Knowing the basic facts behind COVID-19 can go a long way in helping us understand the current pandemic and how we can protect ourselves and each other. Below are answers to the main questions you might have. You can also visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's website to learn more.
What exactly is COVID-19?
COVID-19 stands for coronavirus disease 2019. The disease is caused by a viral respiratory infection from exposure to a type of coronavirus called SARS-CoV-2.
COVID-19 and SARS-CoV-2 were first identified in Wuhan, China, in late 2019. Since then, the virus has spread to all seven continents and has caused nearly 2 million deaths worldwide as of January 2021.
What are the symptoms of COVID-19?
The symptoms of COVID-19 can range from no symptoms to severe illness. They include:
- Fever or chills
- Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
- Muscle or body aches
- New loss of taste or smell
- Sore throat
- Congestion or runny nose
- Nausea or vomiting
Any of these symptoms may appear 2-14 days after exposure to the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
Why do I need to take COVID-19 seriously?
The risk of severe illness and death is high in older adults and people with certain medical conditions. But severe cases also occur in young, healthy people. While most people recover and return to normal health, some have lingering and long-term symptoms.
How can I help protect myself from COVID-19?
Until widespread vaccination happens, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says the three most important things you can do to protect yourself from COVID-19 and slow the spread of the virus are:
- Wear a mask that covers your nose and mouth.
- Stay at least 6 feet away from anyone who doesn’t live with you.
- Avoid crowds.
Washing your hands often with soap and water and avoiding poorly ventilated indoor spaces can also help.
How does SARS-CoV-2 spread?
According to the CDC, SARS-CoV-2 is thought to spread mainly through close contact from person to person, including between people who are physically near each other (within about 6 feet).
Though we are continuing to learn exactly how this virus spreads, SARS-CoV-2 is present in the respiratory droplets of those infected with the virus. We all let out respiratory droplets when we sneeze, cough, talk, sing or even just breathe, and these droplets can land on anyone who is within about 6 feet of us.
So, when a person infected with SARS-CoV-2 expels their respiratory droplets, they can expose anyone who is near them to the virus. More rarely, and under certain conditions in enclosed spaces with poor ventilation, smaller droplets with SARS-CoV-2 may also remain in the air for minutes to hours, exposing even those who have not been in close physical contact with an infected person.
Respiratory droplets that contain the virus can also land on an object or a surface and spread when a person touches the contaminated object or surface. However, this is thought to be the least common way for the virus to spread.It is important to note that a person infected with SARS-CoV-2 does not have to have symptoms to spread the virus.
How is COVID-19 treated?
Certain medications and procedures have proven beneficial to those with severe cases of COVID-19 – though the ultimate success of these treatments depends on a number of factors, including a person's health history and age.
Mild cases of COVID-19 often don't require medical care. In these cases, doctors recommend getting plenty of rest, staying hydrated and taking an over-the-counter medicine like ibuprofen or acetaminophen to control fever.
How many people in the US have had COVID-19?
As of January 2021, there have been millions of reported cases of COVID-19 in the US and over 370,000 deaths. The most up-to-date reported case numbers can be found on the CDC's website.