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Questions and answers about coronavirus disease (COVID-19)

17/03/2020

Questions and Answers About Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) Coronavirus

What is a coronavirus?

Coronaviruses are an extensive family of viruses that can cause disease in both animals and humans. In humans, several coronaviruses are known to cause respiratory infections that can range from the common cold to more serious illnesses such as Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) and severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS). The most recently discovered coronavirus causes coronavirus disease COVID-19.

What is COVID-19?

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

What are the symptoms of COVID-19?

The most common symptoms of COVID-19 are fever, tiredness, and dry cough. Some patients may experience pain, nasal congestion, runny nose, sore throat, or diarrhea. These symptoms are usually mild and appear gradually. Some people become infected but do not develop any symptoms and are not ill. Most people (about 80%) recover from the disease without needing any special treatment. About 1 in 6 people who get COVID-19 develop a serious illness and have trouble 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. About 2% of people who have contracted the disease have died. People with fever, cough, and shortness of breath should seek medical attention.

How is COVID-19 spread?

A person can get COVID-19 from contact with someone who is infected with the virus. The disease can spread from person to person through droplets from the nose or mouth that are thrown out when an infected person coughs or exhales. These droplets fall on objects and surfaces around the person, so other people can get COVID-19 if they touch these objects or surfaces and then touch their eyes, nose, or mouth. They can also be spread by inhaling droplets that a person with COVID-19 has spread by coughing or exhaling. So it is important to stay more than 1 meter (3 feet) away from an ill person.

WHO is studying the ongoing research on the ways of spreading COVID-19 and will continue to report on the updated results.

Can the virus that causes COVID-19 be transmitted through the air?

Studies to date suggest that the virus causing COVID-19 is transmitted primarily through contact with respiratory droplets, rather than through air. See the answer above to the question "How does COVID-19 spread?"

Is it possible to get COVID-19 from contact with a person who does not have any symptoms?

The main way of spreading the disease is through the respiratory droplets expelled by someone when coughing. The risk of getting COVID-19 from someone with no symptoms is very low. However, many people who get COVID-19 have only mild symptoms. This is particularly true in the early stages of the disease. Therefore, it is possible to get it from someone who, for example, only has a mild cough and does not feel sick. WHO is reviewing ongoing investigations into the transmission period of COVID-19 and will continue to report on the updated results.

Is it possible to get COVID-19 from contact with the feces of a person suffering from the disease?

The risk of contracting COVID-19 from contact with the feces of an infected person appears to be low. Although initial research suggests that the virus may be present in some cases in feces, spread via this route is not one of the characteristic features of the outbreak. WHO is reviewing ongoing research into the ways in which COVID-19 is spread and will continue to report on the new results. However, it is a risk and therefore is one more reason to wash your hands frequently, after using the bathroom and before eating.

What can I do to protect myself and prevent the spread of the disease?

Protective measures for all people

Keep up to date with the latest information on the COVID-19 outbreak, which can be accessed on the WHO website and through relevant public health authorities at the national and local levels. Cases have been reported in many countries around the world, and outbreaks have occurred in several of them. Chinese and other authorities have managed to slow or stop the outbreak progress, but the situation is unpredictable and the latest news needs to be checked regularly.

There are several precautions that can be taken to reduce the chance of getting or spreading COVID-19:

  • Wash your hands thoroughly and frequently using an alcohol-based disinfectant or soap and water.

Why? Washing your hands with soap and water or using an alcohol-based disinfectant kills viruses that may be on your hands.

  • Keep a minimum distance of 1 meter (3 feet) between you and anyone who coughs or sneezes.

Why? When someone coughs or sneezes, droplets of fluid that may contain the virus are released from the nose or mouth. If you are too close, you can breathe in the droplets and with them the COVID-19 virus, if the coughing person has the disease.

  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth

Why? Hands touch many surfaces and can pick up viruses. Once contaminated, the hands can transfer the virus to the eyes, nose, or mouth. From there, the virus can enter your body and cause illness.

  • Both you and those around you should make sure you maintain good airway hygiene. That means covering your mouth and nose with your elbow bent or with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. The used handkerchief should be discarded immediately.

Why? Viruses spread through droplets. By maintaining good respiratory hygiene, you are protecting people around you from viruses like the cold, flu, and COVID-19.

  • Stay home if you are not feeling well. If you have a fever, cough, and shortness of breath, seek medical attention and call ahead. Follow the instructions of the local health authorities.

Why? National and local authorities will have the most up-to-date information on the situation in their area. Calling ahead will allow your health care provider to quickly direct you to the right health center. This will also protect you and help prevent the spread of viruses and other infections.

  • Stay informed about the latest news regarding COVID-19. Follow the advice of your healthcare provider, relevant national and local health authorities, or your employer on how to protect yourself and others from COVID-19.

Why? National and local authorities will have the most up-to-date information on whether COVID-19 is spreading in your area. They are the most suitable interlocutors to give advice on what people in your area should do to protect themselves.

  • Check the latest news on the most dangerous areas (that is, the cities and places where the disease is spreading most widely). If possible, avoid moving to these areas, especially if you are elderly or have diabetes, heart or lung disease.

Why? These precautions should be taken in these areas because the probability of contracting COVID-19 is higher.

Protective measures for people who are in areas where COVID-19 is spreading or who have visited them recently (in the last 14 days)

• Follow the guidelines outlined above (Protective measures for all people)


Stay home if you start to feel unwell, even if these are mild symptoms like headache, light fever (37,3 oC or higher) and mild runny nose, until he recovers. If you need to leave home or receive a visit (for example, to get food), put on a mask to avoid infecting other people.

Why? Avoiding contact with other people and visits to medical centers will allow medical centers to work more effectively and help protect you and others from possible infections with the COVID-19 virus or others.

• If you have a fever, cough, and shortness of breath, seek medical advice quickly, as it could be due to a respiratory infection or other serious condition. Call ahead and inform your health care provider of any recent trips you have made or any contact you have had with travelers.

Why? Calling ahead will allow your health care provider to quickly direct you to the right health center. This will also help prevent the spread of viruses and other infections.

How likely is COVID-19 to get?

The risk depends on where you are and, more specifically, whether a COVID-19 outbreak is occurring in that location.

For most people in most places, the risk of getting this disease remains low. However, we know that there are some places (cities or areas) where it is spreading and where the risk of contracting it is higher, both for the people who live in them and for those who visit them. Governments and health authorities are acting with determination every time a new case of COVID-19 is detected. It is important that we all respect the restrictions on travel, travel and the mass concentrations of people applicable to each specific place. If we cooperate with measures to fight the disease, we will reduce the risk that each of us runs of contracting or spreading it.

As verified in China and in other countries, it is possible to stop COVID-19 outbreaks and end their transmission. However, the great speed with which new outbreaks can appear forces us to be aware of the situation in the places where we are or where we intend to go. The WHO publishes daily updates on the situation of COVID-19 in the world, which can be consulted, in English, on the website https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/situation-reports/.

Should I be concerned about COVID-19?

The symptoms of COVID-19 are generally mild, especially in children and young adults. However, they can also be serious and force about one in five infected to hospitalize. Therefore, it is quite normal to worry about the effects that the COVID-19 outbreak can have on us and our loved ones.

This concern should help us adopt protective measures for ourselves, our loved ones and the communities where we live. The main and most important measure is regular and complete hygiene of the hands and respiratory tract. Second, it is important to stay informed and follow the advice of local health authorities, such as those related to travel, commuting and events where large numbers of people may be concentrated. You can check the tips on protection on page https://www.who.int/es/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/advice-for-public.

Who is at risk of developing a serious illness?

We still have a lot to learn about how COVID-2019 affects humans, but it appears that older people and those with pre-existing medical conditions (such as high blood pressure, heart disease, or diabetes) develop severe cases of the disease with more frequency than others.

Are antibiotics effective in preventing or treating COVID-19?

No. Antibiotics are not effective against viruses, only against bacterial infections. COVID-19 is caused by a virus, so antibiotics do not work against it. Antibiotics should not be used as a means of preventing or treating COVID-19. They should only be used to treat a bacterial infection following a doctor's instructions.

Are there medications or therapies to prevent or cure COVID-19?

Although some western, traditional, or home remedies can provide comfort and alleviate the symptoms of COVID-19, there is no evidence that current medications can prevent or cure the disease. The WHO does not recommend self-medication, particularly with antibiotics, to prevent or cure COVID-19. There are several ongoing clinical trials with traditional and western medications. WHO will provide updated information as soon as the results of clinical trials are available.

Is there a vaccine, medication or treatment for COVID-19?

Not yet. To date, there is no specific vaccine or antiviral medication to prevent or treat COVID-2019. However, those affected must receive health care to relieve symptoms. People with severe cases of the disease should be hospitalized. Most patients recover with the help of support measures.

Possible vaccines and different specific pharmacological treatments are being investigated. There are ongoing clinical trials to test them. WHO is coordinating efforts to develop vaccines and drugs to prevent and treat COVID-19.

The most effective ways to protect yourself and others from COVID-19 are: wash your hands frequently, cover your mouth with your elbow or tissue when you cough, and keep a distance of at least 1 meter ( 3 feet) with people who cough or sneeze. (See What can I do to protect myself and prevent the spread of the disease?)

Are COVID-19 and SARS the same?

No. The genome of the virus that causes COVID-19 and that of those responsible for severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) are similar, but not the same. SARS is more deadly but much less infectious than COVID-19. Since 2003, there have been no SARS outbreaks anywhere in the world.

Should I wear a mask to protect myself?

If the characteristic respiratory symptoms of COVID-19 do not appear (especially cough) or if you do not take care of a person who may have contracted this disease, it is not necessary to wear a clinical mask. Remember that disposable masks can only be used once and also keep in mind that if you are not ill or do not take care of someone who is, you are wasting a mask. The world's stock of face masks is depleting, and WHO urges that they be used sensibly.

The WHO advises the rational use of clinical masks to avoid unnecessary waste or misuse of valuable utensils (see section When and how to wear a mask).

The most effective measures against COVID-19 to protect yourself and others are: wash your hands frequently, cover your mouth with your elbow or with a tissue when coughing, and keep a distance of at least 1 meter (3 feet) with people who cough or sneeze. For more information in this regard, see the basic protection measures against the new coronavirus.

How to put on, wear, take off and discard a mask

1. Remember that only healthcare workers, caregivers, and people with respiratory symptoms such as fever and cough should wear a mask.

2. Before touching the mask, wash your hands with an alcohol-based disinfectant or soap and water.

3. Inspect the mask for tears or holes.

4. Face up the top (where the metal strip is located).

5. Be sure to point out the correct side of the mask (the colored side).

6. Put the mask on your face. Pinch the metal strip or stiff edge of the mask so that it conforms to the shape of your nose.

7. Pull down on the bottom of the mask to cover your mouth and chin.

8. After use, remove the mask; remove the elastic straps from behind the ears keeping the mask away from the face and clothing, so as not to touch the potentially contaminated surfaces of the mask.

9. Dispose of the mask in a closed container immediately after use.

10. Wash your hands after touching or disposing of the mask. Use an alcohol-based disinfectant or, if they are visibly dirty, wash them with soap and water.

How long is the COVID-19 incubation period?

The "incubation period" is the time between infection with the virus and the onset of symptoms of the disease. Most estimates for the COVID-19 incubation period range from 1 to 14 days, and are generally around five days. These estimates will be updated as more data becomes available.

Can humans contract the COVID-19 virus from contact with an animal?

Coronaviruses are an extensive family of viruses that are common among bats and other animals. Rarely, people become infected with these viruses, which can then spread to others. For example, SARS-CoV was associated with civets and MERS-CoV is transmitted through dromedaries. The possible animal origin of COVID-19 has not yet been confirmed.

As a protection measure when visiting live animal markets or in other similar situations, avoid direct contact with animals and surfaces that are in contact with them. Make sure that proper food hygiene practices are followed at all times. Handle raw meat, milk, or organs of animals carefully to avoid contamination of uncooked food and avoid consuming raw or undercooked animal products.

Can my pet infect me with COVID-19?

Although there has been a case of an infected dog in Hong Kong, to date there is no evidence that a dog, cat, or any pet can transmit COVID-19. COVID-19 is spread mainly through droplets produced by an infected person by coughing, sneezing, or talking. To protect yourself, wash your hands thoroughly frequently.

WHO is kept abreast of the latest research in this regard and other issues related to COVID-19 and will provide updated information on the conclusions that are drawn.

How long does the virus survive on a surface?

It is not known for how long the virus causing COVID-19 survives on a surface, but it appears to behave like other coronaviruses. Studies (including available preliminary information on the COVID-19 virus) indicate that coronaviruses can subsist on a surface for a few hours to several days. The time may vary depending on the conditions (for example, the type of surface, the temperature or the humidity of the environment).

If you think a surface may be infected, clean it with a common disinfectant to kill the virus and thereby protect yourself and others. Wash your hands with an alcohol-based disinfectant or soap and water. Avoid touching your eyes, mouth, or nose.

Is it safe to receive a package from an area where COVID-19 cases have been reported?

Yes. The probability of an infected person contaminating commercial items is low, and the risk of contracting the virus that causes COVID-19 from contact with a package that has been handled, transported and exposed to different conditions and temperatures is also low.

Is there something I shouldn't do?

The following measurements ARE NOT effective against COVID-2019 and can be harmful:

  • Smoke
  • Wear several masks
  • Take antibiotics (See Are there medications or therapies to prevent or cure COVID-19?)

In any case, if you have a fever, cough, and shortness of breath, try to get medical attention as soon as possible to reduce the risk of developing a more serious infection, and be sure to inform your health care provider about your recent trips.

Links for more information

COVID-19 website: https://www.who.int/es/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019

WHO travel tips: https://www.who.int/ith/es/

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