Coronavirus (COVID-19)

Condition Basics

What is coronavirus (COVID-19)?

COVID-19 is a disease caused by a type of coronavirus. This illness was first found in December 2019. It has since spread worldwide.

Coronaviruses are a large group of viruses. They cause the common cold. They also cause more serious illnesses like Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) and severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS). COVID-19 is caused by a novel coronavirus. That means it's a new type that has not been seen in people before.

What are the symptoms?

COVID-19 symptoms may include:

  • Fever.
  • Cough.
  • Trouble breathing.
  • Chills or repeated shaking with chills.
  • Muscle and body aches.
  • Headache.
  • Sore throat.
  • New loss of taste or smell.
  • Vomiting.
  • Diarrhea.

In severe cases, COVID-19 can cause pneumonia and make it hard to breathe without help from a machine. It can cause death.

How is it diagnosed?

COVID-19 is diagnosed with a viral test. This may also be called a PCR test or antigen test. It looks for evidence of the virus in your breathing passages or lungs (respiratory system).

The test is most often done on a sample from the nose, throat, or lungs. It's sometimes done on a sample of saliva. One way a sample is collected is by putting a long swab into the back of your nose.

How is it treated?

Mild cases of COVID-19 can be treated at home. Serious cases need treatment in the hospital. Treatment may include medicines to reduce symptoms, plus breathing support such as oxygen therapy or a ventilator. Some people may be placed on their belly to help their oxygen levels.

Treatments that may help people who have COVID-19 include:

Antiviral medicines.
These medicines treat viral infections.
Immune-based therapy.
These medicines help the immune system fight COVID-19. Examples include monoclonal antibodies.
Blood thinners.
These medicines help prevent blood clots. People with severe illness are at risk for blood clots.

What happens when you have COVID-19?

COVID-19 usually causes mild illness, similar to the flu. But some people get much sicker. They may develop pneumonia or other problems that need to be treated in the hospital. Some people die.

People with mild illness usually recover in about 2 weeks. But some people have health problems that last much longer. These may include fatigue, cough, shortness of breath, pain in the chest, and depression or anxiety.

The virus can affect the heart, lungs, and brain in some people. Experts are studying COVID-19 to learn more about how it affects long-term health.

How can you care for yourself if you get sick?

  • Get extra rest. It can help you feel better.
  • Drink plenty of fluids. This helps replace fluids lost from fever. Fluids may also help ease a scratchy throat.
  • You can take acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) to reduce a fever. It may also help with muscle and body aches. Read and follow all instructions on the label.
  • Use petroleum jelly on sore skin. This can help if the skin around your nose and lips becomes sore from rubbing a lot with tissues. If you use oxygen, use a water-based product instead of petroleum jelly.
  • Keep track of symptoms such as fever and shortness of breath. This can help you know if you need to call your doctor. It can also help you know when it's safe to be around other people.
  • In some cases, your doctor might suggest that you get a pulse oximeter.

How can you protect yourself and others?

  • Get vaccinated.
  • Avoid sick people.
  • Cover your mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze.
  • Wash your hands often, especially after you cough or sneeze. Use soap and water, and scrub for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water aren't available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • Avoid touching your mouth, nose, and eyes.
  • If you get sick with COVID-19, talk to your doctor. They might want you to take medicine to help prevent you from getting very sick.

Be sure to follow all instructions from the CDC and your local health authorities. Here are some examples of specific precautions you may need to take.

  • If you are not fully vaccinated:
    • Wear a mask if you have to go to public areas.
    • Avoid crowds and try to stay at least 6 feet away from other people.
  • If you have been exposed to the virus and are not fully vaccinated:
    • Stay home. Don't go to school, work, or public areas. And don't use public transportation, ride-shares, or taxis unless you have no choice.
    • Wear a mask if you have to go to public areas, like the pharmacy.
  • Even if you're fully vaccinated, there's still a small chance you can get and spread COVID-19. If you live in an area where COVID-19 is spreading quickly, wear a mask if you have to go to indoor public areas. You might also want to wear a mask in crowded outdoor areas as well as public indoor spaces if you:
    • Have certain health conditions.
    • Live with someone who has a compromised immune system.
    • Live with someone who is not fully vaccinated.
  • If you have been exposed and you are fully vaccinated:
    • Talk to your doctor. You may need a COVID-19 test.
    • Wear a mask in public indoor spaces for 14 days or until you test negative for COVID-19.

If you're sick:

  • Leave your home only if you need to get medical care. But call the doctor's office first so they know you're coming. And wear a mask.
  • Wear a mask whenever you're around other people.
  • Limit contact with pets and people in your home. If possible, stay in a separate bedroom and use a separate bathroom.
  • Clean and disinfect your home every day. Use household cleaners and disinfectant wipes or sprays. Take special care to clean things that you touch with your hands.


Current as of: July 1, 2021

Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:
Heather Quinn MD - Family Medicine
Lesley Ryan MD - Family Medicine