COVID-19 is the name for the disease caused by coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2. This virus can lead to serious illness and death, but there are vaccines available to reduce that risk.
There’s also a lot of information available on COVID-19, from vaccines to treatments, but not everything you read is completely accurate. That makes it hard to know what’s true. Read the following to get the facts about the disease.
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What is COVID-19?
COVID-19 (coronavirus disease 2019) is a disease caused by a virus named SARS-CoV-2 and was discovered in December 2019. It is very contagious and has quickly spread around the world. The U.S. currently has the highest number of cases and deaths from COVID-19.
Viruses are constantly changing, which is common and expected. These are called “variants”. The Delta and Omicron variants are the most widespread in the country, and may cause slightly different symptoms. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is tracking these variants.
While COVID-19 most often causes respiratory symptoms similar to those from a cold, flu, or pneumonia, it can also affect other parts of your body.
What are the symptoms of COVID-19?
Common symptoms of COVID-19 include a fever, cough, congestion, and shortness of breath, chills, muscle aches, and loss of taste or smell. The CDC considers a person to have a fever when he or she has a measured temperature of at least 100.4° F [38° C]. These symptoms occur 2 to 14 days after being exposed to the virus. Many people who come down with COVID-19 have mild symptoms. These symptoms can make you feel like you have the flu or a cold. However, some people have no symptoms and others have severe symptoms. In some cases, COVID-19 can be fatal.
People who have chronic health issues or compromised immune systems, such as heart disease, lung disease, or diabetes, are at a greater risk of becoming seriously ill. Likewise, the older you are, the greater your risk of getting a severe case.
How do people get COVID-19?
The most common way to get COVID-19 is by inhaling respiratory droplets that are in the air. When a person with COVID-19 breathes, coughs, or sneezes, tiny droplets leave their mouth and nose and go into the air. You can’t see these droplets. If you’re within 6 feet of that person, you may breathe in those droplets. You won’t know you’ve done it. But by doing that, you may get the germs that cause COVID-19 in your body.
COVID-19 also can be shared if you touch a surface an infected person has touched. Some examples include door handles, elevator buttons and shopping carts. The germs can get into your body if you then touch your eyes, nose, or mouth.
How do I get tested for COVID-19?
If you think you have COVID-19, stay home and contact your family doctor to get advice on what you should do next. Information on COVID-19 testing options and availability continues to change. Currently, testing options are available at physician offices and health systems, local public health offices, pharmacies, and even some schools. There are also at-home rapid COVID-19 tests but availability may vary.
What is the treatment for COVID-19?
Most of the time, COVID-19 treatment includes treating the symptoms, which can be done at home. It’s often similar to treating influenza (the flu) or cold symptoms. For people at risk for severe disease, their doctor may prescribe additional treatments such as monoclonal antibodies or oral medication.
- Stay home.
- If possible, stay in a separate room from others in your house. You want to stay away so you don’t make anyone else sick.
- Contact your doctor. They’ll tell you what to do to treat your symptoms.
In August 2021, the CDC warned against using Ivermectin. Ivermectin is not authorized or approved by FDA for prevention or treatment of COVID-19. Taking Ivermectin for COVID-19 can cause severe illness when taken outside of its intended use.
Are there vaccines to prevent COVID-19?
Three vaccines for COVID-19 are authorized for emergency use in the United States from Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson (Janssen).
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorized the vaccines, and the CDC recommended the Pfizer-BioNTech’s coronavirus vaccine for people 12 and older, and the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines for people 18 and older. In August 2021, the FDA gave full approval to the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, now known as Comirnaty. That means this vaccine is fully cleared for use in people ages 16 and older. The vaccine can also still be used under emergency use authorization for kids ages 12 to 15.
In most cases, the mRNA vaccines are preferred over the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. However, all three are available and effective at preventing severe disease and death, especially after a booster dose.
The vaccines protect you from getting very sick by keeping the SARS-CoV-2 virus from entering your cells and causing COVID-19. But the vaccines do not keep you from getting the virus and possibly spreading it. Also, it takes a few weeks after the second dose of the vaccine to get the best protection.
Read more about the vaccines in COVID-19 Vaccine Frequently Asked Questions.
What does a vaccine booster do and should I get a booster?
Everyone eligible should get a COVID-19 vaccine booster dose. A “booster dose” is a supplemental vaccine dose given to people when the immune response to a primary vaccine series was adequate but may have decreased over time. Data is showing that boosters increase vaccine effectiveness. Vaccine boosters are actually common ways to improve protection against a virus and especially support people at the highest risk for COVID-19 complications.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) recommend that fully vaccinated individuals get a booster shot for the best protection. Learn more about COVID-19 vaccine boosters.
Things to consider
It’s easy to feel overwhelmed and nervous when thinking about COVID-19. Here are some steps you can take to keep your stress under control.
- Talk with your family doctor. Ask them what you should or shouldn’t be doing. They may suggest ways you can help your kids deal with any stress they’re feeling, too.
- Get a COVID-19 vaccine booster dose if you haven’t gotten one. This is the best way to ensure you are fully protected. People age 12-17 can receive a booster of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine. People 18 or older can get a booster shot of any COVID-19 vaccine.
- Wear a mask in public, even if you don’t feel sick. Masks protect you and prevent you from spreading the virus to others. The masks should always cover your mouth and nose. Even with the mask, continue to keep 6 feet between you and others. For additional guidance, see the CDC’s Guide to Masks.
- Wash your hands frequently. This will help get rid of viruses and other germs on your hands. If you’re not near soap and water, use a hand sanitizer that contains between 60% and 95% alcohol.
- Don’t touch your face, especially your eyes, nose, and mouth. These are the locations where a virus can enter your body.
- Misinformation is an issue. Get your news from trusted sources. Make sure the online articles you read are from a trusted news-based organization. Aside from your doctor, you can trust information from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the U.S. Surgeon General, and the World Health Organization (WHO). You can also rely on news presented by your local or state public health agency.
- Stay healthy. Eat a balanced diet. Get plenty of sleep. Exercise. Don’t use tobacco products or alcohol to deal with your stress.
Symptoms can vary by person or variant. It’s important to stay home if you or someone in your family feels sick. Call your doctor. They will advise what you should do next, which will likely include a COVID-19 test. If you or someone in your family develops a very high fever, cough, and has trouble breathing, call your doctor right away or go to the emergency room.
Questions to ask your doctor
- Am I at risk for getting COVID-19?
- How will I know if I have COVID-19?
- Is there a vaccine for COVID-19?
- Can my children get COVID-19?
- Is it safe to travel within the United States by bus, train, or airplane?
- Is it safe to be in a large crowd?
Read more from familydoctor.org
- Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19)
- Hand Sanitizers and Coronavirus (COVID-19)
- Handwashing and Coronavirus (COVID-19)
- COVID-19 Vaccine
- Debunking Common COVID-19 Vaccine Myths
Copyright © American Academy of Family Physicians
This information provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. Talk to your family doctor to find out if this information applies to you and to get more information on this subject.