Recently, an outbreak of the coronavirus (now called COVID-19) in China has caused global concern. It came from a seafood and meat market in Wuhan, China, in December. It has since spread to other countries, including the United States.
Despite Wuhan and other Chinese cities being quarantined, the COVID-19 has spread to almost 70 locations internationally. In the U.S., COVID-19 cases have been confirmed in New York, California, Oregon and Washington State. Deaths have been reported in both Washington State and California.
What is a coronavirus?
A coronavirus is a virus that is found in animals and, rarely, can be transmitted from animals to humans and then spread person to person. In addition to COVID-19, other human coronaviruses have included:
- The MERS virus, or Middle East respiratory syndrome.
- The SARS virus, or severe acute respiratory syndrome, which first occurred in the Guangdong province in southern China.
What are the symptoms of a coronavirus?
COVID-19 symptoms range from mild to severe. It takes 2-14 days after exposure for symptoms to develop. Symptoms may include:
- shortness of breath
Those with weakened immune systems may develop more serious symptoms, like pneumonia or bronchitis. You may never develop symptoms after being exposed to COVID-19. So far, most confirmed cases are in adults, but some children have been infected. There is no evidence that children are at greater risk for getting the virus.
What causes a coronavirus infection?
Humans first get a coronavirus from contact with animals. Then, it can spread from human to human. Health officials do not know what animal caused COVID-19.
The COVID-19 virus can be spread through contact with certain bodily fluids, such as droplets in a cough. It might also be caused by touching something an infected person has touched and then touching your hand to your mouth, nose, or eyes.
How is a coronavirus diagnosed?
If you believe you have COVID-19, you should contact your family doctor immediately. Before going to the doctor’s office, call with your concerns. This will allow the office to collect information and offer you guidance on next steps. To diagnose you, your doctor may run tests to rule out other common infections. In some cases, your doctor may suggest you self-isolate to prevent the spread of infection.
Can a coronavirus be prevented or avoided?
Try to avoid people who are sick or meeting in large groups. Stay home if you are sick.
Cover your cough with a tissue or cough into your upper sleeve or elbow. Do not cough into your hands.
Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom, before eating, and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing. If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol. Always wash hands with soap and water if hands are visibly dirty. Avoid touching your mouth, nose, or eyes.
The Centers for Disease Control has issued travel advisories for several affected countries. If you are traveling to an area where the COVID-19 is present, speak with your doctor.
There is currently no vaccine or treatment for COVID-19. Symptoms of a coronavirus usually go away on their own. If symptoms feel worse than a common cold, contact your doctor. He or she may prescribe pain or fever medication.
As with a cold or the flu, drink fluids and get plenty of rest. If you are having trouble breathing, seek immediate medical care.
When possible, avoid contact with others when you are sick. If you have COVID-19, wear a facemask to prevent spreading the virus to others. The CDC does not recommend wearing a mask if you do not have COVID-19.
Questions to ask your doctor
- What can I do to prevent my friends and family from getting the COVID-19?
- What over-the-counter medicines work best for my symptoms?
- Am I at risk of complications because of COVID-19?
- What should I watch for that could mean there are complications?