COVID-19 is a new type of coronavirus, a common family of viruses, which surfaced in Wuhan, China at the end of 2019. This particular type is caused by a virus called SARS-CoV-2. Similar to MERS and SARS, this coronavirus likely jumped from an animal (probably a bat, although scientists are not completely certain) to a human, perhaps via some other species.
The symptoms of COVID-19 appear two to fourteen days after exposure. They may include:
It appears that while the infection is mild in some people, it can cause a severe respiratory (lung) illness similar to SARS and may result in death.
The World Health Organization has decided COVID-19 is globally widespread enough to be considered a pandemic. This is because the virus is new, so people’s immune systems are not prepared to fight it, thus permitting the virus to spread rapidly from person to person.
According to the CDC, those who are at higher risk include:
close contacts of and healthcare workers caring for people with COVID-19
people returning from international destinations where community spread of the virus is occurring (China, Iran, South Korea, and Italy)
As COVID-19 is still a new virus, understanding its transmission is based on similar coronaviruses.
According to the CDC, COVID-19 is thought to spread mainly from person to person. You’re most at risk:
If you’re in close contact (within about six feet) with an infected person
If you’re exposed to respiratory droplets when an infected person coughs or sneezes
If a person touches a surface or object that has the virus on it, and then touches their own mouth, nose, and possibly eyes, they may contract COVID-19, but the CDC says it’s not the main way the virus spreads.
Based on how COVID-19 affected those in China, it seems the following groups have a higher risk of becoming seriously ill if contracting the virus:1
People with lung disease
People with heart disease
People in these groups—or anyone with a chronic medical condition—should take extra precautions to avoid those who are sick, avoid non-essential travel, and avoid crowds. Stay home as much as possible if your area is experiencing community spread, and seek medical attention at the earliest symptoms.
There is no vaccine or specific medicine to treat coronavirus. Instead, the treatment for mild coronavirus infections is supportive, which means doing things to ease your symptoms.
These supportive measures may include:
Taking a medication, like Tylenol (acetaminophen), to reduce your fever
Using a cool-mist humidifier to help soothe your cough