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
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
Less common symptoms include:
- repeated shaking with chills
- sore throat
- 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
- 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:
- runny or stuffy nose
- sore throat
- body aches
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.
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
HANDWASHING IS KEY
Washing your hands and disinfecting surfaces can help decrease your risk for contracting this and other viruses.
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.
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
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
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)
- heart damage or heart attack
- multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C), also known as pediatric multisystem inflammatory syndrome (PMIS)
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.
- 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.
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:
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