What is coronavirus? Symptoms, prevention and who is most at risk

Symptoms, prevention, who is most at risk and more information on COVID-19

Here are some things to know about the coronavirus as medical professionals, governments and people around the world continue to learn about the virus:

What is coronavirus?

According to the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Coronavirus disease, also called COVID-19, 2019-nCov or 2019 Novel Coronavirus, is an “illness that can spread from person to person.”

How is coronavirus spread?

Coronavirus is spread from person to person, including people who are within 6 feet of each other, according to the CDC. People with the illness can spread the virus to others even if they are asymptomatic.

The virus spreads most commonly through close, direct contact with someone infected with COVID-19. It also spreads through tiny droplets of water when those with COVID-19 cough, exhale, sing, sneeze or talk. The droplets also form particles when they dry very quickly in the air.

Those droplets land on objects and surfaces around them. The disease spreads when another person inhales those droplets from a person with the disease who coughs or exhales, or when someone without the illness touches objects or surfaces with the droplets, then touches their face -- particularly their eyes, nose or mouth, with unwashed hands.


What are the symptoms of coronavirus?

According to the World Health Organization, the most common symptoms are fever, dry cough and fatigue.

“The time from exposure to COVID-19 to the moment when symptoms begin is, on average, 5-6 days and can range from 1-14 days,” WHO said. “This is why people who have been exposed to the virus are advised to remain at home and stay away from others, for 14 days, in order to prevent the spread of the virus, especially where testing is not easily available.”

According to the CDC, possible, but not all, symptoms, include the following:

  • Fever or chills
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Headache
  • New loss of taste or smell
  • Sore throat
  • Congestion or runny nose
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Diarrhea

Is there a vaccine for coronavirus?

Yes. Currently, the U.S. has two vaccines authorized and recommended for use: Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine and Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine. The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine requires two shots, 21 days apart. The Moderna vaccine requires two shots 28 days apart.

Who is the most at risk to get the coronavirus?

According to the CDC adults of any age with certain conditions, such as cancer, COPD, heart conditions, Down Syndrome, obesity, smoking, sickle cell disease, type 2 diabetes and pregnancy are at increased risk of getting severely sick. Older adults are also at greater risk of hospitalization or death if they get the coronavirus.

Those in areas and communities with systemic health and social inequities, including racial and ethnic minority groups, rural communities, people experiencing homelessness, people with disabilities are at increased risk of getting sick from coronavirus as well.

How can I prevent getting coronavirus?

The biggest prevention method for most illnesses is washing your hands. The CDC recommends washing your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, or about as long as the “Alphabet” song. If soap and water are not available, you should use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.

Wearing a mask prevents the spread of coronavirus. Masks should be snug on the face and cover the nose and mouth. They should not be worn around the neck or hanging off of ears.

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How can I prevent spreading coronavirus to others?

If you are sick -- whether with coronavirus or not, you should stay home. When you sneeze or cough, cover your mouth with a tissue and throw it in the trash. If you don’t have a tissue, the CDC says to cough or sneeze into your elbow. Frequently touched objects and surfaces should be cleaned and disinfected frequently, according to the CDC. Masks should also be worn.

Proper handwashing should be practiced at all times.

How long does coronavirus live on a surface?

According to the CDC, “Coronaviruses on surfaces and objects naturally die within hours to days.” Exposure to sunlight and warmer temperatures will decrease the time the virus survives on objects and surfaces.

The Environmental Protection Agency has a list of disinfectants for use against SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

Can you transmit or get coronavirus from your pet?

According to the Food and Drug Administration, the risk of pets spreading the virus that causes COVID-19 in people is low. There’s currently no evidence that animals play a significant role in spreading the virus.

There have been multiple cases of domestic pets testing positive for COVID-19, including a family dog in New York that died of the illness.