Coronavirus - get informed and prevent the risk of infection

COVID -19. Questions and Answers. Everything you need to know.

What is the new Coronavirus (COVID-19)? How to protect against this infection? Questions and answers!!!

What is a coronavirus?

Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses, which may cause illness in animals or humans.  In humans, several coronaviruses are known to cause respiratory infections ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). The most recently discovered coronavirus causes coronavirus disease COVID-19.

What is COVID-19?

COVID-19 is an infectious disease caused by the most recently discovered coronavirus. This new virus and disease were unknown before the outbreak began in Wuhan, China, in December 2019.

What are the symptoms of COVID-19?

The most common symptoms of COVID-19 are fever, tiredness, and dry cough. Some patients may have aches and pains, nasal congestion, runny nose, sore throat or diarrhea. These symptoms are usually mild and begin gradually. Some people become infected but don’t develop any symptoms and feel well. Most people (about 80%) recover from the disease without needing special treatment. Around 1 out of every 6 people who gets COVID-19 becomes seriously ill and develops difficulty breathing. Older people, and those with underlying medical problems like high blood pressure, heart problems or diabetes, are more likely to develop serious illness. About 2% of the sick persons died.  People with fever, cough and difficulty breathing should seek medical attention.

How does COVID-19 spread?

People can catch COVID-19 from others who have the virus. The disease can spread from person to person through small droplets from the nose or mouth, which are spread when a person with COVID-19 coughs or exhales. These droplets land on objects and surfaces around the person. Other people then catch COVID-19 by touching these objects or surfaces, then touching their eyes, nose or mouth. People can also catch COVID-19 if they breathe in droplets from a person with COVID-19 who coughs out or exhales droplets. This is why it is important to stay more than 1 meter away from a person who is sick.

WHO is assessing on-going research on the ways COVID-19 is spread and will continue to share updated findings.

Can the virus that causes COVID-19 be transmitted through the air?

Studies to date suggest that the virus that causes COVID-19 is mainly transmitted through contact with respiratory droplets rather than through the air.  See previous answer on “How does COVID-19 spread?”

Can CoVID-19 be caught from a person who has no symptoms?

The main way the disease spreads is through respiratory droplets expelled by someone who is coughing. The risk of catching COVID-19 from someone with no symptoms at all is very low. However, many people with COVID-19 experience only mild symptoms. This is particularly true at the early stages of the disease. It is therefore possible to catch COVID-19 from someone who has, for example, just a mild cough and does not feel ill.  WHO is assessing on-going research on the period of transmission of COVID-19 and will continue to share updated findings. 

Can I catch COVID-19 from the faeces of someone with the disease?

The risk of catching COVID-19 from the faeces of an infected person appears to be low. While initial investigations suggest the virus may be present in faeces in some cases, spread through this route is not a main feature of the outbreak. WHO is assessing on-going research on the ways COVID-19 is spread and will continue to share updated information. Because this is a risk, however, it is another reason to clean hands regularly, after using the bathroom and before eating. 

What can I do to protect myself?

Protection measures for EVERYONE

Stay aware of the latest information on the COVID-19 outbreak, available on the WHO website and through your national health authority. COVID-19 continues to affect many people in China and causes outbreaks in other countries. Most persons infected show light illnesses and recover, but it might be serious for others. Take care of your health and protect others by observing the following rules:

Regularly and thoroughly clean your hands with an alcohol-based hand rub or wash them with soap and water.

Why? Washing your hands with soap and water or using alcohol-based hand rub kills viruses that may be on your hands.

  • Maintain the social distance - at least 1 meter distance between yourself and anyone who is coughing or sneezing or has fever.

Why? When someone infected with a respiratory disease, such as COVID-19, coughs or sneezes they spray small liquid droplets from their nose or mouth, which may contain virus. If you are too close, you can breathe in the droplets.

  • Avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth with your hands.

Why? Hands touch many surfaces and can pick up viruses. If you touch your eyes, nose or mouth with contaminated hands, the virus can be transferred from the surface to you.

  • Make sure you, and the people around you, follow good respiratory hygiene. This means covering your mouth and nose with your bent elbow or tissue when you cough or sneeze. Then dispose of the used tissue immediately.

Why? Droplets spread virus. By following good respiratory hygiene you protect the people around you from viruses such as cold, flu and COVID-19.

  • Stay home if you feel unwell. If you have a fever, cough and difficulty breathing, seek medical attention and call in advance. Follow the directions of your local health authority.

Why? National and local authorities will have the most up to date information on the situation in your area. Calling in advance will allow your health care provider to quickly direct you to the right health facility. This will also protect you and help prevent spread of viruses and other infections.

  • Keep up to date on the latest news on COVID-19. Follow the directions and recommendations of your health authority on how to protect yourself and the others from COVID-19.

Why? National and local authorities will have the most up to date information on the COVID-19 spread in your area and can issue safety recommendations for population in your area.

Protection measures for persons who are in or have recently visited (past 14 days) areas where COVID-19 is spreading

  • Follow the guidance outlined above (Protection measures for everyone).
  • Self-isolate by staying at home if you begin to feel unwell, even with mild symptoms such as headache and slight runny nose, until you recover.

Why? Avoiding contact with others and visits to medical facilities will allow these facilities to operate more effectively and help protect you and others from possible COVID-19 infections and other viruses.

  • If you develop fever, cough and difficulty breathing, seek medical advice promptly as this may be due to a respiratory infection or other serious condition. Call in advance your doctor and tell your provider of any recent travel or contact with travellers.

Why? Calling in advance will allow your health care provider to quickly direct you to the right health facility. This will also help to prevent possible spread of COVID-19 and other viruses.

How likely am I to catch COVID-19?

The risk depends on where you reside or where you travelled to recently. The risk of infection is higher in areas with higher number of persons who were tested positive for COVID-19. Currently, 99% of all cases of COVID-19 are in China, mostly in Hubei province. For most people in most locations the risk of catching COVID-19 is still low, however, it is important to be aware of the situation and preparation efforts in your area.

WHO cooperates with medical authorities in China and worldwide to track and respond to COVID-19 outbreaks.

Should I worry about COVID-19?

If you are not in an area with COVID-19 outbreak or you did not travel to any of such areas or you were not in contact with someone with symptoms or who does not feel well, your chances to catch the diseases are pretty low at this point. However, it is understandable that you might feel anxious and stressed out about the situation. It is a good idea to inform yourself to assess carefully the risks, so you can take rational measures. Providers of medical services, national health authorities and your employer – all these are potential sources of truthful information about COVID-19. It is important to be informed about the situation in your area and take appropriate measures to protect yourself (learn about Protection measures for EVERYONE).

If you are in an area with a COVID-19 outbreak, you should consider seriously the risk of infection. Follow the guidelines of national and local health authorities. Although, many develop only light disease caused by COVID-19, some have severe evolution. Rarely, the disease may be fatal. The elderly and persons with comorbidities (such as high blood pressure, heart disease or diabetes) may be more vulnerable. (See the Protection measures for persons who are or visited recently (past 14 days) areas in which COVID-19 is spread).

Who is at risk of developing severe illness?

While we are still learning about how COVID-2019 affects people, older persons and persons with pre-existing medical conditions, such as high blood pressure, heart disease or diabetes, appear to develop serious illness more often than others.

Are antibiotics effective in preventing or treating COVID-19?

No. Antibiotics do not work against viruses; they only work against bacterial infections. COVID-19 is caused by a virus, so antibiotics do not work. Antibiotics should not be used as a means of prevention or treatment for COVID-19. These should only be used as directed by a physician to treat a bacterial infection.

Are there any vaccine, medicines or therapies that can cure COVID-19?

Not at this moment. There is no specific vaccine or antiviral medicine that can prevent or cure COVID-19. However, those infected should be treated to alleviate symptoms. Persons with severe condition should be hospitalised. Most patients are recovering thanks to symptomatic therapy.

Possible vaccines and specific medicinal therapies are undergoing tests. These are tested in clinical trials. WHO coordinates the efforts to develop vaccines and medicines to prevent and cure COVID-19.

The most effective ways to protect yourself and others against COVID-19 are to frequently clean your hands, cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or to sneeze and cough in the bent elbow and maintain a distance of at least 1 meter from people who are coughing or sneezing (See What can I do to protect myself and prevent spread the disease?).

Is COVID-19 the same as SARS?

No. The virus that causes COVID-19 and the one that caused the outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) are related to each other genetically, but the diseases they cause are quite different. SARS was more deadly but much less infectious than COVID-19. There have been no outbreaks of SARS anywhere in the world since 2003. 

Should I wear a mask to protect myself?

Persons without respiratory symptoms, such as coughing, should not wear a mask. WHO recommends people with symptoms of COVID-19 and persons who care for others with symptoms, such as coughs and fever to wear masks. Use of masks is vital for medical staff and persons who take care of others (at home or in a hospital).

WHO advises rational use of medical masks to avoid unnecessary wastage of precious resources and misuse of masks (see Advice on the use of masks). Use a mask only if you have respiratory symptoms (coughing or sneezing), if you suspect you caught the COVID-19 with light symptoms or you take care of someone with suspected COVID-19. A suspected case of COVID-19 appears after traveling in areas with reported cases or close contact with someone who travelled to these areas and got sick.

The most effective ways to protect yourself and others against COVID-19 are to frequently clean your hands, cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or to sneeze and cough in the bent elbow and maintain a distance of at least 1 meter from people who are coughing or sneezing. See protective measures for more information.

How to put on, use, take off and dispose of a mask?

  1. Remember, a mask should only be used by health workers, care takers, and individuals with respiratory symptoms, such as fever and cough.
  2. Before touching the mask, clean hands with an alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water.
  3. Take the mask and inspect it for tears or holes.
  4. Orient which side is the top side (where the metal strip is).
  5. Ensure the proper side of the mask faces outwards (the coloured side).
  6. Place the mask to your face. Pinch the metal strip or stiff edge of the mask so it moulds to the shape of your nose.
  7. Pull down the mask’s bottom so it covers your mouth and your chin.
  8. After use, take off the mask; remove the elastic loops from behind the ears while keeping the mask away from your face and clothes, to avoid touching potentially contaminated surfaces of the mask.
  9. Discard the mask in a closed bin immediately after use.
  10.  Perform hand hygiene after touching or discarding the mask – Use alcohol-based hand rub or, if visibly soiled, wash your hands with soap and water.

How long is the incubation period for COVID-19?

The “incubation period” means the time between catching the virus and beginning to have symptoms of the disease. Most estimates of the incubation period for COVID-19 range from 1-14 days, most commonly around five days. These estimates will be updated as more data become available.

Can humans become infected with the COVID-19 from an animal source?

Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that are common in bats and animals.  Occasionally, people get infected with these viruses, which may then spread to other people. For example, SARS-CoV was associated with civet cats and dromedary camels transmit MERS-CoV. Possible animal sources of COVID-19 have not yet been confirmed. 

To protect yourself, such as when visiting live animal markets, avoid direct contact with animals and surfaces in contact with animals. Ensure good food safety practices at all times. Handle raw meat, milk or animal organs with care to avoid contamination of uncooked foods and avoid consuming raw or undercooked animal products.

Can I catch COVID-19 from my pet?

No. There is no evidence that a dog, cat or any pet can be infected with or transmit the virus that causes COVID-19.

How long does the virus survive on surfaces?

It is not certain how long the virus that causes COVID-19 survives on surfaces, but it seems to behave like other coronaviruses. Studies suggest that coronaviruses (including preliminary information on the COVID-19 virus) may persist on surfaces for a few hours or up to several days. This may vary under different conditions (e.g. type of surface, temperature or humidity of the environment).

If you think a surface may be infected, clean it with simple disinfectant to kill the virus and protect yourself and others. Clean your hands with an alcohol-based hand rub or wash them with soap and water. Avoid touching your eyes, mouth, or nose.

Is it safe to receive a package from an area where COVID-19 was reported?

Yes. The likelihood of an infected person contaminating commercial goods is low and the risk of catching the virus that causes COVID-19 from a package that has been moved, travelled, and exposed to different conditions and temperature is also low.

Is there anything I should not do?

The following measures ARE NOT effective against COVID-2019 and can be harmful:

  • Smoking
  • Use traditional herbal medicines
  • Wearing multiple masks
  • Self-medication with antibiotics

In any case, if you have fever, cough and difficulty breathing seek medical care early to reduce the risk of developing a more severe infection and be sure to share your recent travel history with your health care provider.

UN entities involved in this initiative
World Health Organization