What Is COVID-19?
COVID-19 is an incurable viral respiratory disease that can be deadly, but symptoms may be treated at home for the majority of people with rest, over-the-counter pain and fever medications and other home remedies.
COVID-19 is a novel (new) coronavirus disease, not previously identified in humans, responsible for an outbreak of respiratory illness that became a global pandemic in 2020. COVID-19 is different from other coronaviruses that cause mild illness, such as the common cold.
The name COVID-19 follows the World Health Organization (WHO) practice for naming new human infectious diseases. ‘CO’ stands for ‘corona,’ ‘VI’ for ‘virus,’ ‘D’ for disease, and ‘19’ for 2019, the year in which the disease was first identified.
What Are Symptoms of COVID-19?
The most common symptoms of COVID-19 appear about 2 to 14 days after exposure and include:
- Shortness of breath
- Fever or chills
Emergency warning signs that require immediate medical attention (call 9-1-1 or go to a hospital’s emergency department):
- Difficulty breathing
- Bluish lips or face
- Persistent pain or pressure in the chest
- New confusion
- Inability to wake or stay awake
Less common symptoms of COVID-19 may include:
- Altered sense of taste and/or smell
- Body aches
- Feeling unwell (malaise)
- Loss of appetite
- Sore throat
- Runny nose
What Causes COVID-19?
COVID-19 is transmitted from person-to-person through respiratory droplets propelled into the air when an infected person sneezes or coughs. Less commonly, COVID-19 may be transmitted when a person touches a surface or object that has the virus on it, and then touches their mouth, nose, or eyes.
Though there have been isolated cases of animals testing positive for COVID-19, there is no evidence COVID-19 spreads from pets to people.
It is believed COVID-19 originated from a live animal market in Wuhan, China.
How Is COVID-19 Diagnosed?
COVID-19 is diagnosed with a physical examination to check if patients have any of the hallmark symptoms of COVID-19, and a patient history which includes asking if the patient had any known recent exposure to the virus.
The only way to know for sure if you have COVID-19 is to get tested. If COVID-19 is suspected, a viral test in which a long swab is used to take a sample from the nose or throat is used, which is then sent to a lab for testing to diagnose the illness. Some tests are rapid and results are available within a few hours. Other tests may take several days to receive results.
Another test that can determine if a person had a past COVID-19 infection is an antibody test. This test is not helpful in diagnosing current infections because it takes up to 3 weeks following infection for the body to produce antibodies to the virus. When a person has antibodies to COVID-19 they may have some protection against re-infection, however, researchers do not yet know how much protection antibodies provide or for how long any protections might last.
What Is the Treatment for COVID-19?
There is no specific treatment for COVID-19, and supportive care is aimed at relieving symptoms in mild cases.
Patients with mild illness are usually advised to remain home and self-isolate for 14 days to avoid spreading the virus. Mild COVID-19 symptoms can be treated at home and may include:
- Pain and fever relievers such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil)
- Cough suppressants
- Adequate fluid intake
For more severe illness, patients may require hospitalization. Treatments may include:
- Antiviral therapy with remdesivir
- Dexamethasone is preferred
- Prednisone, methylprednisolone, or hydrocortisone may be used if dexamethasone is not available
- Convalescent plasma
- Immunoglobulin products
- Interleukin inhibitors
- Kinase inhibitors
- Antithrombotic therapy - anticoagulants and antiplatelet therapy
- High-flow nasal cannula (HFNC) oxygen
Ivermectin, an antiparasitic drug, is being studied as a potential treatment for COVID-19. Currently the available clinical data on the use of ivermectin to treat COVID-19 are limited and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends against the use of ivermectin for the treatment of COVID-19, except in a clinical trial.
Colchicine, an anti-gout medication, is also being studied in a clinical trial to determine if short-term treatment with colchicine will reduce lung complications and the rate of death in COVID-19 patients. It is not currently approved for use to treat patients for COVID-19.
Current guidelines neither recommend nor advise against the use of vitamin C, vitamin D, or zinc. Zinc should not be taken in doses above the recommended daily allowance (RDA) due to the risk of toxicity.
Hydroxychloroquine was touted as a possible treatment in the past, but studies to date have shown it to be ineffective with a high risk of fatal heart arrythmias, and it is not recommended.
What Are Complications of COVID-19?
Doctors and researchers are still learning about the effects of COVID-19 on the body. Lingering complications of the illness are being discovered well after patients have recovered.
Known COVID-19 complications include:
- Acute respiratory failure
- Acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS)
- Heart problems
- Liver injury
- Kidney injury
- Abnormal blood clotting
- Severe secondary infections
How Do You Prevent COVID-19?
There is currently no FDA-approved vaccine to prevent COVID-19; the ones in distribution .
U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued emergency use authorizations (EUAs) for vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna to prevent coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) in individuals 16 years of age and older.
To protect yourself from getting COVID-19:
- Wash hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
- If soap and water are not available, use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol and use a sufficient amount to rub in for 20 seconds.
- Do not touch your mouth, nose, or eyes with unwashed hands.
- Avoid close contact with anyone who has been diagnosed with COVID-19.
- If there is an outbreak in your community, stay at home and limit close contact with others.
- Maintain a distance of at least 6 feet from other people.
- Wear a face mask when out in public.
To protect others:
- Stay home if you’re sick, unless you need medical care.
- Wear a face mask around other people if you are sick.
- Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or the inside of your elbow when you cough or sneeze. Discard used tissues. Immediately wash hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or use a hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol if soap and water is not available.
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces daily. This includes countertops, doorknobs, handles, tables, light switches, phones, keyboards, toilets, faucets, and sinks. Use EPA-registered household disinfectants.
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