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COVID-19: Symptoms, Prevention and Risks

Medically reviewed by Melisa Puckey, BPharm. Last updated on Nov 30, 2021.

What is COVID-19?

COVID-19 is the disease caused by an infection of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. It was first identified in the city of Wuhan, in China's Hubei province in December 2019. Since then COVID-19 has spread around the world causing unprecedented levels of illness and deaths.

The SARS-CoV-2 virus is from the family of viruses called coronaviruses that usually causes respiratory tract infections. There are multiple variants of the virus including Alpha, Beta, Gamma and Delta.

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The most common symptoms of COVID-19 include dry cough, fever, and fatigue. It is thought that symptoms can appear between 2-14 days after exposure although there have been isolated cases which suggest this may be longer. If you develop symptoms, you should stay at home to prevent the spread of the disease into the community. Wearing a face mask will help prevent the spread of the disease to others.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), symptoms of COVID-19 include:

  • fever or chills,
  • dry cough,
  • fatigue,
  • shortness of breath or difficulty breathing,
  • muscle or body aches,
  • headache,
  • new loss of taste or smell,
  • sore throat,
  • congestion or runny nose,
  • nausea or vomiting,
  • diarrhea,
  • chills,
  • dizziness,
  • fever,
  • some people with COVID-19 have no symptoms.

Serious COVID-19 symptoms that require immediate emergency care:

  • problems with breathing,
  • continuous pain or pressure in the chest,
  • confusion that they didn’t have before,
  • inability to wake or stay awake,
  • change is skin colour that is pale, gray, or blue-colored skin, lips, or nail beds.

How do you get COVID-19?

COVID-19 is spread from one person to another when an infected person breathes out small droplets that contain virus and then the next person becomes infected when the virus enters their body by:

  • breathing in the infected droplet into their lungs or,
  • the droplet lands directly on eyes nose or mouth or,
  • a droplet finds its way onto your hands and then you touch your eyes, nose or mouth.

What happens when you get COVID-19?

Most people who get symptoms from COVID-19 recover without requiring any hospital treatment. Some patients become ill enough to be hospitalized and a smaller number of patients become very ill and need intensive care. A small percentage of patients have complications that cause death. If you are not vaccinated there is a bigger risk that you will require hospitalization, intensive care treatment or die.

Some people have conditions which makes them higher risk of become seriously ill if they get COVID-19. The conditions are:

  • high blood pressure,
  • diabetes,
  • heart issues,
  • lung problems,
  • obesity,
  • cancer,
  • immunosuppressed or
  • over the age of 60 years old.

How do you Prevent COVID-19?

The most effective way to protect yourself from COVID-19 is to get the COVID-19 vaccine as soon as possible, which helps reduce the risk of severe disease, hospitalization and death. The COVID-19 vaccine helps your body develop immunity to SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

Everyone should try and prevent the spread of COVID-19, whether you are vaccinated or not. The best way to prevent infection is to avoid exposure to the virus.

  • Wash your hands regularly and thoroughly with soap and water (lather for 20 seconds), OR use an alcohol based (at least 60%) hand sanitizer,
  • Wear a face mask in indoor places where there is high risk of COVID-19 transmission to help protect yourself and others.
  • Practice social distancing between yourself and others (within 6 feet, or 2 meters).
  • Avoid contact with others who are sick or have symptoms of COVID-19.
  • Cover coughs and sneezes (sneeze into a tissue or into your elbow).
  • Clean and disinfect surfaces (alcohol or bleach based cleaning solutions work best for coronaviruses).

What to do if you have COVID-19?

If you have COVID-19 or think you may have COVID-19 you should follow local recommendations and regulations, in regard to contacting necessary organisations.

Get tested

  • If you have COVID-19 symptoms you should get tested as soon as possible. While you are waiting for your test results you should self isolate, by staying at home and keeping away from others in the same household.

Stay at home

  • A large proportion of people with COVID-19 have mild symptoms and can stay at home without the need for medical attention. You should not leave home to go to work, school or any public areas unless you are going to get medical care.
  • Get rest, eat a well balanced diet and stay hydrated. You can take acetaminophen for headaches, pain or fever.

Monitor your symptoms

  • Keep a check on your symptoms and if they get worse contact your healthcare provider immediately.
  • If there are any serious COVID-19 symptoms you should seek emergency medical care immediately.
  • Serious COVID-19 symptoms include problems with breathing, continuous pain or pressure in the chest, confusion that they didn’t have before, unable to wake or stay awake, change in skin colour that is pale, gray, or blue-colored skin, lips, or nail beds.

Contact your healthcare provider regularly:

  • Have regular contact with your healthcare professional.
  • If visiting your healthcare provider make sure you call first and tell them you may have COVID-19, so they can prepare for your arrival by wearing the correct personal protective equipment.

Stay in a specific room and away from other people:

  • To try and stop the spread of COVID-19 to other people in your household you should try to stay in one room, away from other people if this is possible.
  • If you are around other people you should wear a mask, although children under 2 should not wear a mask.

Cover your cough and sneezes:

  • If you need to cough or sneeze you should use a tissue which should be discarded into a lined trash can.
  • You should wash your hands immediately afterwards.

Avoid sharing

  • To protect other people from COVID-19 You should not share dishes, cups, drinking glasses, cutlery, towels or bedding with other people in your house.
  • All dishes you use should be washed thoroughly with soap and water or cleaned in a dishwasher. Bedding and towels should be washed and dried regularly.

Wash your hands often

  • Washing your hands regularly and thoroughly will help prevent COVID-19 spreading.
  • It is especially important to wash your hands after coughing, sneezing, blowing your nose after using the bathroom and before eating or preparing food.
  • If you are unable to wash your hands you should use a hand sanitizer instead.

Clean all surfaces

  • Every day it is important to clean and disinfect surfaces in the house that are touched often, e.g. door knobs, bathroom fixtures, counters, faucets, tabletops, phones, remote controls, and bedside tables.

COVID-19: Treatments and Vaccines

Click here for information on: COVID-19: Treatments and Vaccines

Bottom line:

  • Covid-19 is the illness caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
  • The best way to reduce the risk of COVID-19 causing severe illness, hospitalization or death is to have a complete course of COVID-19 vaccine.
  • If you have not had the COVID-19 vaccine you should try to avoid exposure to the virus by avoiding areas where there is high risk of transmission, practice social distancing, wearing a mask and regular hand washing or hand sanitizing.


Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.