What Is COVID-19?
COVID-19 is a novel (new) coronavirus not previously identified in humans, that is responsible for an outbreak of respiratory illness that has become a global pandemic. 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 two to 14 days after exposure and include:
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 or inability to arouse
Less common symptoms of COVID-19 may include:
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.
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 when a virus infecting animals mutated to cross the species barrier to humans in a live animal market in Wuhan, China.
How Is COVID-19 Diagnosed?
Doctors will first check if patients have any of the hallmark symptoms of COVID-19, and will also ask if the patient had any known recent exposure to the virus.
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 area 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. Treatments for mild COVID-19 symptoms include:
- Pain relievers
- 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
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 has been touted as a possible treatment, 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:
How Do You Prevent COVID-19?
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, especially 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.