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.
Since the initial outbreak in Wuhan, China, many countries have confirmed cases, including the United States, and in March 2020, WHO officially characterized COVID-19 as a pandemic. A pandemic means there is worldwide spread of a disease.
Researchers are actively trying to learn more about the virus behind 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 coronavirus disease 2019 or COVID-19 have ranged 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 is COVID-19 spread?
While researchers are learning more about how COVID-19 spreads, there is evidence that the new coronavirus spreads from person to person. This means that the virus can spread between people who are in close contact with each other (about 6 feet) and through respiratory droplets from coughs, sneezes and talking.
It's believed that people are most contagious when they are showing symptoms of COVID-19. Some spread may be possible before symptoms appear; more information is being learned about this.
Some viruses, such as measles, are highly contagious, and other viruses are less contagious. The virus that causes COVID-19 appears to spread easily between people, but initial information suggests not as easily as measles.
How does COVID-19 affect children?
Researchers are still learning how COVID-19 affects children. While children can be infected by COVID-19, adults make up most known cases so far. Based on initial data, children do not appear to be at greater risk than adults for illness. Learn more about who is considered high risk for severe illness from COVID-19, including people with certain health conditions. You can also learn more about multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C), an inflammatory response that is possibly linked to COVID-19.
Symptoms of COVID-19 in children may be mild and include fever, runny nose and cough. Vomiting and diarrhea have also been reported. It’s recommended that children limit time with those at high risk for severe illness from COVID-19, including older adults. Teach children to take steps to stay healthy including practicing proper hand hygiene and social distancing. Children may also experience stress or worry about the situation. 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?
Currently, there is no vaccine that protects against a coronavirus infection. The best way to prevent illness is to avoid exposure to the virus. 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
- Keep distance between yourself and other people (see tips for social distancing with kids)
- Use a cloth face covering to cover your mouth and nose when around other people outside your home
- Cover your coughs and sneezes with a tissue (throw away tissue in trash after sneezing)
- Disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces daily with a household cleaning spray or wipe
- Stay home if you are sick except to get medical care
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)