In early 2020, a new virus began generating headlines all over the world because of the unprecedented speed of its transmission.

Its origins have been traced to a food market in Wuhan, China, in December 2019. From there, it’s reached countries as distant as the United States and the Philippines.

The virus (officially named SARS-CoV-2) has been responsible for tens of millions of infections globally, causing over 1.5 million deaths. The United States is the country most affected.

The disease caused by an infection with SARS-CoV-2 is called COVID-19, which stands for coronavirus disease 2019.

Let’s bust some myths.

Read on to learn:

  • how this coronavirus is transmitted
  • how it’s similar to and different from other coronaviruses
  • how to prevent transmitting this virus to others if you suspect you’ve contracted it

Doctors and scientists are learning new things about this virus every day. So far, we know that COVID-19 may not cause any symptoms for some people.

You may carry the virus for 2 days or up to 2 weeks before you notice symptoms.

Some common symptoms that have been specifically linked to COVID-19 include:

Less common symptoms include:

However, individuals with COVID-19 may have some, all, or none of the above symptoms.

These symptoms may become more severe in some people. Call emergency medical services if you have or someone you care for has any of the following symptoms:

  • trouble breathing
  • blue lips or a blue face
  • persistent pain or pressure in the chest
  • confusion
  • excessive drowsiness

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is still investigating the full range of symptoms.

COVID-19 versus the flu

The 2019 coronavirus causes more deaths than the seasonal flu.

According to the CDC, an estimated 0.04 to 0.16 percent of people who developed the flu during the 2019–2020 flu season in the United States died by April 4, 2020.

In comparison, about 1.76 percent of those with a confirmed case of COVID-19 in the United States have died as of December 26, 2020.

The flu and COVID-19 share many of the same symptoms. Common flu symptoms include:

Coronaviruses are zoonotic. This means they first develop in animals before being transmitted to humans.

For the virus to be transmitted from animals to humans, a person has to come into close contact with an animal that has the infection.

Once the virus develops in people, coronaviruses can be transmitted from person to person through respiratory droplets. This is a technical name for the wet stuff that moves through the air when you exhale, cough, sneeze, or talk.

The viral material hangs out in these droplets and can be breathed into the respiratory tract (your windpipe and lungs), where the virus can then lead to an infection.

It’s possible that you could acquire SARS-CoV-2 if you touch your mouth, nose, or eyes after touching a surface or object that has the virus on it. However, this is not thought to be the main way that the virus is passed on.

SARS-CoV-2 can also be passed on via airborne transmission of small infectious particles that may linger in the air for minutes to hours.

However, infection through close contact with people with SARS-CoV-2 — and their respiratory droplets — is currently thought to be much more common.

The 2019 coronavirus hasn’t been definitively linked to a specific animal.

Researchers believe that the virus may have been passed from bats to another animal — either snakes or pangolins — and then transmitted to humans.

This transmission likely occurred in the open food market in Wuhan.

You’re at high risk for contracting SARS-CoV-2 if you come into contact with someone who’s carrying it, especially if you’ve been exposed to their saliva or been near them when they’ve coughed, sneezed, or talked.

Without taking proper preventive measures, you’re also at high risk if you:

Handwashing is key

Washing your hands and disinfecting surfaces can help decrease your risk for contracting this and other viruses.

Older adults and people with certain health conditions have a higher risk for severe complications if they contract the virus. These health conditions include:

COVID-19 and pregnancy

Pregnancy also puts you at a higher risk for complications from COVID-19.

The CDC reports that pregnant women are more likely to experience severe COVID-19 illness than nonpregnant women.

For instance, pregnant women entered the intensive care unit (ICU) at nearly three times the rate of nonpregnant women. Mortality rates for pregnant women are also higher.

According to a study from September 2020, women with COVID-19 are also more likely to have a preterm birth than women without COVID-19.

Transmitting the virus from mother to child during pregnancy isn’t likely, but the newborn is able to contract the virus after birth.

COVID-19 can be diagnosed similarly to other conditions caused by viral infections: using a blood, saliva, or tissue sample.

However, most tests use a cotton swab to retrieve a sample from the inside of your nostrils.

Locations that conduct tests include:

  • the CDC
  • some state health departments
  • commercial companies
  • certain pharmacies
  • clinics
  • emergency rooms
  • community testing centers

Visit the websites of your state’s health department or the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services to find out where testing is offered near you.

At-home tests

On November 17, 2020, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued its first emergency use authorization (EUA) for a COVID-19 self-testing kit.

The EUA specifies that the test kit is authorized for use by people ages 14 years and older whom healthcare professionals have identified as having suspected COVID-19.

The Lucira COVID-19 All-In-One Test Kit is a rapid test, which means that the nasal swab sample doesn’t have to be sent off to a lab. The test kit is available by prescription only and promises results within 30 minutes.

Back on April 21, 2020, the FDA authorized the use of the first COVID-19 home collection kit. It’s produced by Pixel by LabCorp.

A cotton swab is provided, and people will be able to collect a nasal sample with it and mail it to a designated laboratory for testing.

It’s authorized for use by people ages 18 years and older.

DID YOU KNOW?

Emergency use authorizations (EUAs) allow for the use of medical products that haven’t received approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

The FDA issues EUAs in circumstances where no FDA-approved alternatives are available to help diagnose, treat, or prevent a serious condition.

When to see your doctor

Talk with your doctor right away if you think you have COVID-19 or you notice symptoms.

Your doctor will advise you on whether you should:

  • stay home and monitor your symptoms
  • set up a telehealth visit
  • come into the doctor’s office to be evaluated
  • go to the hospital for more urgent care

There’s currently no cure for an infection with the new coronavirus. However, many treatments and vaccines are currently under study.

On October 22, 2020, the FDA approved its first COVID-19 treatment, the medication remdesivir (Veklury). It’s available by prescription for people ages 12 years and older who’ve been hospitalized. It’s administered as an intravenous (IV) infusion.

In November 2020, the FDA also granted EUAs to monoclonal antibody medications. Monoclonal antibodies are human-made proteins that help to fight off foreign-made substances, such as viruses.

These medications are:

Like remdesivir, they’re also administered by IV infusion and intended for people ages 12 years and older. These medications are used for outpatient therapy.

The FDA has also issued EUAs to a few other treatments, such as convalescent plasma, that are intended for people who are hospitalized or at high risk for hospitalization.

Most COVID-19 treatment focuses on managing symptoms as the virus runs its course.

Seek medical help if you think you have COVID-19. Your doctor will recommend treatment for any symptoms or complications that develop and let you know if you need to seek emergency treatment.

Treatments for other coronaviruses

Other coronaviruses such as severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) are also treated by managing symptoms. In some cases, experimental treatments have been tested to see how effective they are.

Examples of therapies used for these illnesses include:

  • antiviral or retroviral medications
  • breathing support, such as mechanical ventilation
  • steroids to help reduce lung swelling and inflammation
  • blood plasma transfusions

The most serious complication of COVID-19 is a type of pneumonia that’s been called 2019 novel coronavirus-infected pneumonia (NCIP).

Results from a 2020 study of 138 people admitted into hospitals in Wuhan with NCIP found that 26 percent of those admitted had severe cases and needed to be treated in the ICU.

The percentage of people who died from NCIP after being admitted to the hospital was 4.3 percent.

It should be noted that people who were admitted to the ICU were, on average, older and had more underlying health conditions than people who didn’t go to the ICU.

NCIP is not the only complication specifically linked to the 2019 coronavirus.

Researchers have seen the following complications in people who have developed COVID-19:

The best way to prevent the transmission of the virus is to avoid or limit contact with people who are showing symptoms of COVID-19 or any respiratory infection.

The next best thing you can do is practice good hygiene and physical distancing to prevent bacteria and viruses from being transmitted.

Prevention tips

  • Wash your hands frequently for at least 20 seconds at a time with warm water and soap. How long is 20 seconds? About as long as it takes to sing your “ABCs.”
  • Don’t touch your face, eyes, nose, or mouth when your hands are dirty.
  • Don’t go out if you’re feeling sick or have any cold or flu symptoms.
  • Stay at least 6 feet (2 meters) away from people. Avoid crowds and large gatherings.
  • Cover your mouth with a tissue or the inside of your elbow whenever you sneeze or cough. Throw away any tissues you use right away.
  • Clean any objects you touch a lot. Use disinfectants on objects like phones, computers, and doorknobs. Use soap and water for objects that you cook or eat with, like utensils and dishware.
Healthline

Multiple vaccines are in development, and they’ll soon be available to the public and used for prevention. Some have already proven to be effective in clinical trials.

On December 11, 2020, the FDA granted its first EUA for a vaccine. This vaccine was developed by Pfizer and BioNTech. It can be given to people ages 16 years and older.

On December 18, the FDA granted an EUA to a vaccine developed by Moderna. The Moderna vaccine can be given to people ages 18 years and older.

If you’re out in a public setting where it’s difficult to follow physical distancing guidelines, the CDC recommends that you wear a cloth face mask or covering that covers your mouth and nose.

When worn correctly, and by large percentages of the public, these masks can help to slow the transmission of SARS-CoV-2.

That’s because they can block the respiratory droplets of people who may be asymptomatic or people who have the virus but have gone undiagnosed.

You can make your own mask using basic materials such as:

  • a bandana
  • a T-shirt
  • cotton fabric

The CDC provides instructions for making a mask with scissors or with a sewing machine.

Cloth masks are preferred for the general public since other types of masks should be reserved for healthcare workers.

It’s critical to keep the mask or covering clean. Wash it after each time you use it. Avoid touching the front of it with your hands. Also, try to avoid touching your mouth, nose, and eyes when you remove it.

This prevents you from possibly transferring the virus from a mask to your hands and from your hands to your face.

Keep in mind that wearing a face mask or covering isn’t a replacement for other preventive measures, such as frequent handwashing and practicing physical distancing. All of them are important.

Certain people shouldn’t wear face masks, including:

  • children under 2 years old
  • people who have trouble breathing
  • people who are unable to remove their own masks

A coronavirus gets its name from the way it looks under a microscope.

The word corona means “crown.”

When examined closely, the round virus has a “crown” of proteins called peplomers jutting out from its center in every direction. These proteins help the virus identify whether it can infect its host.

The condition known as SARS was also linked to a highly infectious coronavirus back in the early 2000s.

COVID-19 vs. SARS

This isn’t the first time a coronavirus has made news. The 2003 SARS outbreak was also caused by a coronavirus.

As with the 2019 virus, the SARS virus was first found in animals before it was transmitted to humans.

The SARS virus is thought to have come from bats and was transferred to another animal and then to humans. Once transmitted to humans, the SARS virus began spreading quickly among people.

However, unlike the new coronavirus, the SARS virus was eventually contained and eradicated.

Learn more about how COVID-19 compares to SARS.

First and foremost, don’t panic. You don’t need to be quarantined unless you suspect you have contracted the virus or have a confirmed test result.

Following simple handwashing and physical distancing guidelines are the best ways to help protect yourself from being exposed to the virus.

The 2019 coronavirus probably seems scary when you read the news about new deaths, quarantines, and travel bans.

Stay calm and follow your doctor’s instructions if you’re diagnosed with COVID-19, so you can recover and help prevent the new coronavirus from being transmitted.