What is coronavirus?
Coronaviruses are a family of viruses that can cause respiratory illness in humans. They are called “corona” because of crown-like spikes on the surface of the virus. Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) and the common cold are examples of coronaviruses that cause illness in humans.
The new strain of coronavirus — SARS-CoV-2 — was first reported in Wuhan, China in December 2019. It has since spread to every country around the world.
Where do coronaviruses come from?
Coronaviruses are often found in bats, cats and camels. The viruses live in but don’t infect the animals. Sometimes these viruses then spread to different animal species. The viruses may change (mutate) as they transfer to other species. Eventually, the virus can jump from animal species and begin to infect humans. In the case of SARS-CoV-19, the first people infected are thought to have contracted the virus at a food market that sold meat, fish and live animals.
How do you get COVID-19?
Read more: What is it like to be a bat summary
SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, enters your body through your mouth, nose or eyes (directly from the airborne droplets or from the transfer of the virus from your hands to your face). It then travels to the back of your nasal passages and mucous membrane in the back of your throat. It attaches to cells there, begins to multiply and moves into lung tissue. From there, the virus can spread to other body tissues.
How does the new coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) spread from person to person?
Coronavirus is likely spread:
- The virus travels in respiratory droplets released into the air when an infected person coughs, sneezes, talks, sings or breathes near you. You may be infected if you inhale these droplets.
- You can also get coronavirus from close contact (touching, shaking hands) with an infected person and then touching your face.
How long is a person with COVID-19 considered contagious?
If you have COVID-19 it can take several days to develop symptoms — but you’re contagious during this time. You are no longer contagious 10 days after your symptoms began.
The best way to avoid spreading COVID-19 to others is to:
- Stay 6 feet away from others whenever possible.
- Wear a cloth mask that covers your mouth and nose when around others.
- Wash your hands often. If soap isn’t available, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.
- Avoid crowded indoor spaces. Open windows to bring in outdoor air as much as possible.
- Stay self-isolated at home if you are feeling ill with symptoms that could be COVID-19 or have a positive test for COVID-19.
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces.
Who’s most at risk for getting COVID-19?
Persons at greatest risk of contracting COVID-19 include those who:
- Live in or have recently traveled to any area with ongoing active spread.
- Have had close contact with a person who has a laboratory-confirmed or a suspected case of the COVID-19 virus. Close contact is defined as being within 6 feet of an infected person for a cumulative total of 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period.
- Are over the age of 60 with pre-existing medical conditions or a weakened immune system.
How soon after becoming infected with SARS-CoV-2 will I develop COVID-19 symptoms?
The time between becoming infected and showing symptoms (incubation period) can range from two to 14 days. The average time before experiencing symptoms is five days. Symptoms can range in severity from very mild to severe. In about 80% of people, COVID-19 causes only mild symptoms, although this may change as variants emerge.
If I recover from a case of COVID-19, can I be infected again?
If you test positive for SARS-CoV-2 three months after your last positive test, it’s considered a reinfection. Before the omicron variant, reinfection with SARS-CoV-2 was rare but possible.
Omicron (B.1.1.529) was first reported in South Africa in November 2021 and quickly spread around the world. With many mutations, omicron was able to evade immune systems and we had more reinfections than ever before.
As the virus that causes COVID-19 continues to mutate, reinfection remains possible. Vaccination — including a booster dose — is the best protection against severe disease.