You likely can’t escape news stories about the COVID-19 coronavirus, which the World Health Organization (WHO) has labeled a pandemic. While you likely don’t need to worry, it’s good to be informed so you can help stop the spread of the virus. Since this is a new disease, you likely have lots of questions about it. Many of the common questions about coronavirus are answered here, though there is still a lot scientists don’t know about this disease.
Method 1 of 3:
Basic Disease Information
What is a coronavirus? The term “coronavirus” refers to a large family of viruses that make people sick. Most of these viruses cause the common cold and are very prevalent. Less common strains of coronavirus also cause Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), which are serious variations of the virus. COVID-19 is a new, rare type of coronavirus that began in Wuhan, China in December of 2019.
COVID-19 is a new coronavirus, meaning that it hasn’t been seen in people before.
COVID-19 itself is a respiratory syndrome, meaning that it causes you to have difficulty breathing. In some cases, it can cause pneumonia.
What are the symptoms of COVID-19? Most people who get COVID-19 have few to no symptoms. You might think you have a cold or the flu and be better in a few days. However, up to 1 in 5 people who get coronavirus will become seriously ill and may have trouble breathing. Symptoms to watch for include:
Shortness of breath
Tip: If you have these symptoms but have not been in close contact with anyone who has COVID-19, you probably just have a cold or the flu. However, it’s still a good idea to isolate yourself until your symptoms have passed.
If you get COVID-19, are you going to die? Not likely. Although COVID-19 seems to be more deadly than more common diseases, such as the flu, the fatality rate has been estimated to be around 3.4% as of March 2020. Most cases are mild, but patients who are elderly or already battling a chronic disease or condition typically get hit the hardest.
Around 81% of all cases of COVID-19 don’t result in pneumonia or only mild pneumonia.
Compared to SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome), another coronavirus, COVID-19 is more easily transmissible but not nearly as deadly.
Where did COVID-19 come from? COVID-19 was first identified in Wuhan City, Hubei Province, China in 2019. Although the first infections were linked to a live animal market, the disease is now spread person to person.
Can you get COVID-19 from products shipped from China? Not likely. Although a lot is unknown about COVID-19, it doesn’t appear that the virus can survive on dry surfaces, such as paper, plastic, or cardboard. Any products shipped from China should be safe to use without risk of contracting the disease.
Even if someone with COVID-19 had coughed or sneezed on products before shipping them, it is unlikely that the virus would survive through the shipping process to infect another person.
How can I fight the stigma associated with COVID-19? Help educate those around you about the fact that, although COVID-19 might have first been discovered in China, the disease itself doesn’t target specific races of people, nor are particular races more likely to get it than others. In fact, countries across the world, including most of Europe and the United States, have confirmed cases of coronavirus. It affects people of diverse populations, and anyone can catch it.
Chinese and Asian people who you meet are no more likely to be infected than someone of any other race, unless they recently returned from China or were around someone who is sick.
Tell people that the disease is spread person to person through close contact. Even though the disease originated in China, you’re not at risk of getting the disease if you, for example, go to a Chinese restaurant or shop at a Chinese-owned business.
Will the COVID-19 outbreak stop when the weather gets warmer? Many viruses, such as the flu, do not spread as rapidly in spring and summer months. However, since COVID-19 is a new virus, scientists don’t yet know what will happen once the weather gets warmer. While you can speculate that the threat would dissipate with warmer temperatures, no one knows for sure if that will happen.
Even if the virus does dissipate with warmer weather, there is also a chance it could return when the weather cools again in the fall and winter.
Method 2 of 3:
What should I do if I think I’m sick with COVID-19? Call your doctor if you have fever, cough, and shortness of breath and have recently returned from travel or come into contact with an infected person. Tell them you suspect you may have COVID-19 and ask your doctor what to do. They will likely tell you to either stay home and isolate yourself or go to an isolated medical setting for testing. State public health labs and the CDC are handling all testing as of March 2020, and there could be a backlog in your area.
Call ahead to your doctor or to a hospital and let them know that you want to come in and you suspect you have COVID-19. Giving them this warning will allow them to make preparations so you don’t spread the disease to others if you do have it.
If you have a medical emergency, let emergency responders know when you call them that you suspect you have COVID-19 so they can also take precautions. They will likely isolate you in a negative pressure room so it’s less likely the virus will infect others.
If you are outside the United States, your national health agency or the WHO will likely manage testing in your area.
How is someone diagnosed with COVID-19? In the United States, your state public health lab or the CDC will confirm a COVID-19 infection. Outside the United States, your national health agency or the WHO will determine if you are infected. If your doctor thinks you might have COVID-19, they will take samples of fluid from your nose and mouth. That fluid will be sent to a state or national lab to test for COVID-19. They might also test fluid from your lungs, or test your urine or stool to determine if you have any other infections.
If you have pneumonia or difficulty breathing, your doctor might order X-rays of your lungs.
Diagnostic testing for COVID-19 is limited. For example, in the US, only state public health labs or the CDC can conduct the proper tests. Your doctor will likely designate you as a person under investigation (PUI) and keep you isolated until the test results return. Since state labs are now helping with testing, results are available faster than they were at the start of the outbreak.
Do you have to stay in the hospital if you have COVID-19? Not necessarily. More severe cases require hospitalization. However, most people who contract COVID-19 can stay in their homes, as long as they self-isolate. Your doctor will let you know if you can go home or if you need to be hospitalized. Either way, you will need to be quarantined so you won’t spread the virus.
Your state public health department will tell you when it’s okay for you to leave quarantine. They’ll track you throughout your recovery to make sure you’re getting better and aren’t exposing others to the virus.
You may need to go to the hospital if your lungs stop working on their own and you need a ventilator to help you breathe. Hospitals can also supply you with extra oxygen, which makes it easier for you to breathe on your own.
If you feel more comfortable staying in the hospital than going home, let your doctor know. For example, you might be concerned about spreading the disease to your family if you return home.
Continue to monitor your symptoms if you’re staying at home. If your symptoms become more severe, call your doctor as soon as possible.
What medications are available for COVID-19? As of March 2020, there is no specific medication that is approved to treat COVID-19. Pharmaceutical companies and research organizations are conducting trials of antiviral drugs to treat the disease. However, it is unlikely that a drug will be available for human use before the end of 2020.
Several organizations are also working on developing a potential vaccine for the disease. However, it’s not known when a vaccine would be available to the public.
You can take over-the-counter medications to relieve your fever and other symptoms of COVID-19. Just keep in mind that these medications are only relieving the symptoms themselves — they are not treating the virus
Warning: Monitor your symptoms while taking over-the-counter drugs and call your doctor if they seem to be getting worse or if they don’t improve despite taking over-the-counter drugs.
How can I keep from spreading COVID-19 to others? If your doctor has confirmed that you have COVID-19, or if you are suspected of having COVID-19, isolate yourself from others. Stay at home except when you’re going to get medical care. When you go to the doctor, always wear a facemask and avoid using public transportation, ride-sharing, or taxis. While at home, take the following precautions:
Stay in a separate room from everyone else and use a separate bathroom if possible.
Basic surgical masks help prevent the spread of the virus by stopping the wearer from exposing others to coughing or sneezing. If you are sick, wear a surgical mask when you are around others if possible.
If you have not tested positive and have no reason to suspect you have been exposed, wearing a mask or respirator in public is not recommended, but be sure to keep 6 feet away from others and do not leave home unnecessarily.
Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Immediately throw the tissue into a trashcan and wash your hands.
Don’t share household utensils, towels, bedding, or clothing with other members of your household.
Monitor your symptoms and call your doctor if your symptoms worsen.
How can you tell when COVID-19 has run its course? Typically, symptoms will be relatively mild, so it can be difficult to know for sure exactly when you’re no longer contagious. Your public health department will monitor you while you’re in quarantine and tell you when you’re clear to leave your home or the hospital. Once your symptoms are gone for at least 24 hours, they’ll test you to see if you still have the virus.
Don’t leave your quarantine until the public health department confirms that it’s safe for you to do so. They may keep you in quarantine for several days after you’re no longer symptomatic just in case.
Method 3 of 3:
Preventing COVID-19 Infection
How can I protect myself from COVID-19? The best way to protect yourself from COVID-19 is to avoid being around people who are sick with the disease. However, if the person is asymptomatic, you may have no way of knowing if they have the disease until you’ve already contracted the virus. Other steps you can take to minimize your exposure include:
Washing your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and water after going to the bathroom, before eating, and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing
Distancing yourself from others and spending most of your time at home
Touching your eyes, nose, and mouth as little as possible
Staying home if you are sick (even if you just have a common cold)
Cleaning and disinfecting all surfaces that are frequently touched in your household at least once a day
Covering your cough or sneeze with a tissue and immediately throwing the tissue in the trash
What should I do if I can’t avoid someone with COVID-19? If you’re caring for a sick family member, you may not have the luxury of simply staying away from anyone who has the disease. Wear disposable gloves and a respirator at all times when you’re in the same room as the person who is sick.
Avoid touching the person’s bodily fluids. If you wash a sick person’s clothing, sheets, blankets, or towels, wear disposable gloves and don’t let them touch your clothing or skin while they’re dirty.
Throw away disposable gloves immediately after using them and wash your hands thoroughly. While wearing disposable gloves, don’t touch any part of your body, especially your face or your eyes.
Even if you are just caring for a sick person, you should be sure to self isolate for 14 days since you may be able to carry and spread the virus even if you have no symptoms.
What’s the difference between a respirator and a surgical mask? A surgical mask, or facemask, is meant to protect the surrounding environment from your respiratory issues. In contrast, a respirator protects you from anything in the environment. A respirator is thicker and fits more tightly than the facemasks you might be familiar with, ubiquitous in China and other Asian countries.
Regular surgical facemasks are not effective for preventing COVID-19 for someone who has not tested positive. Only N95 facemasks can help protect you, and these are in limited supply. Only medical professionals who are treating people who are infected should be using N95 masks during the outbreak.
What if I come into contact with someone who has COVID-19? If you are in close contact with someone who you know has COVID-19, call your doctor immediately. They will likely advise you to isolate yourself for 14 days. If you don’t get any symptoms within that 14-day period, your doctor will likely conclude that you don’t have the disease.
If you’ve only recently been exposed to COVID-19, any diagnostic test might come back negative. Typically, your doctor will advise you to wait a couple of days before coming in for testing, unless you are already showing symptoms.
How long should I isolate myself if I’m exposed to COVID-19? COVID-19 has an incubation period of 14 days. Generally, this means that if you’re exposed to COVID-19, you could get sick from the virus up to two weeks after you were first exposed. Quarantine yourself and notify your doctor that you may need to be tested. From there, the public health department will monitor your progress and tell you when it’s safe to leave quarantine.
Even if you do get sick during that 14-day period, it might not necessarily be related to COVID-19. You could get sick because of something else.
If 14 days pass and you don’t show any signs of illness, this generally means that you’re no longer at risk for getting sick from COVID-19 or passing the illness on to others.
Warning: It may be possible to spread COVID-19 even while you don’t have symptoms if you’ve been infected. Take precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19 if you’ve been exposed to the virus, even if you don’t have any symptoms.
Should I wear a facemask in public to keep from getting COVID-19? Facemasks aren’t recommended for the general public, and may not protect you from COVID-19. You should only wear a facemask in public if you are symptomatic.
Generally, a facemask is designed to protect the public from you — not to protect you from the public. The best way to protect yourself in public is to wash your hands frequently and avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth with unwashed hands.
Can I get COVID-19 from touching a contaminated surface? It’s possible, but this isn’t the main way the virus spreads. Experts believe COVID-19 spreads through droplets from infected people. If these droplets settle on a surface, you touch them, and then you touch your eyes, nose, or mouth, it’s possible you will get sick. However, it’s not clear how long the germs remain on surfaces, and it’s unlikely the virus survives for long.
Clean and sanitize items around your house that are frequently touched by people, such as television remotes, phones, and doorknobs, at least once a day.
If someone in your household is sick, isolate them and don’t share household items with them. Clean their items separately from everyone else’s.
Can pets get COVID-19? It is not yet known if COVID-19 can be spread from humans to animals. However, if you have COVID-19, you should let someone else in your household take care of any pets while you are sick and keep them out of your room.
Avoid petting, snuggling, or sharing food with your pet. Always wash your hands before or after interacting with your pets.
If I wear a mask on my face will people make fun of me?
Wearing a mask isn’t meant to protect you from the coronavirus, it’s meant to protect others from the virus if you potentially have it. Even if people do make fun of you, it’s still better than the alternative, which is potentially spreading the virus. More people are wearing masks, so you can find support in that.
I’ve sore throat, I heard that it was a symptom of COVID 19. Do I have the coronavirus? I would know if I have it to not infect my mom because she has diabetes.
You probably don’t have the virus; remember, the usual illnesses like the common cold, flus, sore throats, etc., are still around too. Common symptoms of the virus include having a fever, body aches, dry coughing and shortness of breath. And while the sore throat is present in a small amount of cases, it is less common as a symptom. If you have these symptoms, then call your doctor to ask about being tested. And until you get better, try not to get too near to anyone and stay cautious.
Even if you have clean hands, can you still not touch your face?
Even if you have clean hands, it’s still best not to touch your face so that you get into the habit of not doing so unconsciously when out and about. At home, it would be okay to touch your face but again, trying not to will decrease the chances of you unwittingly doing so when out in public. Keep all light switches, doorknobs, handles on appliances, etc. clean at home and office, to reduce the chances of the virus remaining on surfaces.
Will a disinfectant help?
Using disinfectant to clean surfaces that are touched regularly in your house will help to kill the virus. The virus can last about 12 hours on hard surfaces, so disinfectant will help to get rid of it.
If you’re sick but you get better in a few days, does it mean you got infected with COVID-19 (or coronavirus)?
The only possible way to find out is to be tested for COVID-19. Common symptoms are respiratory issues, such as trouble breathing, a dry cough, and fever. If you believe you are suffering from the coronavirus, notify your a health professional and isolate yourself for 14 days.
Twice last year I was hospitalized for sepsis that was in my bloodstream. I have COPD. I started coughing, have difficulty breathing and a low grade fever that continues to increase. What should I do?
If you believe you have COVID-19, notify the health authorities and isolate yourself for 14 days. Coughing, difficulty breathing, and a fever are symptoms associated with the coronavirus. Phone your doctor for advice as to where to seek help.
What do I do if my friends have it?
If they have tested positive for the virus, isolate yourself for 14 days (especially if you’ve been around them recently) and seek medical attention if any symptoms arise.
Can the virus enter your body through your hands?
The virus is spread through viral-laden droplets from coughs and sneezes. While the virus cannot enter your body through your hands, if your hands have come in contact with the virus you can infect yourself by touching your eyes, mouth or nose. It’s advised to frequently wash your hands with warm soap and water.
How can I strengthen my immune system so that I don’t get it?
To strengthen your immune system, be sure to get the right amount of sleep every day and keep your stress levels to a minimum (stress can leave you more vulnerable to diseases). You may find it helps to meditate to reduce stress or to get out into nature and walk, hike, ride your bike, etc. Do your best to stick to a healthy diet and avoid processed and fast foods as much as possible. Your body needs fruit, vegetables, grains and other healthy non-processed foods to stay in good health. Always remember to wash your hands with soap and water, especially after using the bathroom, before eating and after being in public places. Carry hand sanitizer with you and avoid shaking hands; do elbow bumps instead!
My friend thinks I’m germaphobic, using so much sanitizer and being so clean. What should I do?
Don’t worry about what others think of you. It is a good thing that you are being hygienic and very clean. You can try telling your friend “I’m not germaphobic. I’m scared about the virus outbreak, so I really need to be cautious and hygienic. In fact, so should you and I am happy to show you how to keep safe through hygiene.” If your friend keeps teasing you, simply ignore them. Your cleanliness is more important. Also keep in mind it’s probable that they’re scared and maybe it’s easier to make a joke out of things for them than to have to deal with all the anxiety this virus is causing.
If you or a member of your household are exposed to COVID-19 or have symptoms of COVID-19, contact your healthcare provider immediately.
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About This Article
Erik Kramer, DO, MPH
Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine
This article was co-authored by Erik Kramer, DO, MPH. Dr. Erik Kramer is a Primary Care Physician at the University of Colorado, specializing in internal medicine, diabetes, and weight management. He received his Doctorate in Osteopathic Medicine (D.O.) from the Touro University Nevada College of Osteopathic Medicine in 2012. Dr. Kramer is a Diplomate of the American Board of Obesity Medicine and is board certified.
Updated: April 3, 2020
Article Rating: 77% – 45 votes
Categories: Infectious Diseases | COVID 19
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