What is a coronavirus?

Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that cause mild to moderate upper-respiratory illnesses ranging from the common cold to more severe illnesses such as pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS).

Almost everyone will get infected by a coronavirus at least once in their life, and most of the time the illness isn’t serious; however, for certain people, it can be.

There are hundreds of coronaviruses and while most circulate between animals, some can mutate or combine with other viruses and jump to humans.

The current pandemic involving the novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) hasn't previously been seen infecting humans. The World Health Organization has named this new strain COVID-19.

Who is affected by the novel coronavirus? 

Anyone can get infected by the new strain of coronavirus, but some people are more at risk than others, especially if you:

  • are elderly
  • have a pre-existing medical condition such as asthma, diabetes or heart disease
  • have a weakened immune system due to other health conditions

These people are much more likely to be very severely ill with the virus and should seek medical help if needed.

What are the symptoms of COVID-19?

The new coronavirus (COVID-19) can affect your nose, sinuses, upper throat, lungs and airways. The symptoms can range in severity; however, most people suffer mild symptoms. These can include:


  • a cough
  • a high temperature (fever)
  • respiratory symptoms (similar to a cold)
  • shortness of breath
  • breathing difficulties


In rare cases, a coronavirus infection can lead to pneumonia, kidney failure and death.


How is coronavirus spread?

Scientists are still investigating how it is spread; however, it is believed to be spread from person to person through breathing in infected respiratory droplets from someone sneezing or coughing near you. You can also be infected by coming into contact with a surface that is contaminated with the virus and then touching your face, mouth or eyes.


It is very unlikely for the virus to spread through food or packaging as the virus cannot live outside the body for very long.


How can you avoid catching or spreading coronavirus?

There are some basic things you can do to prevent viruses like the coronavirus spreading:


  • Cover your mouth with your hand or a tissue when coughing or sneezing. Always wash your hands thoroughly afterwards.
  • Dispose of any used tissues properly.
  • Wash your hands regularly, especially before eating or touching your face. Use an alcohol-based hand sanitiser if you don’t have access to soapy water.
  • If you are ill, try to avoid close contact with other people.


How is COVID-19 treated?

There is no specific treatment for a coronavirus infection, so you should focus on relieving symptoms until you start to feel better.

Ensure you drink enough fluids and get plenty of rest. Antibiotics don’t work to treat viral infections, however, there are several over-the-counter cold and flu medications that can help relieve your symptoms.


What should you do if you suspect you might have COVID-19?

If you believe you have the coronavirus (COVID-19) you should stay away from public places until you feel better and call 111 for further advice. The current incubation period for COVID-19 is 14 days.

It is very unlikely that you have the coronavirus if:

  • you have not been in close contact with someone who has a confirmed case.
  • you have not been to any other country or region with confirmed cases in the last 14 days.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) offers updated travel advice and guidance on the current outbreak of COVID-19 and which countries are affected.

For further information, the NHS answers some common questions about the current coronavirus outbreak.

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