Coronavirus (COVID-19): Causes
Reviewed by Carrie A. Horn, MD, Charles L. Daley, MD, Gwen A. Huitt, MD, MS, Shannon H. Kasperbauer, MD
The COVID-19 virus is spread through droplets from coughs and sneezes or from touching objects that have been contaminated with the virus.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggest staying at least three feet away from anyone who appears to be sick. It takes about five days after being exposed to the coronavirus for symptoms to develop. The incubation period ranges from 1-14 days. The CDC updates this estimate as more data become available.
It is not known exactly how long the virus that causes COVID-19 lives on surfaces. Other coronaviruses live on surfaces for a few hours up to several days depending on the surface, temperature or humidity of the environment. Early information about the COVID-19 virus indicates that it follows the same lifespan.
Packages that have been moved or sent from areas where the virus is active have a low risk of transmitting the virus that causes COVID-19. Those packages have been exposed to low temperatures and different conditions that do not help the virus live and thrive.
If you think a surface may be infected, clean it with simple disinfectant to kill the virus. Clean your hands with soap and water. Don’t touch your eyes, mouth or nose with unwashed hands.
It is very rare for animals to transmit coronaviruses to people who then infect other people. The SARS-CoV was associated with civet cats and MERS-CoV is transmitted by dromedary camels. Possible animal sources of COVID-19 have not yet been confirmed. To be cautious, avoid direct contact with non-domesticated animals and surfaces related to animals. Handle raw meat, milk or animal organs carefully and cook thoroughly to avoid contamination and eating undercooked animal products. There has been no evidence that the COVID-19 virus is spread by pets.
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Who’s at risk for contracting coronavirus?
People at risk for COVID-19 from the COVID-19 virus include those who have close contact with animals, live animal market workers and those caring for people infected with the virus, including health care workers, caregivers and family members. People with chronic diseases and the elderly are at risk for developing very serious cases of COVID-19.