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Understanding the Coronavirus

Julio E. Figueroa, II, MD
Understanding the Coronavirus

Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is the disease of a virus that causes a respiratory illness. It is caused by a coronavirus called the 2019 novel coronavirus (SARS-coV-2). There are many types of coronavirus. Coronaviruses are a very common cause of bronchitis or the common cold. They may sometimes cause lung infection (pneumonia). Symptoms can range from mild to severe respiratory illness. These viruses are also found in some animals. COVID-19 was first found in people in Wuhan, China, in late 2019. In 2020, several cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed in the U.S.

Public health officials are working to find the source. How the virus spreads is not yet fully known. It is likely to 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 mouth.

What are the symptoms of COVID-19?

Some people have no symptoms or mild symptoms. Symptoms may appear 2 to 14 days after contact with the virus. Symptoms can include:

  • Fever
  • Coughing
  • Trouble breathing

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.

How is COVID-19 diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will ask about your symptoms. He or she will also ask about your recent travel and contact with sick people. Testing for the virus is only done through the CDC. If your healthcare provider thinks you may have COVID-19, he or she will work with your local health department and the CDC on testing. Follow all instructions from your healthcare provider. COVID-19 is diagnosed by:

Nasal and throat swab. A cotton-tipped swab is wiped inside your nose or throat. This is done to check for viruses in your nasal mucus.

Sputum culture. A small sample of mucus coughed from your lungs (sputum) is collected if you have a cough. It is checked for the virus.

How is COVID-19 treated?

  • There is currently no medicine to treat the virus. Treatment is done to help your body while it fights the virus. This is known as supportive care. Supportive care may include:
  • Pain medicine. These include acetaminophen and ibuprofen. They are used to help ease pain and reduce fever.
  • Bed rest. This helps your body fight the illness.

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. Supplemental oxygen or ventilation with a breathing machine (ventilator) may be given. This is done to keep enough oxygen in your body.

Are you at risk for COVID-19?

If you’ve been to a place where people have been sick with this virus, you are at risk for infection. You are at risk if you:

  • Recently traveled to China
  • Had contact with a sick person who recently traveled to this area
  • Had contact with a person who was diagnosed with COVID-19

How can COVID-19 be prevented?

There is no vaccine yet. The best prevention is to not have contact with the virus. The CDC advises that people should not travel to the People's Republic of China right now for any reason that is not urgent.

To help prevent spreading the infection, wash your hands often, or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

If you are in an area with COVID-19:

  • Wash your hands often. Or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer often.
  • Only touch your eyes, nose, or mouth with clean hands.
  • Don’t have contact with people who are sick.
  • Follow local instructions about being in public. For example, you may be told to not use public transport for a period of time.
  • Stay away from markets that have live or dead animals.
  • Wash your hands after touching any animals. Don't touch animals that may be sick.
  • Don’t share eating or drinking tools with sick people.
  • Don’t kiss someone who is sick.
  • Clean surfaces often with disinfectant.

If you have been diagnosed with COVID-19

  • Follow all instructions from your healthcare provider.
  • Don’t leave your home, except to get medical care.
  • Call your healthcare provider’s office before going. They can prepare and give you instructions. This will help prevent the virus from spreading.
  • Don’t go to work, school, or public areas.
  • Don’t use public transport or taxis.
  • Stay away from other people in your home. Have them wear face masks around you.
  • Don’t share household items or food.
  • Wear a face mask if you can. This includes at home or in a medical facility.
  • Cover your face with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue away. Wash your hands.
  • Wash your hands often.

When to call your healthcare provider

Call your healthcare provider:

  • If you’ve recently traveled and have symptoms
  • If you have been diagnosed with COVID-19 and your symptoms are worse