COVID-19 Basics

What are coronaviruses?

The cause of this outbreak has been identified as a novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV), or COVID-19. Coronaviruses are a family of viruses that can cause symptoms ranging from the common cold to severe respiratory illness. Other coronaviruses include severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS-CoV) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV).

The Brigham has substantial experience evaluating and caring for patients with possible coronaviruses infections.

How does COVID-19 spread?

The virus is typically spread from person-to-person when in close contact. Person-to-person spread is thought to occur mainly through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes, similar to how the flu spreads.

These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs.

What are the symptoms of an COVID-19 infection?

For confirmed COVID-19 infections, reported illnesses have ranged from people with little to no symptoms or mild cold symptoms to people being severely sick. Most people who become sick from COVID-19 — approximately 80 percent — do not require hospitalization.

Common symptoms of a COVID-19 infection may include:

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Chest tightness or chest pain
  • Shortness of breath

Persons who are elderly, unable to develop a normal immune response, or have other comorbidities, such as heart disease or liver disease, are at higher risk of developing severe pneumonia and dying from the disease. Symptoms of the coronavirus may appear in as few as two days or up to 14 days after exposure, according to the CDC.

How can I prevent the spread of COVID-19?

The CDC recommends these everyday actions to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

  • Wash your hands often with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough, or sneeze, then throw the tissue in the trash. Then wash your hands with soap and water.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.

The best way to prevent the spread of respiratory viruses is to:

  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick
  • Avoid touching your eyes or nose with unwashed hands
  • Stay home and do not travel when you are sick

How many cases of coronavirus are in the area?

The spread of the virus is evolving. Government resources such as the Massachusetts Department of Public Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are the best resources for up-to-date information.

Should I wear a face mask?

The CDC is not recommending that people wear masks. Most often respiratory viruses are spread from person-to-person in close contact or within six feet of each other.

To preserve the limited supply of masks, the only Brigham staff using masks are those who provide direct care to patients with communicable illnesses or patients with a fever or cough. For more information about masks, see the CDC's webpage on respirators.

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