What is COVID-19?
Coronavirus disease 2019, or “COVID-19,” is an infection caused by a specific virus called SARS-CoV-2. It first appeared in late 2019 in the city of Wuhan, China. People with COVID-19 can have fever, cough, and trouble breathing. Problems with breathing happen when the infection affects the lungs and causes pneumonia. Experts are studying this virus and will continue to learn more about it over time.
How is COVID-19 spread?
COVID-19 mainly spreads from person to person, similar to the flu. This usually happens when a sick person coughs or sneezes near other people. Doctors also think it might be possible to get sick if you touch a surface that has the virus on it and then touch your mouth, nose, or eyes.
COVID-19 began in China. But it has spread quickly, and there are cases in many other countries, too, including the United States. Most of these happened when people got the infection and then traveled to another country. But in some cases, the virus then spreads to other people. Because of this, there are now smaller outbreaks in several different countries.
What are the symptoms of COVID-19?
Symptoms usually start a few days after a person is infected with the virus. But in some people it can take even longer for symptoms to appear.
Symptoms can include:
• Feeling tired
• Trouble breathing
• Muscle aches
Most people have mild symptoms. Some people have no symptoms at all. But in other people, COVID-19 can lead to serious problems like pneumonia, not getting enough oxygen, or even death. This is more common in people who are older or have other health problems.
While children can get COVID-19, they seem less likely to have severe symptoms.
Should I see a doctor or nurse?
If you have a fever, cough, or trouble breathing and might have been exposed to COVID-19, call your doctor or nurse. You might have been exposed if any of the following happened within the last 14 days:
• You had close contact with a person who has the virus – This generally means being within about 6 feet of the person.
• You lived in, or traveled to, an area where lots of people have the virus – The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has information about which areas are affected. This can be found on the CDC website.
• You went to an event or location where there were known cases of COVID-19 – For example, if multiple people got sick after a specific gathering or in your workplace, you might have been exposed.
If your symptoms are not severe, it is best to call your doctor, nurse, or clinic before you go in. They can tell you what to do and whether you need to be seen in person. If you do need to go to the clinic or hospital, you will need to put on a face mask. The staff might also have you wait some place away from other people.
If you are severely ill and need to go to the clinic or hospital right away, you should still call ahead. This way the staff can care for you while taking steps to protect others.
Your doctor or nurse will do an exam and ask about your symptoms. They will also ask questions about any recent travel and whether you have been around anyone who might be sick.
Will I need tests?
If your doctor or nurse suspects you have COVID-19, they will take samples of fluid from inside your nose and mouth and send them to a lab for testing. These tests can show if you have COVID-19 or another infection. Currently COVID-19 test kits are only available in limited quantities.
Your doctor might also order a chest X-ray or computed tomography (CT) scan to check your lungs.
How is COVID-19 treated?
Most people with COVID-19 have only mild illness and can rest at home until they get better. If you have more severe illness, you might need to stay in the hospital, possibly in the intensive care unit (also called the “ICU”). While you are there, you will most likely be in a special “isolation” room. Only medical staff will be allowed in the room, and they will have to wear special gowns, gloves, masks, and eye protection.
There is no specific treatment for COVID-19, but the doctors and nurses in the hospital can monitor and support your breathing and other body functions and make you as comfortable as possible.
You might need extra oxygen to help you breathe easily. If you are having a very hard time breathing, you might need to be put on a ventilator. This is a machine to help you breathe.
Can COVID-19 be prevented?
There are things you can do to reduce your chances of getting COVID-19. These steps are a good idea for everyone, but especially for people age 65 years or older or who have other health problems:
• Wash your hands with soap and water often. This is especially important after being in public and touching other people or surfaces. The table has instructions on how to wash your hands to prevent spreading illness.
• Avoid touching your face with your hands, especially your mouth, nose, or eyes.
• Try to stay away from people who have any symptoms of the infection.
• Avoid crowds if possible. If you live in an area where there have been cases of COVID-19, try to stay home as much as you can.
• Some experts recommend avoiding travel to certain countries where there are a lot of cases of COVID-19.
Experts do not recommend wearing a face mask if you are not sick, unless you are caring for someone who has (or might have) COVID-19.
If someone in your home has COVID-19, there are additional things you can do to protect yourself:
• Keep the sick person away from others – The sick person should stay in a separate room and use a separate
bathroom if possible.
• Use face masks – The sick person should wear a face mask when they are in the same room as other people. If you are caring for the sick person, you can also protect yourself by wearing a face mask when you are in the room. This is especially important if the sick person cannot wear a mask.
• Be extra careful around body fluids – If you will be in contact with the sick person’s blood, mucus, or other body fluids, wear a disposable face mask, gown, and gloves. If any body fluids touch your skin, wash your hands with soap right away.
• Clean often – It’s especially important to clean things that are touched a lot. This includes counters, bedside tables, doorknobs, computers, phones, and bathroom surfaces. Some cleaning products work well to kill bacteria, but not viruses, so it’s important to check labels. The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has a list of products here.
• Wash hands – Wash your hands with soap and water often.
There is not yet a vaccine to prevent COVID-19.