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Coronavirus (COVID-19)

Condition Basics

What is coronavirus (COVID-19)?

COVID-19 is a disease caused by a 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?

COVID-19 symptoms may include:

  • Fever.
  • Cough.
  • Trouble breathing.
  • Chills or repeated shaking with chills.
  • Muscle and body aches.
  • 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.

If you have questions about COVID-19 testing, ask your doctor or go to cdc.gov to use the COVID-19 Viral Testing Tool.

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.

Treatments that may help people who have COVID-19 include:

Antiviral medicines.
These medicines treat viral infections.
Immune-based therapy.
These medicines help the immune system fight COVID-19. Examples include monoclonal antibodies.
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. Some people die.

People with mild illness usually recover in about 2 weeks. But some people have health problems that last much longer. These may include fatigue, cough, shortness of breath, pain in the chest, and depression or anxiety.

The virus can affect the heart, lungs, and brain in some people. Experts are studying COVID-19 to learn more about how it affects long-term health.

How can you care for yourself if you get sick?

  • Get extra rest. It can help you feel better.
  • Drink plenty of fluids. This helps replace fluids lost from fever. Fluids may also help ease a scratchy throat.
  • You can take acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) to reduce a fever. It may also help with muscle and body 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 a lot with tissues. If you use oxygen, use a water-based product instead of petroleum jelly.
  • 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?

  • Get vaccinated and boosted.
  • Avoid sick people and stay away from others if you are sick.
  • Stay at least 6 feet away from other people.
  • Avoid crowds, especially inside.
  • Get tested for COVID-19 before you have an indoor visit with people that don't live with you.
  • Cover your mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze.
  • 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.

Be sure to follow all instructions from the CDC and your local health authorities. Here are some examples of specific precautions you may need to take.

  • If you are not fully vaccinated and boosted:
    • Wear a mask if you have to go to public areas.
  • Even if you're fully vaccinated and boosted, there's still a chance you can get and spread COVID-19. If you live in an area where COVID-19 is spreading quickly, wear a mask if you have to go to indoor public areas. You might also want to wear a mask in crowded outdoor areas as well as public indoor spaces if you:
    • Have certain health conditions.
    • Live with someone who has a compromised immune system.
    • Live with someone who is not fully vaccinated.
  • If you have been exposed to the virus and are not fully vaccinated and boosted:
    • Talk to your doctor as soon as you can. Your doctor might have you take medicine to help prevent serious illness.
    • Get a COVID-19 test. You may need to be tested more than once.
    • Stay home. Try to separate from other people where you live. Don't go to school, work, or public areas.
    • Wear a mask around other people for a full 10 days. Avoid travel and stay away from people at high risk for serious illness.
    • Watch for symptoms.
  • If you have been exposed and you are fully vaccinated and boosted:
    • Talk to your doctor as soon as you can. Your doctor may have you take medicine to help prevent serious illness.
    • Get a COVID-19 test. You may need to be tested more than once.
    • Wear a mask around other people for a full 10 days. Avoid travel and stay away from people at high risk for serious illness.
    • Watch for symptoms.

If you're sick or test positive for COVID-19:

  • Talk to your doctor as soon as you can. Your doctor may have you take medicine to help prevent serious illness.
  • Get a COVID-19 test unless you have already been tested. You may need to be tested more than once.
  • Stay home. Leave only if you need to get medical care.
  • Wear a mask whenever you're around other people for a full 10 days.
  • Avoid travel and stay away from people at high risk for serious illness.
  • 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 touch with your hands.

If you have questions about COVID-19 testing, ask your doctor or go to cdc.gov to use the COVID-19 Viral Testing Tool.

Credits

Current as of: April 28, 2022

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