Frequently Asked Questions about COVID-19

A novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) that causes Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) first 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.

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


General

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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Symptoms

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, follow CDC guidance on when to get tested and call a healthcare professional.

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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 (MIS-C). Parents are advised to call their pediatrician if their child has any of the following symptoms:

  • a fever that will not go away
  • stomach pain, diarrhea, or vomiting
  • rash or changes in skin color
  • pink or red eyes
  • trouble breathing
  • confusion or extreme tiredness​
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What should you do if you think you may have been infected or exposed?

If you have symptoms or think you may have been exposed to COVID-19, you should get tested as recommended by CDC. Stay home and wear a mask around other people until you know the test results. If you test positive, contact a healthcare professional who may recommend treatment.

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Are you contagious before you develop symptoms?

COVID-19 can be spread before symptoms develop, which can pose 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, creating fewer opportunities for the virus to spread from one person to another. When a virus is spread by people without symptoms, additional measures may be needed, such as social distancing, isolation, or quarantine.

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Prevention

How is COVID-19 spread?

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

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What can you do to protect yourself?

Everyone should practice the following healthy habits to help prevent the spread of COVID-19:

  • Get vaccinated against COVID-19
  • Wear a face mask as recommended
  • Practice social distancing—stay 6 feet apart
  • Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth
  • Cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick and stay home if you are sick
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Do face masks protect against COVID-19?

Yes. Face masks can help prevent an infected individual from spreading the virus. Even if you are up to date on COVID-19 vaccinations, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) 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 for individuals who have trouble breathing or who cannot easily remove them.

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When do I need to quarantine?

If you were exposed to COVID-19 and are not up to date on COVID-19 vaccinations, CDC recommends that you stay home and quarantine for at least 5 full days. If you were exposed to COVID-19 and are up to date on COVID-19 vaccinations, you do not need to stay home unless you develop symptoms.

View CDC Quarantine and Isolation (Q&I) Calculator for customized information for unique situations.

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Testing

When should I get tested?

CDC recommends that you get tested if you have symptoms or think you have been exposed

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What tests are 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, including molecular tests, antibody and other immune response tests, and antigen tests. Accuracy varies among all of the tests.

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

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Treatment

Are there any treatments available for COVID-19?

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved treatments for certain patients who are more likely to get very sick from COVID-19. If you do test positive, call a healthcare professional immediately to see if treatment is right for you.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has developed treatment guidelines for COVID-19 to help healthcare professionals make appropriate recommendations.

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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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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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Are certain activities safer than others?

In general, outdoor visits and activities are safer than indoor activities, and smaller gatherings are safer than crowds. The best way to protect yourself is to stay up to date on COVID-19 vaccination.

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COVID-19 Variants

What is a variant?

Genetic variations of viruses, known as mutations, are common and expected. SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, will naturally mutate over time.

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 May 2022

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

Learn more about coronaviruses at www.nfid.org/coronaviruses