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What is Coronavirus?

Coronaviruses have always been around, causing mild illnesses like the common cold. Today's pandemic is caused by the new or “novel” coronavirus — called COVID-19 —  and it's a serious respiratory disease that can cause coughing, fever, and shortness of breath. Many people who get COVID-19 will only have mild symptoms (or no symptoms at all). But up to 1 out of 5 people who get it will become very sick and need to go to the hospital. Some people with COVID-19 die. People with certain medical conditions are more likely to get severely sick from COVID-19.

How do you get COVID-19? 

COVID-19 is highly contagious — it spreads very easily between people. You get COVID-19 from other people who have the virus. It spreads through spit and mucus — usually through tiny, often invisible, liquid droplets that come out of your nose and mouth when you cough, sneeze, talk, sing, or shout.

The main way the virus spreads is by being close to other people. If you’re within 6 feet of a person who has COVID-19, or they cough, sneeze, or talk when you’re nearby, these infected droplets can get inside your nose or mouth and make you sick. People who have COVID-19 can spread the virus before they have symptoms or even know they’re sick. That’s why it’s important to stay at least 6 feet away from people if you ever need to leave the house, and wear a cloth face mask while you’re out. 

It also may be possible to get COVID-19 if you touch things — like a doorknob, lightswitch, or table — that have the virus on them, and then touch your eyes, nose, or mouth. Scientists don’t think this is the main way the virus spreads, but it’s still important to wash your hands often, avoid touching your face, and disinfect surfaces that you touch a lot (like your phone).

People are most likely to spread COVID-19 when they’re really sick and showing symptoms, like a fever and cough. But it’s possible for people with COVID-19 to spread it when they have no symptoms or don’t know they’re sick. COVID-19 is new, and scientists are still trying to learn more about how it spreads and why it makes some people sicker than others.

Right now, there’s no evidence to show that COVID-19 is spread in food. But it’s important to wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and water especially before cooking and eating, to avoid getting germs from your hands into your mouth.

COVID-19 has been found in semen (cum), but it’s not clear whether the virus can spread from one person to another through semen. But COVID-19 does spread easily between people when they’re within about 6 feet of each other, or sharing other body fluids like saliva (spit). So it’s very easy to get COVID-19 if you have in-person sexual contact with someone who has it. Learn more about COVID-19 and sexual health.

Viruses don’t discriminate, and COVID-19 doesn’t target people based on their race, ethnicity, immigration status, or income level. It’s dangerous and harmful to link COVID-19 with a particular racial or ethnic group. Anybody can get COVID-19 if they come in contact with the virus.

How do I know if I have COVID-19?

Not everyone who gets COVID-19 has symptoms. For some, the symptoms are mild. But others can get very sick, may need to go to the hospital, and could die. COVID-19 symptoms may start showing up about 2-14 days after you’ve had contact with the virus.

Some symptoms of COVID-19 are:

  • Fever

  • Cough

  • Shortness of breath

  • Loss of smell or taste

  • Sore throat

  • Muscle pain

  • Headache

  • Chills/shaking with chills

The only way to know for sure if you have COVID-19 is to get tested. Tests are most important for people with very serious symptoms or some people who know they’ve been exposed.

The best thing to do if you’re wondering if you should get tested for COVID-19 is call your doctor or other health care provider and ask. You can get more information on testing in your area from your state or local health departmentRead more about COVID-19 testing.

What should I do if I think I have COVID-19?

If you think you may have COVID-19, call a doctor to find out if you need medical treatment, even if you don’t have a doctor who you see regularly. Most people with COVID-19 can recover safely at home. Staying home as much as you can will help stop the spread of the virus, and help protect you from getting COVID-19 or another illness. 

If you think you’ve been exposed to COVID-19:

  • Don’t go out in public, except to get medical care. But call first before going to the doctor, so they can let you know for sure if you need treatment and direct you to the right place for care.

  • If you do have to go out, wear a cloth face mask any time you’re in public. Learn how to make and wear cloth face coverings on the CDC website

  • Always cover your nose and mouth when you sneeze or cough. Use the inside of your elbow (not your hand) or a tissue, throw the tissue in the trash, and wash your hands right away. The tiny droplets that come out of your nose and mouth can spread COVID-19 to others.

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water or use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol in it — especially after coughing, sneezing, going to the bathroom, or touching your face, and before handling food or touching other people. Scrub for at least 20 seconds, cleaning all surfaces on your hands, including between your fingers and under your nails. This helps kill germs that may be on your hands.

  • If you feel sick, stay home and try to avoid other people as much as possible. If you have a fever, cough, or are having a hard time breathing, call your doctor. If you live with family members or roommates, try to keep away from them as much you can, especially if their age or health puts them at high risk of getting very sick if they get the virus. Read more about what to do if you feel sick, or are caring for someone who’s sick

Call 911 right away if you develop emergency warning signs like:

  • Trouble breathing or gasping for air

  • Severe chest pain or pressure

  • Confusion that’s not normal for you

  • Not being able to stay awake or respond 

  • Blue color in your lips or face

Tell the 911 operator if you’ve been in contact with someone who has COVID-19 or have been to an area where there are lots of people who have COVID-19.

If you’re not sure whether you need treatment, use the CDC’s Coronavirus Self-Checker to help you know if you need medical care, and to find other resources in your area.

Your state and local government and health departments will have the most up-to-date information about the new coronavirus in your area, and where to get treatment if you need it. Checking with them before you get treatment can help you make sure you go to the right place for care, and help prevent more people (including you) from getting sick.

If you’re an immigrant, it’s important to know that getting testing, health care, or treatment for COVID-19 will not count against you when applying for a green card or visa. Even if you don't have health insurance, you can still get care at a hospital or health center. Learn more about your rights when accessing health care.

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