.

SARS has been successfully contained.

What’s the outlook?
First and foremost, don’t panic. You don’t need to be quarantined unless you suspect you have contracted the virus or have a confirmed test result.

Following simple handwashing and physical distancing guidelines are the best ways to help protect yourself from being exposed to the virus.

The 2019 coronavirus probably seems scary when you read the news about new deaths, quarantines, and travel bans.

Stay calm and follow your doctor’s instructions if you’re diagnosed with COVID-19 so you can recover and help prevent it from being transmitted.

Read this article in Spanish.

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Last medically reviewed on June 1, 2020

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