In December 2019, the world experienced the first outbreak of a novel coronavirus, now known as SARS-CoV-2. SARS-CoV-2 is the virus that causes COVID-19, the disease that has led to a worldwide pandemic. Much has been learned about the virus during the last year, with researchers working tirelessly on creating viable vaccines to put an end to this pandemic.
COVID-19 is one of seven coronaviruses that can infect people. This group of viruses varies with how contagious and deadly they are and includes Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), sudden respiratory syndrome (SARS), and some of the common colds that circulate every year. SARS-CoV-2 and the COVID-19 disease were discovered in 2019 after an outbreak of the new strain occurred in China.
The name “COVID-19” comes from ‘CO’ for ‘corona,’ ‘VI’ for ‘virus,’ and ‘D’ for disease. Although scientists have not been able to confirm the source of the new coronavirus, they believe the virus could have transmitted from an infected animal to humans.
SARS-CoV-2 causes both upper and lower respiratory tract infections, meaning it can affect your sinuses, nose, and throat as well as your windpipe and lungs. Most COVID-19 patients will develop mild symptoms that can be treated at home with over-the-counter medication and rest. Patients with underlying health conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, and cancer are at higher risk for developing severe to fatal symptoms that may require hospitalization.
Below are a few myths you may have heard about COVID-19 so you can be better prepared to protect yourself and your family from this illness.
Myth #1: COVID-19 will always give you a cough.
While a cough can be one of the symptoms of COVID-19, not everyone who is infected with COVID-19 develops a cough. Rather, COVID-19 symptoms vary from person to person—it is even possible for people to be infected with COVID-19 but show no symptoms. People with underlying health conditions are at a higher risk of developing more severe symptoms.
Some common COVID-19 symptoms include:
- Sore throat
- Loss of taste and smell
- Shortness of breath
- Body aches
Symptoms typically take between two to 14 days to appear.
Some symptoms associated with COVID-19 are similar to symptoms associated with the flu, which is why receiving the flu vaccine is so important. The flu vaccine will only help prevent getting the flu, but it will also make it easier to identify if you have potentially contracted COVID-19.
Myth #2: COVID-19 spreads only via people showing symptoms.
While researchers are still studying and learning more about how COVID-19 spreads, it is possible to contract COVID-19 from someone who has no symptoms and does not feel ill as these asymptomatic individuals can still transmit the disease. The World Health Organization says it is not yet known how often asymptomatic transmission happens.
What we do know: it appears that COVID-19 mainly spreads from person to person. The virus spreads through droplets of saliva or mucus when an infected person coughs, sneezes, breathes, or talks. People nearby (within about six feet) can inhale the droplets or droplets can land in their nose or mouth. People can also contract the virus by touching surfaces where the droplets have landed and then touching their eyes, mouth, or nose.
Myth #3: Masks don’t help prevent the spread of COVID-19.
While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) initially recommended against wearing face masks, that was due in part to a lack of understanding about their efficacy. In hindsight, evidence has emerged supporting cloth face covering in reducing the spread of COVID-19.
Now, researchers understand that the virus can spread when a person coughs or sneezes, so it is vital that you cover your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing. If you don’t have tissues nearby, cough or sneeze into your flexed elbow. If you use a tissue, make sure to put the used tissue in the trash right away and then wash your hands.
Wear a mask when you are out in public, ensuring that your nose and mouth are covered. Wearing a mask helps prevent the inhalation of aerosolized droplets and prevents droplets from landing in your mouth or nose. It also helps to contain your own droplets from being transmitted to other people and surfaces.
Below is a list of other recommendations to help reduce the spread of COVID-19.
Social distancing. Since COVID-19 spreads from person to person, the best way to reduce the spread is to practice social distancing. Social distancing includes standing at least six feet from other people, avoiding large gatherings, and working from home when possible.
Hand hygiene. Wash your hands regularly with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds. If you do not have access to washing facilities, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol content.
Avoid touching your face. Keep your hands away from your face to help prevent the virus from entering through your mouth, nose, or eyes. This also means that you should avoid touching your mask as much as possible.
Regularly wipe down surfaces with disinfectant. Depending on the type of surface, the virus can live from a few hours to a few days on a given surface, so it is important to regularly wipe down and disinfect frequently touched surfaces to prevent the virus from spreading to yourself or others. Concentrate on doorknobs, desks, cellphones, keyboards, counters, and toilets.
What do you do if you think you have COVID-19?
If you suspect that you have contracted COVID-19, self-isolate immediately and arrange to get tested, taking care to prevent coming into contact with others when you get a test. If you suspect that you have the virus, do not use public transport or ride-sharing services and separate yourself from family and pets at home.
If you experience shortness of breath, chest pains or pressure, or loss of speech or movement, seek medical attention immediately.
There is currently no treatment for COVID-19, although several vaccines are in development, and two have recently been approved for emergency use authorization. Remember to regularly wash your hands with warm water, wear a mask when you are out in public, stay at home whenever possible, and get tested often to protect yourself and your community. If we all work together, we can stop the spread of COVID-19.