Frequently Asked Questions about COVID-19

Coronaviruses are a large group of viruses that cause diseases in animals and humans. They often circulate among animals and can sometimes evolve and infect people. In humans, the viruses can cause mild respiratory infections, like the common cold, but can lead to serious illnesses, like pneumonia.

A novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) that causes the disease Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) emerged in Wuhan, China in December 2019. Cases have been detected in most countries worldwide, and on March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization characterized the outbreak as a pandemic. Human-to-human transmission occurs through close contact.

Note: Information about COVID-19 may change rapidly. View the latest information on the current outbreak from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).


What are the symptoms? How can you tell the difference between the novel coronavirus and a cold or influenza (flu)?

The symptoms are similar, including fever, cough, and shortness of breath. To diagnose a potential case, healthcare professionals may use a COVID-19 diagnostic test and/or run tests to rule out flu and other infections.

Individuals with COVID-19 have had a wide range of symptoms, ranging from mild to severe illness. Some individuals who are infected may not have symptoms, others require ventilator support, and many have died. Symptoms may appear two to 14 days after exposure to the virus and may include:

  • fever
  • cough
  • shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • chills
  • fatigue
  • muscle pain or body aches
  • headache
  • sore throat
  • new loss of taste or smell
  • congestion or runny nose
  • nausea or vomiting
  • diarrhea

This list does not include all possible symptoms. If you develop any symptoms and think you have been exposed, call a healthcare professional immediately.

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What are the symptoms in children?

Children with COVID-19 may have mild, cold-like symptoms, such as fever, runny nose, and cough, and some children experience vomiting and diarrhea. Occasionally, a child gets really sick after being infected with COVID-19. There have been some rare reports of children who have multi-system inflammatory syndrome, which has been compared to Kawasaki disease or toxic shock syndrome. Parents are advised to call their pediatrician if their child has any of the following symptoms:

  • a fever that will not go away
  • abdominal pain, diarrhea, or vomiting
  • rash or changes in skin color
  • pink or red eyes
  • trouble breathing
  • the child seems confused or overly sleepy​
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Are individuals contagious before they develop symptoms?

COVID-19 can be spread by an individual before they develop symptoms. This poses a problem because people who do not know they are infected may continue to go to work, school, and other public places. People who are sick and have symptoms are more likely to stay home, which means fewer opportunities for the virus to spread from one person to another. When asymptomatic transmission occurs, infection control experts and public health officials may need to take additional measures, such as social distancing, isolating patients, or using quarantines.

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What should individuals do if they think they may have been infected?

Those who think they may have been exposed to coronavirus should contact a healthcare professional if they have any of the symptoms, as they may be eligible for treatment. Stay home and away from other people if you think you might have been exposed to COVID-19.

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Who is at greatest risk of serious illness?

Although COVID-19 can affect anyone, individuals at greater risk of severe illness from COVID-19 include the following:

  • Older adults (the risk for severe illness increases with age)
  • People with certain medical conditions like cancer, chronic kidney disease, chronic lung disease, dementia, diabetes (type 1 or type 2), down syndrome, heart disease, HIV, liver disease, and sickle cell disease
  • Those living in a nursing home or long-term care facility
  • Obesity (body mass index [BMI] >30)
  • Pregnant women
  • Smokers
  • Those who have a weakened immune system
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How does COVID-19 affect pregnant women?

Pregnant women with COVID-19 may be more likely to experience preterm birth and severe illness from COVID-19 than non-pregnant individuals.

COVID-19 vaccination is recommended for everyone age 5 years and older, including women who are pregnant, breastfeeding, trying to get pregnant, or who may become pregnant in the future. Pregnant women should also take steps to reduce their risk of getting sick, including proper handwashing, social distancing, and wearing a face mask in public.

Pregnant women should also get vaccinated against whooping cough and influenza (flu) during each pregnancy to help protect themselves and their baby. Learn more about vaccines recommended during pregnancy.

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How is COVID-19 transmitted?

The virus that causes COVID-19 is spread through respiratory droplets when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or talks. Studies have indicated that COVID-19 may also be spread by those who are not showing symptoms.

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What can individuals do to protect themselves?

Everyone should practice the following healthy habits to help prevent the spread of coronavirus and other respiratory viruses:

  • Get vaccinated against COVID-19
  • Wear a face mask
  • Practice social distancing—stay ~6 feet apart
  • Wash hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth
  • Cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue (or your elbow)
  • Clean and disinfect common objects and surfaces
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick and stay home while you are sick
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Do face masks protect against COVID-19?

Face masks can help prevent an infected individual from spreading the virus. Even if you are fully vaccinated, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) still recommends wearing a mask in certain instances, and you still need to follow guidance at local businesses and workplaces. COVID-19 is still circulating, and people are still getting sick and dying.

Face masks are not recommended for children less than 2 years of age or by individuals who have trouble breathing or who cannot easily remove them.

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Are there tests available to detect COVID-19?

There are currently three types of COVID-19 tests authorized by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), although none are a substitute for vaccination:

  • Molecular tests are used to detect the genetic material of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. Molecular tests are fairly accurate and can be used to diagnose the disease.
  • Antigen tests are a new category of tests that can quickly detect fragments of the virus from nasal swabs. Antigen tests can provide results in minutes, but they are not as sensitive as molecular tests. Positive results from antigen tests are highly accurate, but negative results may need to be confirmed with a molecular test.
  • Antibody (or serology) tests detect the body’s immune response to COVID-19 by looking for antibodies in the blood to help determine prior exposure. When the body is fighting an infection or has fought an infection, antibodies can be found in the blood. These tests do not detect the actual virus but are used to identify people who have been infected with the virus in the past.

FDA has issued emergency use authorizations for home use self-administered tests, available with a prescription or over-the-counter.

More than 415 tests have been authorized for emergency use including 291 molecular tests, 90 antibody and other immune response tests, and 38 antigen tests. Accuracy varies among all of the tests. The resulting uncertainty can complicate public health decisions.

Some antibody tests have a high potential for false-negative and false-positive results. They may not be able to detect antibodies in the blood of someone who is newly infected, and they may not be able to distinguish SARS-CoV-2 from other coronaviruses. The presence of antibodies may indicate immunity from COVID-19, but that has not yet been conclusively proven; nor do scientists know the duration of protection. Although serologic tests should not be used at this time to determine if an individual is immune, these tests can help determine the proportion of a population previously infected with SARS-CoV-2 and provide information about populations that may be immune and potentially protected.

Serologic test results should not be used to make decisions about returning to school or the workplace. Additional data are needed before modifying public health recommendations based on serologic test results, including decisions on discontinuing physical distancing and using personal protective equipment.

View additional information from FDA about tests approved for use in the US

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Are there any treatments available for COVID-19?

The Food and Drug Administration has approved treatments for certain patients who are hospitalized for COVID-19.

In addition, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has developed treatment guidelines for COVID-19. The guidelines, which will be updated as experts learn more about the disease, include recommendations on antiviral drugs, as well as other treatments such as convalescent plasma and dexamethasone. Talk to your healthcare professional about treatments that may be recommended for you.

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Should ivermectin be used to treat COVID-19?

No, ivermectin should not be used to treat COVID-19. The drug is approved for use in animals and humans to treat certain infections caused by parasites such as worms or head lice. There is no evidence that ivermectin is effective against COVID-19. If misused or overused, the drug can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, confusion, hallucinations, seizures, coma, and even death.

COVID-19 vaccination is approved by FDA and is the safest and most effective way to protect against severe disease and death from COVID-19.


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Stop the Spread

What is social distancing?

Deliberately increasing the physical space between people to avoid spreading illness. Staying ~6 feet away from other people lessens your chances of catching or spreading COVID-19.

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Is it safe to get routine medical care during the pandemic?

Yes. Many routine medical visits can be provided virtually via telemedicine. Other services, including routine vaccinations, may be available in pharmacies, clinics, or physician offices that have taken appropriate precautions. It is important to make sure that you and your family members are up-to-date on all recommended vaccinations.

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Are certain activities safer than others?

In general, outdoor visits and activities are safer than indoor activities, and smaller gatherings are safer than crowds. Fully vaccinated people can participate in some indoor events safely, with other vaccinated individuals.

View the CDC website to help choose safer activities.

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COVID-19 Variants

What is a variant?

Genetic variations of viruses are common and expected. SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, will naturally develop are changes to the genetic material in the virus over time, known as mutations.

A variant occurs when there have been several significant mutations to the virus. Variants are of concern when they affect:

  • disease spread
  • disease severity
  • tests used to detect the virus
  • vaccines and treatments
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Updated November 2021

Sources: American Academy of Pediatrics, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Food and Drug Administration

Learn more about coronaviruses at