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Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19): Overview

Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is a respiratory illness. It's caused by a new (novel) coronavirus. There are many types of coronavirus. Coronaviruses are a very common cause of colds and bronchitis. They may sometimes cause lung infection (pneumonia). Symptoms can range from mild to severe. Some people have no symptoms. These viruses are also found in some animals.

All 50 states in the U.S. have reported cases of COVID-19. Most states report "community spread" of COVID-19. This means the source of the illness is not known. COVID-19 is a rapidly-emerging infectious disease. This means that scientists are actively researching it. There are information updates regularly.

Public health officials are working to find the source. How the virus spreads is not yet fully understood, but it seems to spread and infect people fairly easily. Some people who have been infected in an area may not be sure how or where they were infected. The virus may be spread through droplets of fluid that a person coughs or sneezes into the air. It may be spread if you touch a surface with the virus on it, such as a handle or object, and then touch your eyes, nose, or mouth.

For the latest information, visit the CDC website at Or call 800-CDC-INFO (800-232-4636).

What are the symptoms of COVID-19?

Some people have no symptoms or mild symptoms. Symptoms can also vary from person to person. As experts learn more about COVID-19, other symptoms are being reported. Symptoms may appear 2 to 14 days after contact with the virus:

  • Fever

  • Coughing

  • Trouble breathing or feeling short of breath

  • Sore throat

  • Runny nose

  • Headache and body aches

  • Chills or repeated shaking with chills

  • Fatigue

  • Loss of appetite

  • Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, or abdominal pain

  • Loss of sense of smell and taste

You can check your symptoms with the CDC’s Coronavirus Self-Checker.

What are possible complications from COVID-19?

In many cases, this virus can cause infection (pneumonia) in both lungs. In some cases, this can cause death. Certain people are at higher risk for complications. This includes older adults and people with serious chronic health conditions such as heart or lung disease, diabetes, or kidney disease. It includes people with health conditions that suppress the immune system. And it includes people taking medicines that suppress the immune system.

As experts learn more about COVID-19, other complications are being reported that may be linked to COVID-19. Rarely, some children have developed severe complications called multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C). MIS-C seems to be similar to Kawaski disease, a rare condition causing inflammation of blood vessels and body organs. It's not yet known if MIS-C happens only in children, or if adults are also at risk. It's also not known if it's related to COVID-19, because many children, but not all, have tested positive for the virus. Experts continue to study MIS-C. The CDC advises healthcare providers to report to local health departments any person under age 21 years old who is ill enough to be in the hospital and has all of the following:

  • A fever over 100.4°F (38.0°C) for more than 24 hours and a positive SARS-CoV-2 test or exposure to the virus in the last 4 weeks

  • Inflammation in at least 2 organs such as the heart, lungs, or kidneys with lab tests that show inflammation

  • No other diagnoses besides COVID-19 explain the child's symptoms

How is COVID-19 diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will ask about your symptoms. He or she will ask where you live, and about your recent travel, and any contact with sick people. If your healthcare provider thinks you may have COVID-19, he or she will consider whether to test you for COVID-19. This depends on the availability of testing in your area, and how sick you are. Follow all instructions from your healthcare provider. Guidelines for testing may change as more information about the virus becomes available. Currently, COVID-19 is diagnosed by:

  • Nose-throat swab. A swab is wiped inside your nose to the back of your throat. This is a viral test to tell you if you have a current COVID-19 infection.

If your healthcare provider thinks or confirms that you have COVID-19, you may have other tests. These tests may include:

  • Antibody blood test. Antibody tests are being looked at to find out if a person has previously been infected with the virus and may now have antibodies such as SARS AB IgG in their blood to give some immunity. The accuracy and availability of antibody tests vary. An antibody test may not be able to show if you have a current infection because it can take up to a few weeks after infection to make antibodies. It's not yet known how long immunity lasts after being infected with the virus.

  • Sputum culture. A small sample of mucus coughed from your lungs (sputum) may be collected if you have a moist cough. It may be checked for the virus or to look for pneumonia.

  • Imaging tests. You may have a chest X-ray or CT scan.

How is COVID-19 treated?

There is currently no medicine proven to prevent or treat the virus. Some experimental medicines are being tested for COVID-19. Other medicines used to treat other conditions are being looked at for COVID-19, but these are not currently approved to treat it.

The most proven treatments right now are those to help your body while it fights the virus. This is known as supportive care. Supportive care may include:

  • Getting rest. This helps your body fight the illness.

  • Staying hydrated. Drinking liquids is the best way to prevent dehydration.. Try to drink 6 to 8 glasses of liquids every day, or as advised by your provider. Also check with your provider about which fluids are best for you. Don't drink fluids that contain caffeine or alcohol.

  • Taking over-the-counter (OTC) pain medicine. These are used to help ease pain and reduce fever. Follow your healthcare provider's instructions for which OTC medicine to use.

For severe illness, you may need to stay in the hospital. Care during severe illness may include:

  • IV (intravenous) fluids. These are given through a vein to help keep your body hydrated.

  • Oxygen. You may be given supplemental oxygen or ventilation with a breathing machine (ventilator). This is done so you get enough oxygen in your body.

  • Prone positioning. Depending on how sick you are during your hospital stay, your healthcare team may turn you regularly on your stomach. This is called prone positioning. It helps increase the amount of oxygen you get to your lungs. Follow your healthcare team's instructions on position changes while you're in the hospital. Also follow their discharge advice on the best positions to help your breathing once you go home.

People who have had COVID-19 and are fully recovered may be asked by their healthcare team to consider donating plasma. This is called COVID-19 convalescent plasma donation. Plasma from people fully recovered from COVID-19 may contain antibodies to help fight COVID-19 in people who are currently seriously ill with the disease. It's not fully known if the donated plasma will work well as a treatment, but the FDA is looking at it and has asked the American Red Cross to help with plasma donation and collection. Talk with your provider to learn more about convalescent plasma donation and whether you qualify to donate.

Are you at risk for COVID-19?

You are at risk for COVID-19 if you have had close contact with someone with the virus, or if you live in or traveled to an area with cases of it. Close contact means being within about 6 feet of someone, or living in the same house or visiting a person who has or may have COVID-19. Some recent studies suggest that COVID-19 may be spread by people who are not showing symptoms.

Date last modified: 5/20/2020

Online Medical Reviewer: Arnold Lentnek MD FACP
Online Medical Reviewer: L Renee Watson MSN RN
Date Last Reviewed: 1/1/2020
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