The coronavirus responsible for the disease COVID-19 has spread from China to 75 countries worldwide. Harvard epidemiologist Marc Lipsitch estimates between 40% and 70% of the world population will be infected with coronavirus sometime this year. So, chances are good you or someone you know will catch coronavirus. How will you know if you have it and what will you do? Here are the symptoms of coronavirus, what the CDC and WHO recommend you do if you think you have it, and the available treatment options. Before going into them, though, please remember COVID-19 is not a medical emergency for most people. In fact, children may be asymptomatic. Because a type of coronavirus causes the common cold, chances are good you’ve encountered a relative of the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 and been just fine!
Symptoms typically appear between two days and two weeks of exposure (as little as 1 day and as long as 24 days). Some people don’t show any symptoms at all, while most other people only experience mild symptoms, including a dry cough (76-82%), fever (98%), fatigue (11-44%), and shortness of breath. Other reported symptoms include headache, sore throat, diarrhea, and abdominal pain. Coronavirus is an upper respiratory infection, so symptoms resemble that of a cold. Children are less likely than adults to have symptoms. A small percentage develop pneumonia, which is characterized by fluid buildup in the lungs and difficulty breathing.
What to Do If You Think You Have Coronavirus
If you suspect you have coronavirus, the CDC recommends calling your health care professional and not going in for an appointment. Seeking medical care can infect others, particularly those at higher risk for developing pneumonia. Also, there just isn’t a lot the doctor can do for you. At present, there is no treatment for coronavirus. Testing is on a case-by-case basis and involves having samples sent to test centers. The CDC recommends monitoring symptoms and seeking medical care if you experience increasing shortness of breath.
It’s likely most people will get through coronavirus by home isolation. What this means is you stay at home and avoid contact with other people until you’re safe to go out in public again. Work with your doctor to determine the length of home stay, but expect to be away from school/work/shopping for two weeks.
How to Prepare
Ideally, you want to avoid coronavirus. Practice good hygeine. This means washing your hands with soap and water and using alcohol-based hand sanitizer (which you can easily make yourself). Try to maintain a distance of six feet from anyone with a cough or fever.
Be prepared for home isolation. Have a supply of food, water, and medications on hand. If you have pets or other family members, have a care plan in place for them. Keep your distance from others in the household and don’t share food or drinks. The disease is spread by droplets found in coughs and sneezes and also blood and stool, so wash your hands frequently. Your healthcare provider may offer additional precautions to take.
What Not to Do
The CDC also offers recommendation of what not to do.
- A person who thinks they may be infected should avoid interacting with others. This means maintaining a distance of at least 6 feet from other people and avoiding public transportation and crowds. While there’s no real benefit to wearing a face mask when you’re not infected (unless you’re a health care provider), you should cover your mouth and nose if you are infected with coronavirus. Basically, this is because droplets spread the virus (like from a cough or sneeze). If you don’t have a mask, cover your mouth when you cough.
- Don’t snuggle your pets. It’s best if an infected person has someone else care for their pets. So far, transmission to animals has not been verified, but some related viruses can infect pets.
- PLEASE don’t profile other people based on their ethnicity or any other factor! While the outbreak began in China, people of Asian descent are no more or less likely to get coronavirus than anyone else.
- If you contract coronavirus, follow the advice of your healthcare professional. If you don’t call a doctor (realistically, the CDC knows many people won’t seek medical attention), allow at least 14 days from the onset of symptoms before interacting with people and pets again. After this time, you’ll test positive for the virus, but the CDC says the amount of virus is too low to cause infection.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) (February 12, 2020). “Clinical Care.” Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19).
- del Rio, C.; Malani, P.N. (February 28, 2020). “COVID-19–New Insights on a Rapidly Changing Epidemic.” JAMA. doi: :10.1001/jama.2020.3072
- World Health Organization (February 23, 2020). Q&A on coronaviruses (COVID-19).