We've compiled frequently asked questions about the novel coronavirus at the center of the current pandemic. Each section includes links to trusted health organizations.
First things first: The coronaviruses are a family of viruses whose symptoms can range from the common cold to something more serious and potentially lethal, and a new coronavirus is currently spreading across the planet, affecting the daily lives of many.
In December 2019, an outbreak of a new coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) occurred in Wuhan, China. It causes a disease called COVID-19, which can lead to death, particularly for the elderly and people with serious chronic medical conditions. There are currently no vaccines or antiviral treatments available.
More than 150 countries and territories, including the United States, have confirmed cases of the infection since the initial outbreak, and on March 11, the World Health Organization declared it a pandemic.
What are its symptoms?
According to the CDC, fever, cough, and shortness of breath are the main symptoms of COVID-19. Additional symptoms may include aches and pains, nasal congestion, runny nose, sore throat, and diarrhea. Severity of the symptoms range from mild to life-threatening—about 1 in 5 people who are infected require hospital care.
How do I get tested?
If you’ve had contact with someone with COVID-19 or live in a community experiencing an outbreak and develop a fever and other symptoms of the disease, the CDC recommends you call your healthcare provider. Tell them about your symptoms and potential exposure to the virus, and they’ll make a call on whether you should be tested. They'll also help determine the safest way to receive your test.
More specific guidelines vary from state to state. NBC News has a handy guide here.
It’s especially crucial that you call your medical provider if you’re elderly or have a serious chronic medical condition. Also, if you or a loved one are very sick (e.g., experiencing symptoms like difficulty breathing, persistent chest pain or pressure, confusion, or bluish lips or face), seek medical attention immediately.
How does it spread?
The CDC and researchers worldwide still have a lot to learn about COVID-19 and how it spreads. According to current knowledge, though, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 is mainly spread from person to person through respiratory droplets. That means droplets from an infected person’s coughs and sneezes land on other people’s noses or mouths, or they breathe them in, and that infects them, too. It’s also possible that the virus can spread through people touching contaminated objects and then touching their mouth, nose, or eyes.
How can we prevent it?
According to the CDC, “the best way to prevent illness is to avoid being exposed to this virus.” Some steps you can take to limit your exposure to the virus:
Regularly wash your hands for 20 seconds or use a hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol. Pay attention to hand hygiene, especially when you’ve been in a public place and after coughing, sneezing, or blowing your nose.
Practice social distancing by increasing the space between you and other people. That means staying home as much as you can, especially if you feel sick.
Disinfect frequently touched surfaces (like keyboards, doorknobs, and light switches) every day.
Cover coughs and sneezes with the inside of your elbow or a tissue. Throw the tissue away immediately and wash your hands.
Wear a facemask only if you are sick or are caring for someone who’s sick and can’t wear a facemask.
How is coronavirus different from the flu?
While there are some similarities between the symptoms of COVID-19 and the flu (most notably fever and dry cough) one of the biggest differences is that we know significantly less about COVID-19. But here is what we do know:
COVID-19 is more infectious than the flu. The “basic reproduction number,” or R0, of an infection is the average number of people who catch it from a single infected person. The flu has an R0 value of 1.3, while the R0 value of COVID-19 is estimated to be much higher.
Right now, COVID-19 seems more likely to kill than the flu. While the exact fatality rate of COVID-19 is not yet known, it appears to be much deadlier than the flu. Influenza has a mortality rate of 0.1 percent, and current estimates of COVID-19’s fatality rate range from 1.4 percent to 3.4 percent.
There is currently no vaccine or treatment for COVID-19. Unlike seasonal flu, there is no widely available vaccine to protect against COVID-19 infection. Similarly, there are no antivirals to help to reduce symptoms and shorten the duration of the disease.
For more information on this ever-developing COVID-19 pandemic, consult the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s page dedicated to the virus, found here.