symptoms In early 2020, a new virus began generating headlines all over the world because of the unprecedented speed of its transmission. Its origins have been traced to a food market in Wuhan, China, in December 2019. From there, it’s reached countries as distant as the United States and the Philippines.
The virus (officially named SARS-CoV-2) has been responsible for millions of infections globally, causing hundreds of thousands of deaths. The United States is the most affected country. The disease caused by an infection with SARS-CoV-2 is called COVID-19, which stands for coronavirus disease 2019. In spite of the global panic in the news about this virus, you’re unlikely to contract SARS-CoV-2 unless you’ve been in contact with someone who has a SARS-CoV-2 infection.
What are the symptoms?
Doctors are learning new things about this virus every day. So far, we know that COVID-19 may not initially cause any symptoms for some people. You may carry the virus for 2 days or up to 2 weeksTrusted Source before you notice symptoms.
Some common symptoms that have been specifically linked to COVID-19 include:
- shortness of breath
- having a cough that gets more severe over time
- a low-grade fever that gradually increases in temperature
Less common symptoms include:
- repeated shaking with chills
- sore throat
- muscle aches and pains
- loss of taste
- loss of smell
These symptoms may become more severe in some people. Call emergency medical services if you or someone you care for have any of the following symptoms:
- trouble breathing
- blue lips or face
- persistent pain or pressure in the chest
- excessive drowsiness
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)Trusted Source is still investigating the full list of symptoms.
COVID-19 versus the flu
We’re still learning about whether the 2019 coronavirus is more or less deadly than the seasonal flu. This is difficult to determine because the number of total cases, including mild cases in people who don’t seek treatment or get tested, is unknown.
However, early evidence suggests that this coronavirus causes more deaths than the seasonal flu. An estimated 0.04 to 0.2 percentTrusted Source of people who developed the flu during the 2019-2020 flu season in the United States died as of April 4, 2020.
This is compared to about 6 percent of those with a confirmed case of COVID-19 in the United States, according to the CDC.
What causes coronaviruses?
Coronaviruses are zoonotic. This means they first develop in animals before being transmitted to humans. For the virus to be transmitted from animals to humans, a person has to come into close contact with an animal that carries the infection.
Once the virus develops in people, coronaviruses can be transmitted from person to person through respiratory droplets. This is a technical name for the wet stuff that moves through the air when you cough, sneeze, or talk. The viral material hangs out in these droplets and can be breathed into the respiratory tract (your windpipe and lungs), where the virus can then lead to an infection.
It’s possible that you could acquire SARS-CoV-2 if you touch your mouth, nose, or eyes after touching a surface or object that has the virus on it. However, this is not thought to be the main way that the virus spreads.
Who’s at increased risk?
You’re at high risk for contracting SARS-CoV-2 if you come into contact with someone who’s carrying it, especially if you’ve been exposed to their saliva or been near them when they’ve coughed, sneezed, or talked.
Without taking proper preventive measures, you’re also at high risk if you:
- live with someone who has contracted the virus
- are providing home care for someone who has contracted the virus
- have an intimate partner who has contracted the virus
How are coronaviruses diagnosed?
COVID-19 can be diagnosed similarly to other conditions caused by viral infections: using a blood, saliva, or tissue sample. However, most tests use a cotton swab to retrieve a sample from the inside of your nostrils. The CDC, some state health departments, and some commercial companies conduct tests. See your state’s health department websiteTrusted Source to find out where testing is offered near you.
On April 21, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)Trusted Source approved the use of the first COVID-19 home testing kit. Using the cotton swab provided, people will be able to collect a nasal sample and mail it to a designated laboratory for testing.