A new virus called the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) has been identified as the cause of a disease outbreak that began in China in 2019. The disease is called coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).
The virus is a type of coronavirus — a family of viruses that can cause illnesses such as the common cold, severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS).
Cases of COVID-19 have been reported in a growing number of countries, including the U.S. WHO declared a global pandemic in March 2020. Public health groups, such as the World Health Organization (WHO) and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), are monitoring the situation and posting updates, treatment and prevention recommendations on their websites.
How does COVID-19 spread?
The new coronavirus appears to spread from person to person among those in close contact. It is spread by respiratory droplets when someone infected with the virus coughs or sneezes. It's unclear exactly how contagious the virus is.
What are the symptoms of COVID-19?
COVID-19 symptoms can be very mild to severe and include a fever, cough and shortness of breath. Some people have no symptoms. Symptoms may appear two to 14 days after exposure.
Can COVID-19 be prevented or treated?
A vaccine isn't currently available for the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). No antiviral medication is recommended to treat COVID-19. Treatment is directed at relieving symptoms.
What can I do to avoid becoming ill?
WHO and CDC recommend following these precautions for avoiding COVID-19:
- Avoid large events and mass gatherings.
- Avoid close contact (about 6 feet) with anyone who is sick or has symptoms.
- Keep distance between yourself and others if COVID-19 is spreading in your community, especially if you have a higher risk of serious illness.
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.
- Cover your mouth and nose with your elbow or a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw away the used tissue.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth if your hands aren't clean.
- Clean and disinfect surfaces you often touch on a daily basis.
WHO also recommends these steps:
- Avoid eating raw or undercooked meat or animal organs.
- If you're visiting live markets in areas that have recently had new coronavirus cases, avoid contact with live animals and surfaces they may have touched.
If you have a chronic medical condition and may have a higher risk of serious illness, check with your doctor about other ways to protect yourself.
What shouldn't I do to protect against COVID-19?
CDC doesn't recommend that healthy people wear a face mask to protect themselves from respiratory illnesses, including COVID-19. Only wear a mask if a health care provider tells you to do so.
Can I travel internationally?
Maybe. If you're planning to travel internationally, first check the CDC and WHO websites for updates and advice. Also look for any health advisories that may be in place where you plan to travel.
What can I do if I am or may be ill with COVID-19?
Follow the usual precautions to avoid respiratory illnesses and COVID-19, such as washing your hands often, covering your cough, cleaning commonly touched surfaces and avoiding sharing personal items with others.
If you have symptoms or you've been exposed to the virus that causes COVID-19:
- Contact your doctor right away if you have COVID-19 symptoms and you've been exposed to the virus.
- Tell your doctor if you've recently traveled to or lived in an area with ongoing community spread of COVID-19 as determined by CDC and WHO.
- Tell your doctor if you've had close contact with anyone who has been diagnosed with COVID-19.
- Call your doctor or clinic before you go to your appointment so they can prepare and make sure others aren't infected or exposed.
If you have symptoms, you've been exposed to the virus that causes COVID-19 or you've been diagnosed with COVID-19:
- Stay home from work, school and public areas if you're sick, unless you're going to get medical care.
- Avoid taking public transportation if you're sick.
- Stay isolated in a separate room from family and pets when possible. Wear a mask around other people if you're ill.
- Avoid sharing dishes, glasses, bedding and other household items if you're sick.
- Use a separate bathroom from family if possible.
- Stay home for a period of time and follow your doctor's recommendations.
- You may need to be treated in the hospital if you're very ill.