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Coronaviruses are a family of viruses that can cause illnesses such as the common cold, severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS). In 2019, a new coronavirus was identified as the cause of a disease outbreak that originated in China.
The virus is now known as the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). The disease it causes is called coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). In March 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the COVID-19 outbreak a pandemic.
Public health groups, including the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and WHO, are monitoring the pandemic and posting updates on their websites. These groups have also issued recommendations for preventing and treating the illness.
Signs and symptoms of COVID-19 may appear two to 14 days after exposure and can include:
· Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
Other symptoms can include:
· Runny nose
· Sore throat
Some people have experienced the loss of smell or taste.
The severity of COVID-19 symptoms can range from very mild to severe. Some people may have no symptoms at all. People who are older or who have existing chronic medical conditions, such as heart disease, lung disease or diabetes, or who have compromised immune systems may be at higher risk of serious illness. This is similar to what is seen with other respiratory illnesses, such as influenza.
When to see a doctor
If you have COVID-19 symptoms or you've been in contact with someone diagnosed with COVID-19, contact your provider right away for medical advice. Tell the provider about your symptoms and possible exposure before you go to your appointment.
If you have emergency COVID-19 signs and symptoms, such as trouble breathing, chest pain or pressure, confusion, or blue lips or face, seek care at the emergency room immediately.
If you have respiratory symptoms but you are not and have not been in an area with ongoing community spread, contact your doctor or clinic for guidance. Let your doctor know if you have other chronic medical conditions, such as heart disease or lung disease. As the pandemic progresses, it's important to make sure health care is available for those in greatest need.
Infection with the new coronavirus (severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2, or SARS-CoV-2) causes coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).
It's unclear exactly how contagious the new coronavirus is. Data has shown that it spreads from person to person among those in close contact (within about 6 feet, or 2 meters). The virus spreads by respiratory droplets released when someone with the virus coughs, sneezes or talks.
It can also spread if a person touches a surface with the virus on it and then touches his or her mouth, nose or eyes.
Risk factors for COVID-19 appear to include:
· Recent travel from or residence in an area with ongoing community spread of COVID-19 as determined by CDC or WHO
· Close contact with someone who has COVID-19 — such as when a family member or health care worker takes care of an infected person
Although most people with COVID-19 have mild to moderate symptoms, the disease can cause severe medical complications and lead to death in some people. Older adults or people with existing chronic medical conditions are at greater risk of becoming seriously ill with COVID-19.
Complications can include:
· Pneumonia in both lungs
· Organ failure in several organs
Although there is no vaccine available to prevent infection with the new coronavirus, you can take steps to reduce your risk of infection. WHO and CDC recommend following these precautions for avoiding COVID-19:
· Avoid large events and mass gatherings.
· Avoid close contact (within about 6 feet, or 2 meters) with anyone who is sick or has symptoms.
· Keep distance between yourself and others if COVID-19 is spreading in your community, especially if you have a higher risk of serious illness.
· Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.
· Cover your mouth and nose with your elbow or a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw away the used tissue.
· Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
· Avoid sharing dishes, glasses, bedding and other household items if you're sick.
· Clean and disinfect high-touch surfaces daily.
· Stay home from work, school and public areas if you're sick, unless you're going to get medical care. Avoid taking public transportation if you're sick.
The CDC recommends wearing cloth face coverings in public places, such as the grocery store, where it's difficult to avoid close contact with others. It's especially suggested in areas with ongoing community spread. This updated advice is based on data showing that people with COVID-19 can transmit the virus before they realize they have it. Using masks in public may help reduce the spread from people who don't have symptoms. Non-medical cloth masks are recommended for the public. Surgical masks and N-95 respirators are in short supply and should be reserved for health care providers.
If you have a chronic medical condition and may have a higher risk of serious illness, check with your provider about other ways to protect yourself.
If you're planning to travel, first check the CDC and WHO websites for updates and advice. Also look for any health advisories that may be in place where you plan to travel. You may also want to talk with your provider if you have health conditions that make you more susceptible to respiratory infections and complications.
If you develop symptoms of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) and you've been exposed to the virus, contact your provider. Tell them you've traveled to any areas with ongoing community spread of COVID-19 according to CDC and WHO. Also let your doctor know if you've had close contact with anyone who has been diagnosed with COVID-19.
While tests are becoming more readily available you may need to be screened by a provider to determine if testing is appropriate.
Your provider will determine whether to conduct tests for COVID-19 based on your signs and symptoms, as well as whether you have had close contact with someone diagnosed with COVID-19 or traveled to or lived in any areas with ongoing community spread of COVID-19 in the past 14 days. Your provider may also consider testing if you're at higher risk of serious illness.
To test for COVID-19, a health care provider uses a long swab to take a nasal sample. The sample is then sent to a lab for testing.
Currently, no antiviral medication is recommended to treat COVID-19. Treatment is directed at relieving symptoms and may include:
· Pain relievers (ibuprofen or acetaminophen)
· Cough syrup or medication
· Fluid intake
If you have mild symptoms, your provider may recommend that you recover at home. They will give you special instructions to monitor your symptoms and to avoid spreading the illness to others. You will be asked to isolate yourself as much as possible from family and pets while you're sick and to use a separate bedroom and bathroom. We will recommend that you stay home for a period of time except to get medical care. We will follow up with you regularly.
If you're very ill, you may need to be treated in the hospital.