Answer From Pritish K. Tosh, M.D.
A new virus called the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) was identified as the cause of a disease outbreak that began in China in 2019. The disease is called coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).
In March 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 a pandemic. Public health groups, including the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and WHO, are monitoring the pandemic and posting updates on their websites. These groups have also issued recommendations for preventing and treating the illness.
Data has shown that it spreads from person to person among those in close contact (within about 6 feet, or 2 meters). The virus spreads by respiratory droplets released when someone infected with the virus coughs, sneezes or talks.
COVID-19 symptoms can be very mild to severe. Some people have no symptoms. The most common symptoms are fever, cough and tiredness. Other symptoms may include shortness of breath, muscle aches, chills, sore throat, headache, chest pain, and loss of taste or smell. This list is not all inclusive. Other less common symptoms have also been reported. Symptoms may appear two to 14 days after exposure.
A vaccine isn’t currently available for the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). No medication is recommended to treat COVID-19. Treatment is directed at relieving symptoms.
The CDC recommends following these precautions for avoiding COVID-19:
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.
The CDC recommends wearing cloth face coverings in public places, such as the grocery store, where it’s difficult to avoid close contact with others. It’s especially suggested in areas with ongoing community spread. This updated advice is based on data showing that people with COVID-19 can transmit the virus before they realize they have it. Using masks in public may help reduce the spread from people who don’t have symptoms. Non-medical cloth masks are recommended for the public. Surgical masks and N-95 respirators are in short supply and should be reserved for health care providers.
If you’re planning to travel, first check for travel advisories. You also may want to talk with your doctor if you have health conditions that make you more susceptible to respiratory infections and complications.
If you develop symptoms and you’ve been exposed to the virus COVID-19, contact your doctor for medical advice. If you need to go to the doctor or hospital, call ahead so health care providers can take steps to ensure that others aren’t exposed.
Take the following precautions to avoid spreading the illness: