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Coronavirus: Transmission and symptoms


COVID-19, one of a large family of coronaviruses, is believed to have started in Wuhan, China in December 2019, when it was transmitted from animals to humans. Someone who is sick with COVID-19 can spread the illness to others in close contact (within six feet) mainly by coughing or sneezing, in much the same way that other respiratory pathogens such as the flu are spread. Also similar to other viruses that spread via respiratory droplets, a person may get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or eyes. That is why the Centers for Disease Control recommends that these people 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.

Prevention and treatments

There is currently no vaccine or specific treatment available beyond treating the symptoms of the infection. The best way to prevent infection is to avoid being exposed to this virus. You should take the same precautions that you would during the cold and flu season such as

  • Frequent handwashing (at least 20 seconds with soap and water)
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands
  • Avoid contact with people who are sick
  • Staying home when you are sick
  • Maintaining a distance of six feet from people in public
  • Cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched objects and surfaces.


The Centers for Disease Control lists these possible symptoms:

  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Muscle pain
  • Headache
  • Sore throat
  • New loss of taste or smell

Risk Factors

About 80% of people who have the virus recover without needing special treatment. Around 1 out of every 6 people who gets the virus becomes seriously ill and develops difficulty breathing. About 2-4% of people with the virus have died.

See the U.S. Centers for Disease Control guidance about high-risk medical conditions.