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Common Questions and Answers

WHO is continuously monitoring and responding to this outbreak. This Q&A will be updated as more is known about COVID-19, how it spreads and how it is affecting people worldwide. For more information, check back regularly on WHO’s coronavirus pages.

A novel coronavirus is a new coronavirus that has not been previously identified. The virus causing coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), is not the same as the coronaviruses that commonly circulate among humans and cause mild illness, like the common cold.

There are many types of human coronaviruses, including some that commonly cause mild upper-respiratory tract illnesses. COVID-19 is a new disease, caused by a new coronavirus that has not previously been seen in humans.

WHO announced an official name for the disease that is causing the 2019 novel coronavirus outbreak, first identified in Wuhan China, on the 11th of February 2020. The new name of this disease is coronavirus disease 2019, abbreviated as COVID-19. In COVID-19, ‘CO’ stands for ‘corona’, ‘VI’ for ‘virus’, and ‘D’ for ‘disease’. Formerly, this disease was referred to as ‘2019 novel coronavirus’ or “2019-nCoV”. The name of this disease was selected following the WHO’s best practices for the naming of new human infectious diseases.

People can fight stigma and help, not hurt, others by providing social support. Counter stigma by learning and sharing facts. Communicating the facts that viruses do not target specific racial or ethnic groups and how COVID-19 spreads can help stop the stigma.

People in the Europe may be worried or anxious about friends and relatives who are living in or visiting areas where COVID-19 is spreading. Some people are concerned about the disease. Fear and anxiety can lead to social stigma, for example, towards Chinese or other Eurasians or people who were in quarantine.

Stigma is discrimination against an identifiable group of people, a place, or a nation. Shame is associated with a lack of knowledge about how COVID-19 spreads, a need to blame someone, fears about disease and death, or even gossip that spreads rumours and myths.

Stigma hurts everyone by creating more fear or anger towards ordinary people instead of the disease that is causing the problem.

Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses. Some cause illness in people, while others such as canine and feline coronaviruses, only infect animals. Rarely, animal coronaviruses have emerged in ways that affect and can spread between people. This is what most probably occurred for the virus that causes COVID-19. Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) are two other examples of coronaviruses that originated from animals and then spread to people. More information about the source and spread of COVID-19 is available on this Situation Summary.

This virus was first detected in Wuhan City, Hubei Province, China. The first infections were linked to a live animal market. However, the virus is now spreading outside China from person-to-person. It is important to note that person-to-person spread can happen on a continuum. Some infections are highly contagious (like measles), while other viruses are less so.

The virus that causes COVID-19 seems to be spreading quickly and sustainably in the community of some affected geographic areas. Community spread means people have been infected with the virus in a region, including some who are not sure how or where they became infected.

The virus that causes COVID-19 is spreading from person-to-person. Someone who is actively sick with COVID-19 can spread the illness to others. That is why the CDC recommends that these patients be isolated either in the hospital or at home (depending on how sick they are) until they are better and no longer pose a risk of infecting others.

How long someone is actively sick can vary so the decision on when to release someone from isolation is made on a case-by-case basis in consultation with doctors, infection prevention experts and public health officials. This involves considering specifics of each situation, including disease severity, illness signs, symptoms and results of laboratory testing for that patient.

Current CDC guidance for when it is suitable to release someone from isolation is made on a case by case basis and includes meeting all of the following requirements:

  • the patient is free from fever without the use of fever-reducing medications.
  • the patient is no longer showing symptoms, including cough.
  • the patient has tested negative on at least 2 consecutive respiratory specimens collected at least 24 hours apart.

Someone who has been released from isolation is not considered to pose a risk of infection to others.

It is not yet known whether weather and temperature impact the spread of COVID-19. Some other viruses, like the common cold and flu, spread more during cold weather months but that does not mean it is impossible to become sick with these viruses during other months. At this time, no evidence indicating that the spread of COVID-19 will decrease when the weather becomes warmer. There is much more to learn about the transmissibility, severity and other features associated with COVID-19. Investigations are still ongoing.

Coronaviruses are generally thought to spread from person-to-person through respiratory droplets. Currently, there is no evidence to support the transmission of COVID-19 associated with food. Before preparing or eating food, it is essential to always wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds for general food safety. Throughout the day, wash your hands after blowing your nose, coughing, sneezing or going to the bathroom.

It may be possible that a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their mouth, nose or possibly their eyes. However, this is not believed to be the primary way the virus spreads.

In general, due to poor survivability of these coronaviruses on surfaces, there is likely a low risk of spread from food products or packaging that is shipped over days or weeks at ambient, refrigerated or frozen temperatures.

Community spread means people have been infected with the virus in an area, including some who are not sure how or where they became infected.

Protection measures for everyone

Stay aware of the latest information on the COVID-19 outbreak, available on the WHO website and through sources of your local public health authority. Many countries around the world have seen cases of COVID-19. In some cases, multiple outbreaks followed. Authorities in China and some other countries have succeeded in slowing or stopping their outbreaks. However, the situation is unpredictable, so check regularly for the latest news.

You can reduce your chances of being infected or spreading COVID-19 by taking some simple precautions:

  • Regularly and thoroughly clean your hands with an alcohol-based hand rub or wash them with soap and water.
    Why? Washing your hands with an alcohol-based hand or soap and water kills viruses that may be on your hands.
  • Maintain at least 1 metre (3 feet) distance between yourself and anyone who is coughing or sneezing.
    Why? When someone coughs or sneezes they spray small liquid droplets from their nose or mouth which may contain the virus. If you are too close, you can breathe in the droplets.
  • Avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth.
    Why? Hands touch many surfaces and can pick up viruses. Once contaminated, hands can transfer the virus to your eyes, nose or mouth. From there, the virus can enter your body and can make you sick.
  • 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 the virus. By following good respiratory hygiene, you protect the people around you from illnesses 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. 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 direct you to the right health facility. This will also protect you and help prevent the spread of viruses and other infections.
  • Keep up to date on the latest COVID-19 hotspots (cities or local areas where COVID-19 is spreading widely). If possible, avoid travelling to places – especially if you are an older person or have diabetes, heart or lung disease.
    Why? You have a higher chance of catching COVID-19 in one of these areas.

Household members, intimate partners and caregivers in a non-healthcare setting may have close contact with a person with symptomatic, laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 or a person under investigation. Close connections should monitor their health. They should also call their healthcare provider right away if they develop symptoms suggestive of COVID-19.

Older adults and people of any age who have serious underlying medical conditions may be at higher risk for more severe complications from COVID-19. If you are at higher risk of getting very sick from COVID-19, you should: stock up on supplies; take everyday precautions to keep space between yourself and others; when you go out in public, stay away from others who are sick; limit close contact and wash your hands often; and avoid crowds or non-essential travel. If there is an outbreak in your community, stay home as much as possible. Watch for symptoms and emergency signs. If you get sick, stay home and call your doctor. More information on how to prepare, what to do if you get sick, and how communities and caregivers can support those at higher risk is available people at risk for serious illness from COVID-19.

Only wear a mask if you are ill with COVID-19 symptoms (especially coughing) or looking after someone who may have COVID-19. A disposable face mask can only be used once. If you are not ill or looking after someone who is sick, then you are wasting this vital resource. There is a world-wide shortage of masks, so WHO urges people to use masks wisely.

WHO advises rational use of medical personal protective equipment to avoid unnecessary wastage of precious resources and misuse of masks.

The most effective ways to protect yourself and others against COVID-19 are to frequently clean your hands, cover your cough with the bend of elbow or tissue and maintain a distance of at least 1 meter (3 feet) from people who are coughing or sneezing.

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 diarrhoea. These symptoms are usually mild and begin gradually. Most people (about 80%) recover from the disease without needing special treatment. Some people become infected but do not develop any symptoms and do not feel unwell. However, around 1 out of every 6 people who get 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 severe illness. People with fever, cough and difficulty breathing should seek medical attention.

Not everyone needs to be tested for COVID-19. For information about who should be tested for the disease, visit testing for COVID-19.

The process and locations for testing vary from place to place. Contact your state, local, tribal or territorial department for more information. Also, reach out to a medical provider. For example, in the United States, state and local public health departments have received tests from CDC while medical providers are getting tests developed by commercial manufacturers. While supplies of these tests are increasing, it may still be difficult to find someplace to get tested.

With the use of a CDC-developed diagnostic test, a negative result means that the virus that causes COVID-19 was not found in the person’s sample. In the early stages of infection, the virus will not always be detected.

For COVID-19, a negative test result for a sample collected while a person has symptoms likely means that the COVID-19 virus is not causing their current illness.

During an outbreak, stay calm and put your preparedness plan to work. Follow the steps below:

Protect yourself and others.

  • Stay home if you are sick. Keep away from people who are ill. Limit close contact with others as much as possible (about 6 feet).

Put your household plan into action.

  • Stay informed about the local COVID-19 situation: Be aware of temporary school dismissals in your area, as this may affect your household’s daily routine.
  • Continue practicing everyday preventive actions: Cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue and wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use a hand sanitizer that contains 60% alcohol. Clean frequently touched surfaces and objects daily using regular household detergent and water.
  • Notify your workplace as soon as possible if your regular work schedule changes: Ask to work from home or take leave if you or someone in your household gets sick with COVID-19 symptoms or if your child’s school is dismissed temporarily. Learn how businesses and employers can plan for and respond to COVID-19.
  • Stay in touch with others by phone or email: If you have a chronic medical condition and live alone, ask family, friends and healthcare providers to check on you during an outbreak. Stay in touch with family and friends, especially those at increased risk of developing severe illness, such as older adults and people with chronic medical conditions.

Outbreaks can be stressful for adults and children. Talk with your children about the outbreak, try to stay calm and reassure them that they are safe. If appropriate, explain to them that most illness from COVID-19 seems to be mild.

Depending on the situation, public health officials may recommend community actions to reduce exposures to COVID-19, such as school dismissals. Read or watch local media sources that report school dismissals or and wait for communication from your child’s school. In the case where schools are dismissed temporarily, discourage students and staff from gathering or socializing anywhere, like at a friend’s house, a favourite restaurant or the local shopping mall.

Follow the advice of your local health officials. Stay home if you can. Talk to your employer to discuss working from home and taking leave if you or someone in your household gets sick with COVID-19 symptoms. Also, try talking about special arrangements if your child’s school is dismissed temporarily. Employers should be aware that more employees may need to stay at home to care for sick children or other ill family members than is usual in case of a community outbreak.

Thermal scanners are useful in detecting people who have developed a fever (that is, have a higher than average body temperature) because of infection with the new coronavirus.

However, they cannot detect people who are infected but are not yet sick with a fever. This is because it takes between 2 and 10 days before people who are affected become ill and develop a fever.

Symptoms and what to do

You must not leave your home if you have coronavirus symptoms (high fever, tiredness and dry cough). Call your local medical authority for guidance.

Stay at home to stop coronavirus spreading

Everyone must stay at home to help contain the spread of coronavirus. You should only leave the house for minimal purposes:

  • shopping for necessities, for example, food and medicine, which must be as important.
  • one form of exercise a day, such as a run, walk or cycle – alone or with members of your household.
  • any medical need (including to donate blood), to avoid and escape the risk of harm, provide care or help a vulnerable person.
  • travelling for employment purposes (but only where you cannot work from home).
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