Coronavirus (COVID-19)

Overview

What is coronavirus (COVID-19)?

COVID-19 is a disease caused by a new type of coronavirus. This illness was first found in December 2019. It has since spread worldwide.

Coronaviruses are a large group of viruses. They cause the common cold. They also cause more serious illnesses like Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) and severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS). COVID-19 is caused by a novel coronavirus. That means it's a new type that has not been seen in people before.

What are the symptoms?

Coronavirus (COVID-19) symptoms may include:

  • Fever.
  • Cough.
  • Trouble breathing.
  • Chills or repeated shaking with chills.
  • Muscle pain.
  • Headache.
  • Sore throat.
  • New loss of taste or smell.
  • Vomiting.
  • Diarrhea.

In severe cases, COVID-19 can cause pneumonia and make it hard to breathe without help from a machine. It can cause death.

How is it diagnosed?

COVID-19 is diagnosed with a viral test. This may also be called a PCR test or antigen test. It looks for evidence of the virus in your breathing passages or lungs (respiratory system).

The test is most often done on a sample from the nose, throat, or lungs. It's sometimes done on a sample of saliva. One way a sample is collected is by putting a long swab into the back of your nose.

How is it treated?

Mild cases of COVID-19 can be treated at home. Serious cases need treatment in the hospital. Treatment may include medicines to reduce symptoms, plus breathing support such as oxygen therapy or a ventilator. Some people may be placed on their belly to help their oxygen levels.

For now, there are no FDA-approved treatments that target the virus that causes COVID-19. But there are treatments that may help people who have COVID-19. These include:

Antiviral medicines.
These medicines treat viral infections. Remdesivir is an example.
Immune-based therapy.
One example is convalescent plasma. Plasma is the part of the blood that contains antibodies. When a person gets an infection like COVID-19, their immune system makes antibodies. These help the body fight the infection. Giving COVID-19 antibodies to people who are sick may help them overcome the infection.
Blood thinners.
These medicines help prevent blood clots. People with severe illness are at risk for blood clots.

What happens when you have COVID-19?

COVID-19 usually causes mild illness, similar to the flu. But some people get much sicker. They may develop pneumonia or other problems that need to be treated in the hospital. In a small portion of these people, the illness may lead to death. Older adults and people with serious health problems are at highest risk.

People with mild illness usually recover in about 2 weeks. It often takes 3 to 6 weeks to recover from severe illness. But some people have symptoms that last much longer, such as fatigue, cough, or shortness of breath. This is true even for people who had mild illness.

The virus can affect the heart, lungs, and brain, and it increases the risk of blood clots in some people. We don't know yet if having COVID-19 will lead to long-term health problems.

It's not clear if people who've had COVID-19 can get it again.

How can you care for yourself if you get sick?

It's important to take good care of yourself and keep track of your symptoms.

Get extra rest.
It can help you feel better.
Drink plenty of fluids.
This helps replace fluids lost from fever. Fluids also help ease a scratchy throat. Water, soup, fruit juice, and hot tea with lemon are good choices.
Take acetaminophen (such as Tylenol) to reduce a fever.
It may also help with muscle aches. Read and follow all instructions on the label.
Use petroleum jelly on sore skin.
This can help if the skin around your nose and lips becomes sore from rubbing with tissues.
Monitor your symptoms.
Keep track of symptoms such as fever and shortness of breath. This can help you know if you need to call your doctor. It can also help you know when it's safe to be around other people.

In some cases, your doctor might suggest that you get a pulse oximeter.

How can you protect yourself and others?

The best way to protect yourself from getting sick is to:

  • Avoid areas where there is an outbreak.
  • Avoid contact with people who may be infected.
  • Avoid crowds and try to stay at least 6 feet away from other people.
  • Wash your hands often, especially after you cough or sneeze. Use soap and water, and scrub for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water aren't available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • Avoid touching your mouth, nose, and eyes.

To help avoid spreading the virus to others:

  • Stay home if you are sick or have been exposed to the virus. Don't go to school, work, or public areas. And don't use public transportation, ride-shares, or taxis unless you have no choice.
  • Wear a cloth face cover if you have to go to public areas.
  • Cover your mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Then throw the tissue in the trash and wash your hands right away.
  • If you're sick:
    • Leave your home only if you need to get medical care. But call the doctor's office first so they know you're coming. And wear a face cover.
    • Wear the face cover whenever you're around other people. It can help stop the spread of the virus when you cough or sneeze.
    • Limit contact with pets and people in your home. If possible, stay in a separate bedroom and use a separate bathroom.
    • Clean and disinfect your home every day. Use household cleaners and disinfectant wipes or sprays. Take special care to clean things that you grab with your hands. These include doorknobs, remote controls, phones, and handles on your refrigerator and microwave. And don't forget countertops, tabletops, bathrooms, and computer keyboards.

Credits

Current as of: September 15, 2020

Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:
Heather Quinn MD - Family Medicine
Lesley Ryan MD - Family Medicine