Coronaviruses (CoV) are a family of viruses that can infect both humans and animals. There are several types of coronaviruses that can infect humans. Some coronaviruses are common and cause mild cold-like symptoms, such as a runny nose, headache and cough. Other types of coronaviruses, such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS)-CoV and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS)-CoV, have caused more severe illnesses when outbreaks occurred.
In December 2019, an outbreak of a new coronavirus (a coronavirus that had not been previously identified) began in Wuhan, China. The World Health Organization (WHO) named the new disease Coronavirus Disease 2019 or COVID‑19 (CO stands for 'corona,' VI for 'virus' and D for 'disease'). Previously, the disease had been referred to as the 2019 novel coronavirus or 2019-nCoV.
In March 2020, WHO officially characterized COVID‑19 as a pandemic. A pandemic means there is worldwide spread of a disease.
Researchers continue to learn more about COVID‑19, and new information will be shared as it becomes available. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is the best source of updated information.
What are the signs and symptoms of COVID‑19?
Symptoms associated with COVID‑19 can range in severity, from mild symptoms to severe illness. Symptoms of COVID‑19 infection may appear 2-14 days after exposure and include:
- Fever or chills
- Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
- Muscle or body aches
- New loss of taste or smell
- Sore throat
- Congestion or runny nose
- Nausea or vomiting
The CDC states that this list of COVID‑19 symptoms is not all-inclusive. If you are concerned about any additional symptoms, you should consult a physician for more information.
How does COVID‑19 spread?
COVID‑19 spreads between people who are in close contact with each other (about 6 feet) through respiratory droplets from coughs, sneezes and talking.
According to the CDC, COVID‑19 spreads in three main ways:
- Breathing in air when close to an infected person who is exhaling small droplets and particles that contain the virus.
- Having these small droplets and particles that contain virus land on the eyes, nose or mouth, especially through splashes and sprays like a cough or sneeze.
- Touching eyes, nose or mouth with hands that have the virus on them.
It's believed that people are most contagious when they are showing symptoms of COVID‑19. However, an infected person can spread COVID‑19 two days before they have symptoms or test positive. In addition, people who have COVID‑19 may not always have obvious symptoms.
How does COVID‑19 affect children?
While children are at lower risk for severe COVID‑19 than adults, children and infants can and do get sick with COVID‑19. Many children with COVID‑19 experience mild cold-like symptoms, such as fever, runny nose and cough. Some children have also reported gastrointestinal symptoms, such as vomiting and diarrhea. Babies younger than 1 and children with certain underlying medical conditions may be more likely to have serious illness from COVID‑19. Additionally, even if a child has only mild symptoms, they can still spread the virus to others.
Some children have developed a rare but serious disease that is linked to COVID‑19 called multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C).
Children may also experience stress or worry about the pandemic and its effects on their families and community. Take time to talk to your child about coronavirus and see recommendations for easing anxiety at home.
How can families stay safe from COVID‑19?
The best way to prevent illness is to stay up to date on COVID‑19 vaccines. You and your family can also take steps to protect against the spread of the respiratory virus, such as:
- Practice proper hand hygiene (see tips for hand washing here)
- Avoid touching your face with unwashed hands
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick
- Wear a face mask (if over age 2) in public indoor areas where there is high COVID‑19 community levels
- Cover your coughs and sneezes with a tissue (throw away tissue in trash after sneezing)
- Stay home if you are sick except to get medical care
- Get tested if you experience symptoms of COVID‑19
All families should practice these everyday precautions to stay healthy. Learn more ways you can protect yourself and others from COVID‑19.
Children's Health℠ is committed to remaining a trusted source of health information and care for you and your family during this time. See more resources to keep your family healthy at the Children's Health COVID‑19 hub.
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Image courtesy of the CDC (credit Alissa Eckert, MS; Dan Higgins, MAM)