COVID-19 FACT SHEET
The following information has been compiled from the websites of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Massachusetts Department of Health.
What is COVID-19?
COVID-19 is a type of coronavirus, which is a family of viruses common in humans and many different animals. Viruses in this family can cause respiratory illnesses ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases.
COVID-19 is the 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.
Cases of COVID-19 can be mild, but others can be more severe and occasionally deadly— especially for the elderly and people living with other chronic health conditions.
What are the symptoms and what should I do if I experience them?
The most common symptoms of COVID-19 are fever, tiredness, and dry cough. Some people 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 don't feel unwell. Symptoms usually appear 2 to 14 days after someone gets infected.
Most people (about 80%) recover from the disease without needing special treatment. Around 1 out of every 5-6 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.
If you have these symptoms, call your healthcare provider first, before visiting an office or going to an urgent care center. Your healthcare provider will determine if your symptoms match COVID-19 and whether you should be tested. Also contact your healthcare provider if you have been in close contact with a person known to have COVID-19 and/or has recently traveled to an area where COVID-19 cases have occurred.
IF YOU HAVE DIFFICULTY BREATHING, CALL 911 IMMEDIATELY. LET THE 911 OPERATOR KNOW THAT YOU MAY HAVE COVID-19 SYMPTOMS.
How does COVID-19 spread?
You 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 6 feet away from a person who is sick.
Can I catch COVID-19 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.
What can I do to protect myself and prevent the spread of COVID-19?
You can reduce your chances of being infected or spreading COVID-19 by taking some simple precautions:
Regularly and thoroughly wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol. Why? Washing your hands with soap and water or using alcohol-based hand rub kills viruses that may be on your hands. You should especially wash your hands after going to the bathroom; before eating; after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing; and after encountering anyone who is or may be sick. Soap up and then sing the “Happy Birthday” song twice before you rinse off the soap.
Avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands. 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.
Maintain at least 6 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 virus. If you are too close, you can breathe in the droplets, including the COVID-19 virus if the person coughing has the disease.
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.
Other important measures include:
Make sure you have access to several weeks of medications and supplies, including food, in case you need to stay home for prolonged periods of time.
Stay home when you are sick or feel unwell.
Avoid contact with people who are sick.
Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning product.
Should I wear a face mask?
No, there is no evidence that community use of face masks is beneficial. Leave the face masks for health care providers.
Should I worry about COVID-19?
Illness due to COVID-19 infection is generally mild, especially for children and young adults. However, it can cause serious illness: about 1 in every 5-6 people who catch it need hospital care. It is therefore quite normal for people to worry about how the COVID-19 outbreak will affect them and their loved ones. We can channel our concerns into actions to protect ourselves, our loved ones and our communities. First and foremost among these actions is regular and thorough hand-washing and good respiratory hygiene. Secondly, keep informed and follow the advice of the local health authorities including any restrictions put in place on travel, movement and gatherings.
Who is at risk of developing severe illness?
While we are still learning about how COVID-19 affects people, older persons and persons with pre-existing medical conditions (such as high blood pressure, heart disease, lung disease, cancer or diabetes) appear to develop serious illness more often than others.
Are there any medicines or therapies that can prevent or cure COVID-19?
While some western, traditional or home remedies may provide comfort and alleviate symptoms of COVID-19, there is no evidence that any current medications can prevent or cure the disease. The World Health Organization does not recommend self-medication with any medicines, including antibiotics, as a prevention or cure for COVID-19.
Will vaccines against pneumonia or the flu protect me against COVID-19?
No. Vaccines against pneumonia or the flu, such as pneumococcal vaccine and the influenza vaccine, do not provide protection against the new coronavirus. The virus is so new and different that it needs its own vaccine. Researchers are trying to develop a vaccine against COVID-19. Although these vaccines are not effective against COVID- 19, vaccination against respiratory illnesses is highly recommended to protect your health.
Should I take an antibiotic to prevent or treat the COVID-19?
No, antibiotics do not work against viruses, only bacteria. COVID-19 is a virus and, therefore, antibiotics should not be used as a means of prevention or treatment. However, if you are hospitalized for COVID-19, you may be given antibiotics because bacterial co-infection is possible.
Can I catch COVID-19 from my pet?
No. There is no evidence that companion animals or pets such as cats and dogs have been infected or could spread the virus that causes COVID-19.
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.