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Covid-19 (Coronavirus Disease 2019)


What do I need to know about coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19)?

COVID-19 is the disease caused by a coronavirus first discovered in December 2019. Coronaviruses generally cause upper respiratory (nose, throat, and lung) infections, such as a cold. The new virus can also cause serious lower respiratory conditions, such as pneumonia or acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS). The new virus can also affect many other organs, including the brain and heart. Blood vessels can also be affected, leading to blood clots. Anyone can develop serious problems from the new virus, but your risk is higher if you are 65 or older. A weak immune system, diabetes, or a heart or lung condition can also increase your risk. Your risk is also higher if you are a current or former cigarette smoker.

What are the signs and symptoms of COVID-19?

You may not develop any signs or symptoms. Signs and symptoms usually start about 5 days after infection but can take 2 to 14 days. You may feel like you have the flu or a bad cold. Some signs and symptoms go away in a few days. Others can last weeks, months, or possibly years. Information on COVID-19 is still being learned. Tell your healthcare provider if you think you were infected but develop signs or symptoms not listed below:

  • A cough
  • Shortness of breath or trouble breathing that may become severe
  • A fever of at least 100.4°F, or 38°C (may be lower in adults 65 or older)
  • Chills that might include shaking
  • Muscle pain, body aches, or a headache
  • A sore throat
  • Suddenly not being able to taste or smell anything
  • Feeling mentally and physically tired (fatigue)
  • Congestion (stuffy head and nose), or a runny nose
  • Diarrhea, nausea, or vomiting

How is COVID-19 diagnosed?

If you think you have COVID-19, call your healthcare provider. He or she will tell you what to do based on your symptoms and testing guidelines in your area. In general, the following may be used:

  • A viral test shows if you have a current infection. Samples are taken from your nose and throat, usually with swabs. You may need to wait several days to get the test results. Your healthcare provider will tell you how to get your results. You will need to quarantine (stay physically away from others) until you get your results. If results show you have COVID-19, you will need to continue until you are well. Your provider or other health official may give you more directions. You will also need to prevent another infection until it is known if you can get COVID-19 again.
  • An antibody test shows if you had a past infection. Blood samples are used for this test. Antibodies are made by your immune system to attack the virus that causes COVID-19. Antibodies will form 1 to 3 weeks after you are infected. It is not known if antibodies prevent a second infection, or for how long a person might be protected. If you have antibodies, you will still need to be careful around others until more is known.
  • CT scans or x-rays may be used to check for signs of pneumonia. The 2019 coronavirus causes a specific kind of pneumonia, usually in both lungs. The pictures may also be used to check for health problems in other parts of your body.

How is COVID-19 treated?

Treatment such as monoclonal antibodies and convalescent plasma have emergency use authorization (EUA). This means they may be given only to patients who are hospitalized with severe signs and symptoms. The following may be used to manage your symptoms:

  • Mild symptoms may get better on their own. If you do not need to be treated in a hospital, you will be given instructions to use at home. Your condition will be closely monitored. You will need to watch for worsening symptoms and seek immediate care if needed. Talk to your healthcare provider about the following:
    • Decongestants help reduce nasal congestion and help you breathe more easily. If you take decongestant pills, they may make you feel restless or cause problems with your sleep. Do not use decongestant sprays for more than a few days.
    • Cough suppressants help reduce coughing. Ask your healthcare provider which type of cough medicine is best for you.
    • To soothe a sore throat, gargle with warm salt water, or use throat lozenges or a throat spray. Drink more liquids to thin and loosen mucus and to prevent dehydration.
    • NSAIDs or acetaminophen can help lower a fever and relieve body aches or a headache. Follow directions. If not taken correctly, NSAIDs can cause kidney damage and acetaminophen can cause liver damage.
  • Severe or life-threatening symptoms are treated in the hospital. You may need a combination of the following:
    • Medicines may be given to lower or prevent inflammation or to fight the virus. You may also need blood thinners to prevent or treat blood clots. If you have a deep vein thrombosis (DVT) or pulmonary embolism (PE), you may need to keep using blood thinners for 3 months.
    • Extra oxygen may be given if you have respiratory failure. This means your lungs cannot get enough oxygen into your blood and out to your organs. Extra oxygen can help prevent organ failure.
    • A ventilator may be used to help you breathe.

How does the 2019 coronavirus spread?

The virus spreads quickly and easily. The virus can be passed starting 2 days before symptoms begin or before a positive test if symptoms never begin. The following are ways the virus is thought to spread, but more information may be coming:

  • Droplets are the main way all coronaviruses spread. The virus travels in droplets that form when a person talks, coughs, or sneezes. The droplets can also float in the air for minutes or hours. Infection happens when you breathe in the droplets or get them in your eyes or nose. Close personal contact with an infected person increases your risk for infection. This means being within 6 feet (2 meters) of the person for at least 15 minutes over 24 hours.
  • Person-to-person contact can spread the virus. For example, a person with the virus on his or her hands can spread it by shaking hands with someone.
  • The virus can stay on objects and surfaces for a short time. You may become infected by touching the object or surface and then touching your eyes or mouth.
  • An infected animal may be able to infect a person who touches it. This may happen at live markets or on a farm.

How can I help lower the risk for COVID-19?

The best way to prevent infection is to avoid anyone who is infected, but this can be hard to do. An infected person can spread the virus before signs or symptoms begin, or even if signs or symptoms never develop. The following can help lower the risk for infection:

Prevent COVID-19 Infection
  • Wash your hands often throughout the day. Use soap and water. Rub your soapy hands together, lacing your fingers, for at least 20 seconds. Rinse with warm, running water. Dry your hands with a clean towel or paper towel. Use hand sanitizer that contains alcohol if soap and water are not available. Teach children how to wash their hands and use hand sanitizer.
  • Cover sneezes and coughs. Turn your face away and cover your mouth and nose with a tissue. Throw the tissue away. Use the bend of your arm if a tissue is not available. Then wash your hands well with soap and water or use hand sanitizer. Teach children how to cover a cough or sneeze.
  • Wear a face covering (mask) around anyone who does not live in your home. Use a disposable non-medical mask, or make a cloth covering with at least 2 layers. Cover your mouth and your nose. Securely fasten it under your chin and on the sides of your face. Do not wear a plastic face shield instead of a covering. Continue social distancing and washing your hands often. A face covering is not a substitute for social distancing safety measures.
    How to Wear a Face Covering (Mask)
  • Follow worldwide, national, and local social distancing guidelines. Keep at least 6 feet (2 meters) between you and others. Also keep this distance from anyone who comes to your home, such as someone making a delivery.
  • Make a habit of not touching your face. If you get the virus on your hands, you can transfer it to your eyes, nose, or mouth and become infected. You can also transfer it to objects, surfaces, or people. Do not touch your eyes, nose, or mouth without washing your hands first.
  • Clean and disinfect high-touch surfaces and objects often. Use disinfecting wipes, or make a solution of 4 teaspoons of bleach in 1 quart (4 cups) of water. Clean and disinfect even if you think no one living in or coming to your home is infected with the virus.
  • Ask about vaccines you may need. A COVID-19 vaccine is a shot given to help prevent infection caused by the novel coronavirus. Your healthcare provider can give you more information about when a vaccine may be available to you. Get the influenza (flu) vaccine as soon as recommended each year, usually starting in September or October. Get the pneumonia vaccine if recommended.

How do I follow social distancing guidelines to help lower the risk for COVID-19?

National and local social distancing rules vary. Rules may change over time as restrictions are lifted. Restrictions may return if an outbreak happens where you live. It is important to know and follow all current social distancing rules in your area. The following are general guidelines:

  • Stay home if you are sick or think you may have COVID-19. It is important to stay home if you are waiting for a testing appointment or for test results. Even if you do not have symptoms, you can pass the virus to others.
  • Limit trips out of your home. Have food, medicines, and other supplies delivered and left at your door or other area, if possible. Plan trips out of your home so you make the fewest stops possible to limit close personal contact. Keep track of places you go. This will help contact tracers notify others if you become infected.
  • Avoid close physical contact with anyone who does not live in your home. Do not shake hands with, hug, or kiss a person as a greeting. If you must use public transportation (such as a bus or subway), try to sit or stand away from others. Only allow necessary people into your home. Wear your face covering, and remind others to wear a face covering. Remind them to wash their hands when they arrive and before they leave. Do not let someone into your home or go to someone's home just to visit. Even if you both do not feel sick, the virus can pass from one of you to the other.
  • Avoid in-person gatherings and crowds. Gatherings or crowds of 10 or more individuals can cause the virus to spread. Avoid places such as parks, beaches, sporting events, and tourist attractions. For events such as parties, holiday meals, religious services, and conferences, attend virtually (on a computer), if possible.
  • Ask your healthcare provider for other ways to have appointments. Some providers offer phone, video, or other types of appointments. You may also be able to get prescriptions for a few months of your medicines at a time.
  • Stay safe if you must go out to work. Keep physical distance between you and other workers as much as possible. Follow your employer's rules so everyone stays safe.

What should I do if I have COVID-19 and am recovering at home?

Healthcare providers will give you specific instructions to follow. The following are general guidelines to remind you how to keep others safe until you are well:

  • Wash your hands often. Use soap and water as much as possible. Use hand sanitizer that contains alcohol if soap and water are not available. Dry your hands with a clean towel or paper towel. Do not share towels with anyone. If you use paper towels, throw them away in a lined trash can kept in your room or area. Use a covered trash can, if possible.
  • Do not go out of your home unless it is necessary. Ask someone who is not infected to go out for groceries or supplies, or have them delivered. Do not go to your healthcare provider's office without an appointment.
  • Only have close physical contact with a person giving direct care, or a baby or child you must care for. Family members and friends should not visit you. If possible, stay in a separate area or room of your home if you live with others. No one should go into the area or room except to give you care. You can visit with others by phone, video chat, e-mail, or similar systems.
  • Wear a face covering while others are near you. This can help prevent droplets from spreading the virus when you talk, sneeze, or cough. Put the covering on before anyone comes into your room or area. Remind the person to cover his or her nose and mouth before coming in to provide care for you.
  • Do not share items. Do not share dishes, towels, or other items with anyone. Items need to be washed after you use them.
  • Protect your baby. Some newborns have tested positive for the virus. It is not known if they became infected before or after birth. The highest risk is when a newborn has close contact with an infected person. If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, talk to your healthcare provider or obstetrician about any concerns you have. He or she will tell you when to bring your baby in for check-ups and vaccines. He or she will also tell you what to do if you think your baby was infected with the coronavirus. Wash your hands and put on a clean face covering before you breastfeed or care for your baby.
  • Do not handle live animals unless it is necessary. Some animals, including pets, have been infected with the new coronavirus. Ask someone who is not infected to take care of your pet until you are well. If you must care for a pet, wear a face covering. Wash your hands before and after you give care. Talk to your healthcare provider about how to keep a service animal safe, if needed.
  • Follow directions from your healthcare provider for being around others after you recover. It is not known if or for how long a recovered person can pass the virus to others. Your provider may give you instructions, such as continuing social distancing and wearing a face covering. He or she will tell you when it is okay to be around others again. This may be 10 to 20 days after symptoms started or you had a positive test. Most symptoms will also need to be gone. Your provider will give you more information.

Where can I find more information?

  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
    1600 Clifton Road
    Atlanta , GA 30333
    Phone: 1- 800 - 232-4636
    Web Address:

What should I do if I think I or someone I know may be infected?

Do the following to protect others:

  • If emergency care is needed, tell the operator about the possible infection, or call ahead and tell the emergency department.
  • Call a healthcare provider for instructions if symptoms are mild. Anyone who may be infected should not arrive without calling first. The provider will need to protect staff members and other patients.
  • The person who may be infected needs to wear a face covering while getting medical care. This will help lower the risk of infecting others. Coverings are not used for anyone who is younger than 2 years, has breathing problems, or cannot remove it. The provider can give you instructions for anyone who cannot wear a covering.

Call your local emergency number (911 in the US) or an emergency department if:

  • You have trouble breathing or shortness of breath at rest.
  • You have chest pain or pressure that lasts longer than 5 minutes.
  • You become confused or hard to wake.
  • Your lips or face are blue.
  • You have a fever of 104°F (40°C) or higher.

When should I call my doctor?

  • You do not have symptoms of COVID-19 but had close physical contact within 14 days with someone who tested positive.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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Further information

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