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About Novel Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19)

COVID-19 is an infectious disease caused by a coronavirus, called SARS-CoV-2, first identified in January 2020. Coronaviruses are a common type of virus that cause respiratory symptoms—much like a cold—that range from mild to severe. These viruses usually circulate among animals, such as camels, cats or bats. On rare occasions, animal coronaviruses can mutate and spread to people. SARS-CoV-2 originated in bats, as did the coronaviruses that caused the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreak in 2003 and the Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) outbreak in 2012.

How it spreads:

Like the flu and some other respiratory viruses, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19—SARS-CoV-2—typically spreads among people through close personal contact, such as shaking hands or touching. It can also spread through the air when someone coughs or sneezes and possibly when they breathe or speak. If you touch a contaminated surface then touch your mouth, nose or eyes, you can also become infected.

Under certain conditions, the coronavirus could also spread through the air. Airborne spread of SARS-CoV-2 is more likely to occur indoors, particularly in areas with poor ventilation or where people are singing or exercising.

Symptoms:

Symptoms of COVID-19 may appear anywhere from 2 to 14 days after exposure to the novel coronavirus. Those infected have developed a range of symptoms associated with a respiratory infection, including:

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Dry cough
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of sense of smell and taste
  • Muscle and joint pain
  • Phlegm or a productive cough
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sore throat
  • Headache

Digestive symptoms—diarrhea, loss of appetite, nausea and vomiting—are also commonly reported among COVID-19 patients.

Roughly 80 percent of those with COVID-19 will develop a mild to moderate infection and recover. Only about 16 percent of cases result in severe illness and complications, including pneumonia.

Older people, smokers and those with a weakened immune system or underlying condition, such as obesity, high blood pressure, cancer, diabetes, chronic kidney or lung disease, heart disease, sickle cell disease, are at greater risk for serious infections.

Prevention:

There are steps you can take to reduce your risk of infection or potentially spreading the novel coronavirus to others.

One of the best ways to help is to stay home and go out in public only when necessary. If you do leave home, practice social distancing—keep at least six feet of space between you and others. It’s also important to wear a mask over your nose and mouth when out in public.

Other ways to help curb the spread of COVID-19:

  • Wash your hands well and often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds each time.
  • Avoid touching any part of your face, including your eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with an unused tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash. If you don’t have a tissue, use your upper sleeve or elbow—not your hands.
  • Clean and disinfect commonly used objects and surfaces you come into contact with throughout your day.

Treatments:

Unlike the seasonal flu, measles or other vaccine-preventable diseases, there are no immunizations that help protect against COVID-19. Since this is a new coronavirus, humans have not developed any natural immunity to it as they have against many other infections.

People with mild or moderate infections recover without hospitalization. Supportive care, such as over-the-counter pain relievers, getting plenty of rest and drinking fluids, can help.

If you develop serious warning signs of COVID-19, however, you should seek immediate medical attention. These red flags may include:

  • Difficulty breathing (such as gasping for air, being unable to talk without feeling out of breath, severe wheezing)
  • Persistent pain or pressure in the chest
  • New confusion or disorientation
  • Bluish lips or face
  • Signs of low blood pressure (too weak to stand, dizziness, lightheadedness, feeling cold, pale, clammy skin)
  • Dehydration (dry lips and mouth, not urinating much, sunken eyes)
  • New or worsening seizures
  • Loss of consciousness or difficulty waking up or staying awake

Call 911 and let the operator know that you have or think you may have COVID-19. If you have a medical mask or cloth face covering, put it on before help arrives.

Treatments for patients with severe COVID-19 may include:

  • Oxygen support, which can help the body get the oxygen it needs until the lungs are able to recover
  • Remdesivir, an antiviral drug
  • Corticosteroids, such as dexamethasone or hydrocortisone, which are used to suppress the immune system and ease inflammation, swelling and edema
  • IV fluids, blood thinners and other medication to treat COVID-19-related complications

Monoclonal antibodies (laboratory-made versions of natural antibodies against SARS-CoV-2) and convalescent plasma (SARS-CoV-2 antibodies collected from people who have recovered from COVID-19) are also experimental COVID-19 treatment still under investigation.