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An outbreak of the coronavirus (now called COVID-19) in China is causing 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 and deaths have been reported.
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
- repeated shaking with chills
- muscle pain
- sore throat
- new loss of taste or smell
- runny nose
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. The FDA has also seen unauthorized fraudulent test kits for COVID-19 being sold online. Currently, the only way to be tested for COVID-19 is to talk to your family doctor. Find out more about COVID-19 testing.
Can a coronavirus be prevented or avoided?
Practice social distancing. 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.
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. The FDA is currently advising people to be cautious of websites and stores selling products that claim to prevent, treat or cure COVID-19. Additionally, do not take any form of chloroquine unless it has been prescribed for you by your family doctor and purchased from a legitimate source.
As with a cold or the flu, drink fluids and get plenty of rest. If you are having trouble breathing, seek immediate medical care.
Living with a coronavirus
When possible, avoid contact with others when you are sick. It is also possible to spread the virus if you don’t have symptoms. The CDC now recommends that everyone wear a cloth mask in public to prevent spreading the virus. It should cover your mouth and nose. Continue to keep 6 feet between you and others.
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?
Copyright © American Academy of Family Physicians
This information provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. Talk to your family doctor to find out if this information applies to you and to get more information on this subject.