COVID-19 is the name of the disease caused by the virus SARS-CoV-2. This virus is a member of the coronavirus family.
Since being detected in 2019, the COVID-19 virus has undergone a number of mutations, giving rise to what are known as variants. These mutations are generally inconsequential. However, some variants may be more contagious or cause a more serious infection than the original virus.
The most common symptoms of COVID-19 are:
- Difficulty breathing
- Muscle ache
- Sore throat
- Gastrointestinal symptoms (vomiting, diarrhea)
- Sudden loss of smell and taste
- General ill feeling
Symptom severity varies greatly from one individual to another. Most people have mild to moderate symptoms that resemble a cold, while others will have more severe symptoms that resemble pneumonia. Children are more likely to develop gastrointestinal symptoms and rashes or skin changes.
Individuals with greater risk of complications and death from COVID-19 are:
- People with a weakened immune systems
- People with chronic illnesses (e.g., diabetes, heart, lung, liver or kidney disease)
- People 60 years of age or greater
- People who are obese
Most coronaviruses infect the respiratory tract, which includes the nose, throat and lungs. The infection can be spread:
- Through the air (e.g., when an infected person coughs, sneezes or talks)
- By direct contact (e.g., kissing or other forms of physical contact)
- By indirect contact (e.g., touching contaminated objects)
Transmission of coronaviruses is usually similar to other respiratory viruses such as influenza (flu). People are thought to be most contagious when they are very symptomatic. Individuals may be contagious 48 hours before the onset of symptoms. It is therefore possible that the virus will be transmitted in the absence of symptoms.
The following hygiene measures are recommended:
- Avoid physical contact with people who are infected.
- Wear a mask when indoors, especially in enclosed, high-traffic or poorly ventilated areas.
- Wash your hands regularly with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
- Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water are not available.
- Cough or sneeze into your elbow to avoid spreading germs.
- Avoid touching your face.
- Clean and disinfect frequently used surfaces.
People with severe symptoms or who are at high risk of complications should receive appropriate support that varies based on their symptoms.
There are vaccines and medications to protect against COVID-19 and its complications. Speak to your health care provider for more information.
When should I see a health professional?
If you have symptoms of COVID-19, it is recommended that you do a rapid test or that you get tested in a screening center to confirm the infection.
If you are only showing mild symptoms (e.g., mild cough or fever), a medical consultation is usually not necessary, unless you have been advised to do so. Isolate yourself and monitor your symptoms.
If you are showing more severe symptoms (e.g., fever, shortness of breath, cough), call your healthcare provider and follow their instructions.
Seek immediate medical attention or call 911 if you have any of the following symptoms:
- Trouble breathing
- Chest pain
- Bluish lips or face