Q&As on COVID-19

What is a coronavirus?

Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses which may cause illness in animals or humans. In humans, several coronaviruses are known to cause respiratory infections ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).

What is COVID-19?

COVID-19 is the infectious disease caused by the most recently discovered coronavirus. This new virus was unknown before the outbreak began in Wuhan, China in December 2019.

What are the symptoms of COVID-19?

According to the World Health Organization, the most common symptoms of COVID-19 are fever, tiredness, and dry cough. Some patients 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.

Most people (about 80%) recover from the disease without needing special treatment. Around 1 out of every 6 people who gets COVID-19 becomes seriously ill and develops difficulty breathing. Older people, and those with underlying medical conditions such as high blood pressure, heart problems, or diabetes, are more likely to develop serious illness. To date, about 2% of people with the disease have died. People who experience fever, cough, and difficulty breathing should seek medical attention.


How does COVID-19 spread?

People 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 when a person with COVID-19 coughs or exhales. These droplets land on objects and surfaces around the person. Other people catch COVID-19 by touching these objects or surfaces and 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 1 meter (3 feet) away from a person who is sick.

The World Health Organization is assessing ongoing research on the ways in which COVID-19 spreads.

Can COVID-19 be caught 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. WHO is assessing ongoing research on the period of transmission of COVID-19.

Protection measures for everyone

Stay aware of the latest information on the COVID-19 outbreak, available on the WHO website and through your national and local public health authority. While COVID-19 is at the moment mostly affecting people in China, outbreaks are occurring on other countries.

Please take care of your health and protect others by doing the following:

• Regularly and thoroughly wash your hands with soap and water or clean them with an alcohol-based hand rub. Why? This kills the viruses that may be on your hands.

• Maintain at least 1 meter (3 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 could breathe in the droplets and the COVID-19 virus, if the person coughing has the disease.

• Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth. Why? Throughout the day, we touch many surfaces that might have the virus on them. Once contaminated, hands can transfer the virus to your eyes, nose, or mouth and from there, the virus easily enters your body.

• 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. Dispose of the used tissue immediately. Why? By following good respiratory hygiene, you protect the people around you from the droplets that might contain viruses such as cold, flu, and COVID-19.

• Stay home if you feel unwell. If you have a fever, cough, and difficulty breathing, seek medical attention. Be sure to call in advance. Follow the directions of your local health authority. Why? National and local authorities have the most up to date information on the situation in your area. Calling in advance allows your health care provider to quickly direct you to the right facility while helping to minimize your contact with others and prevent the spread of viruses and other infections.

• Stay informed on the latest developments about COVID-19. Follow advice given by your healthcare provider, your national and local public health authority, or your employer on how to protect yourself and others from COVID-19. Why? National and local authorities have the most up to date information on whether COVID-19 is spreading in your area. They are best placed to advise on what people in your area should be doing to protect themselves.

How long is the incubation period for COVID-19?

The “incubation period” is the time between catching the virus and when symptoms begin. Most estimates of the incubation period for COVID-19 range from 1-14 days, most commonly around 5 days. These estimates will be updated as more data become available.

How long does the virus survive on surfaces?

It is not certain how long the virus that causes COVID-19 survives on surfaces, but it seems to behave like other coronaviruses. Studies suggest that coronaviruses (including preliminary information on the COVID-19 virus) may persist on surfaces for a few hours or up to several days. This may vary under different conditions (e.g. type of surface, temperature or humidity of the environment).

If you think a surface may be infected, clean it with simple disinfectant to kill the virus. Clean your hands with an alcohol-based hand rub or wash them with soap and water. Avoid touching your eyes, mouth, or nose.