Reviewed by Carrie A. Horn, MD, Charles L. Daley, MD, Gwen A. Huitt, MD, MS, Shannon H. Kasperbauer, MD
Coronaviruses are a large group of common viruses that cause respiratory and gastrointestinal symptoms.
The coronavirus gets its name from what appears to be a crown or halo on the virus when it’s viewed under the electron microscope. “Corona” means crown in Latin.
Most coronaviruses, such as the common cold, are not dangerous and mainly cause an infection in the nose, sinuses or upper throat. Coronaviruses also can cause pneumonia and bronchitis. People who have diabetes, heart and/or lung diseases, immune deficiency, or infants and older adults have a higher risk of being affected by a coronavirus. Other coronaviruses such as the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV) can cause severe disease and death. The 2019 coronavirus is NOT the same virus as MERS-CoV or SARS-CoV.
Coronaviruses can be transmitted between animals and people, though not all coronaviruses that affect animals have infected people. It is important to wash your hands after being around or handling animals and animal food products and to cook animal food products thoroughly.
COVID-19 Causes | COVID-19 Prevention | COVID-19 Symptoms | COVID-19 Diagnosis | COVID-19 Treatment
A Virus with Many Names
There are many names for the 2019 Coronavirus that was first found in Wuhan, China. This virus has never been seen before. The medical term for “new” is “novel.” The World Health Organization (WHO) named this virus the 2019-nCov, (n for novel) but it is also referred to as SARS-CoV-2, 2019 Novel Coronavirus, the 2019 Coronavirus and the Wuhan Coronavirus.
COVID-19 is the infectious disease caused by COVID-19 virus.
Where did the coronavirus start?
The COVID-19 virus started in a group of people who had pneumonia and who had been associated with a seafood and live animal market in Wuhan, China. The disease spread to family members, health care staff and others in China and now has spread to other countries. It is not known exactly how this coronavirus started, but it is believed that the extremely large human population (Wuhan has about 11 million people), dense pig and duck farms and live animal markets are contributing factors.
It is likely that this virus is in bats, transmitted to an intermediate animal host, possibly the small animal known as a pangolin. The pangolin may have contact with bat excrement and become infected with the virus. If the infected pangolin is captured by a human, the human could have become infected with the virus and then passed it to other people.
When a virus is transmitted from animals to humans it is called cross-species transmission or spillover. Spillover is common. More than two-thirds of human viruses are zoonotic, meaning they are caused by bacteria, viruses or parasites that spread from animals to humans. Some examples of other diseases that spread in the same manner are West Nile virus, Rocky Mountain spotted fever and the MERS and SARS coronaviruses. Most are treatable.
How does the coronavirus spread?
Droplets from coughs and sneezes spread the COVID-19 virus. You also can be exposed to the virus by touching a surface or object that has been contaminated from the virus.
What are the symptoms of coronavirus?
Symptoms of COVID-19 (the disease caused by the COVID-19 virus) are similar to those of a cold and the flu: Aches and pains, cough, diarrhea, fever, headache, nasal congestion, runny nose, shortness of breath, sore throat and tiredness. These symptoms can show within two to 14 days of being exposed to the virus. If you have a severe case, you may develop these symptoms after a few days: significant shortness of breath, low oxygen levels, abnormal blood tests, kidney failure, liver failure, pneumonia and hospitalization. If you have a fever and cough or shortness of breath within 14 days of traveling from a country with an outbreak or you’ve been in contact with someone who has traveled to an infected area, call your doctor to get tested for COVID-19.
How is COVID-19 diagnosed?
Testing for coronaviruses looks at secretions from the nose, throat, blood or body fluids. These samples will be sent to a CDC-approved lab and results will be sent to your doctor.
How is COVID-19 treated?
Currently, there is no medicine to treat people diagnosed with COVID-19 caused by the COVID-19 virus. Antibiotics only treat bacterial infections; they do not work against viruses including the COVID-19 virus or the infectious disease it causes, COVID-19. Taking an antibiotic will not prevent developing COVID-19. Research is ongoing in search of a vaccine or medication to prevent and treat COVID-19.
Current recommendations are to treat the symptoms with home care. Stay home from work and school if you have a fever and cough. Focus on sleeping and drinking extra fluids, and staying away from other people. If you do have to be around others, wear a mask. Cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue or your elbow. And most importantly, wash hands thoroughly and often with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
The situation is rapidly evolving and recommendations are subject to change as additional information becomes available. We will continue to provide updates as important information is released. Here is the most current information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
How do you prevent getting COVID-19?
Currently, there is no vaccine for the COVID-19 virus or the COVID19 infectious disease. The best way to prevent getting infected is the same as other viruses – wash hands thoroughly with soap and water before touching your face and eating, avoid contact with people who appear sick and disinfect surfaces such as faucets, door knobs, etc.