COVID-19 is a disease caused by infection with SARS-CoV-2 (a coronavirus), which began to spread from person to person in 2019. Often referred to as a global pandemic, COVID-19 has affected millions of people of every age from around the world.
Risk Factors for COVID-19
Adults and children with the following qualities and conditions are more vulnerable to severe COVID-19 disease, hospitalization, requiring a ventilator, and death due to complications from the virus.
- Cerebrovascular disease (like stroke)
- Chronic kidney disease
- Chronic liver disease
- Chronic lung diseases (like COPD and asthma)
- Cystic Fibrosis
- Diabetes types 1 and 2
- Having had a solid organ or blood stem cell transplant
- Heart conditions
- Hemoglobin blood disorders (like sickle cell disease and thalassemia)
Symptoms of COVID-19
People with COVID-19 may experience a wide range of symptoms ranging from mild, cold and flu-like symptoms to severe illness. Symptoms may appear 2 to 14 days after exposure to the virus. Some people with active infection do not experience any noticeable symptoms.
People with COVID-19 infection may develop one or more of the following symptoms, as well as other less common symptoms not listed here.
- Fever or chills
- Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
- Muscle or body aches
- New loss of taste or smell
- Sore throat
- Congestion or runny nose
- Nausea or vomiting
- Brain fog
- HIV infection
- Immunocompromised condition/weakened immune system
- Mood disorders (including depression and schizophrenia)
- Neurological conditions (including dementia)
- Older adults (50 and older)
- Overweight or obese (BMI over 25 kg/m2)
- Physical inactivity
- Some physical and mental disabilities
- Substance abuse
If you have been near someone who has COVID-19, or if are experiencing any symptoms of COVID-19 infection, you should get tested for an active infection. To help prevent the spread of the virus, you can get tested for COVID-19, even if you don’t have any of the symptoms, the day before you plan to attend an indoor event or gathering.
Types of Tests
COVID-19 tests can detect either an active infection with the virus that causes COVID-19 or the antibodies that develop from a past infection or after getting vaccinated. All of these tests are based on swab samples collected from the nasal passages or mouth/throat, produced in the upper or lower reparatory tract.
NAAT (Nucleic Acid Amplification Tests) can detect genetic material of the virus that causes COVID-19. This type of test includes self-administered/at-home rapid tests and various types of provider-administered laboratory tests (including PRC and antigen tests).
NAATs conducted in laboratories (rather than at home) are considered the most sensitive COVID tests available. However, some NAAT results can come back positive for weeks to months following a COVID-19 infection, when the person is no longer ill nor contagious. This can happen because the NAATs can detect lingering levels of viral nucleic acid.
Self-administered (or “at-home”) rapid viral tests for COVID-19 can be taken regardless of the person’s vaccination status and whether or not the person is experiencing symptoms of infection. This type of test can detect an active COVID-19 infection and provide results in a few minutes. Rapid viral tests are considered less sensitive than laboratory administered tests like the PRC test. You can order free at-home tests at COVIDtests.gov. Free tests are also available through local health departments.
PCR (reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction) tests are laboratory-based tests. Providers collect patient samples in settings including pharmacies, clinics, doctors’ offices, and hospitals. The samples are tested in labs, and results are typically available for patients in a couple hours or up to three days.
This type of test is not an NAAT. Antigen tests can detect an active COVID-19 infection and provide results in 15 to 30 minutes. Antigen tests can be conducted in various healthcare settings with lab-generated results or self-administered at home. Antigen tests are considered less sensitive than PCR tests and other NAATs.
COVID-19 antibody tests detect viral antibodies, which develop in the body following COVID-19 infection or vaccination against COVID-19. Antibody tests cannot detect an active, current viral infection. Antibodies can protect people from getting infected, re-infected, or getting severely ill from the infection for some period of time. This protective ability wanes over time and varies from person to person.
Researchers at the University of Miami developed an innovative testing strategy to help predict and monitor COVID-19 community outbreaks. By sampling wastewater, researchers can isolate areas where residents are shedding particles of COVID-19 in their urine and feces.
Treatment for COVID-19
Over-the-counter medications can provide relief for mild symptoms of COVID-19, such as headaches, low-grade fever, sneezing, runny nose, and coughing. Many people can effectively treat these symptoms like those caused by a common cold, allergies, or the seasonal flu.
For those at risk for severe COVID-19 disease based on age, underlying health conditions, or immune compromise, treatments are available to reduce the chances of severe illness, hospitalization, and death. These medications include antiviral treatments, which stop the virus from multiplying in the body, and monoclonal antibodies that help the immune system respond more effectively to the virus. These treatments are available by prescription only. To be most effective, prescription treatment must begin soon after diagnosis, even if symptoms are initially mild.
For others who develop severe illness from COVID-19, prescription medications can help reduce symptoms and lower the chance of death. These medications can help reduce an overactive immune response, or treat COVID-19 and its complications.
All treatments are most effective before symptoms escalate to severe disease requiring hospitalization or the use of a ventilator.
Vaccination against COVID-19 is the most effective way to prevent infection, severe illness, and death from the virus that causes COVID-19. Click here to learn more about COVID-19 vaccines.
Other means of reducing the spread of COVID-19:
- Wearing a mask over the nose and mouth when in public and at indoor gatherings
- Hand washing or sanitizing
- Social distancing from others
- Self-care (manage underlying conditions, maintain a healthy weight, get enough physical activity and quality sleep, eat a nutrient-rich diet, don’t smoke)
Children and adults who are moderately or severely immunocompromised, or severely allergic to COVID-19 vaccines, may be eligible for an injectable preventive monoclonal antibody treatment to reduce the risk of catching COVID-19.
This coronavirus is highly contagious. Coronaviruses spread when an infected person breathes, talks, coughs, or sneezes, and tiny droplets project out of the mouth or nose. These droplets then infect others when they are inhaled or enter their eyes, nose, or mouth. It is believed that these droplets can spread at least six feet through the air. The virus can spread from an infected person who isn’t experiencing any symptoms of illness (called asymptomatic).
Those who have been infected and recovered from COVID-19 may temporarily have some level of antibody protection from catching the same variant of SARS-CoV-2. But, this defense is limited and decreases over time. Anyone can be re-infected due to exposure to someone with an active infection.