Exciting news. Our app has a new name – Healthily. Learn more
Coronavirus (COVID-19) is a respiratory illness that affects the airways and lungs. It was first seen in humans in 2019. COVID-19 is caused by SARS-CoV-2, which is a type of coronavirus.
Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that can infect humans and animals. Some cause mild respiratory infections, such as the common cold, while others cause more severe illnesses, such as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS).
The symptoms of COVID-19 are usually mild and tend to develop slowly. They generally appear 2 to 14 days after exposure to the virus, and include:
In some cases, the condition doesn’t cause any symptoms.
It is thought that the majority of people (4 in 5) who catch the virus get better without special treatment. However, a small number (around 1 in 6) can develop pneumonia and difficulty breathing, which can be life-threatening.
Your risk of developing a serious illness increases if you are elderly or have an existing medical condition, such as heart disease or diabetes.
Seek medical help if you have:
Do not go to your doctor’s office or the emergency room, instead call your country's dedicated coronavirus helpline. If it's an emergency, phone for an ambulance and tell them your symptoms so that measures can be taken to reduce the risk of infecting others.
Stay indoors and avoid close contact with other people.
At present, there is no vaccine to reduce your risk of catching COVID-19. Because the infection is most likely spread through cough droplets, you can reduce your risk of infection by:
It is currency unclear if wearing a cloth face covering protects you from catching the virus, but it may reduce your risk of spreading the infection to others if you have it.
General guidance suggests there is no need to self-isolate (stay at home) unless you have or might have COVID-19.
You should self-isolate for up to 14 days if:
However, always check local guidelines for information specific to your city or country. During an outbreak, different regions may use different rules to limit the spread of infection.
Guidelines for getting tested vary from country to country, but if you have symptoms of COVID-19 or have been in contact with someone with the illness, you may be able to get a test to see if you have the virus. During this test, the inside of your nose and throat will usually be swabbed with a long cotton bud.
There is also another test to check if you've had COVID-19. This involves having a blood test known as an antibody test.
At present, there is no specific medication to prevent or treat COVID-19. The current treatment for anyone with the infection includes supportive care to treat symptoms.
As COVID-19 is caused by a virus, it cannot be treated with antibiotics, which work against bacteria, not viruses.
To find out more about COVID-19, visit our Coronavirus Hub.
Written on 24 February 2020
Reviewed on 27 July 2020
Important: Our website provides useful information but is not a substitute for medical advice. You should always seek the advice of your doctor when making decisions about your health.