Coronavirus: Symptoms, Prevention and More
What Is a Coronavirus?
A coronavirus is a type of virus named for the crown-like spikes on its surface. There are seven known coronaviruses that can infect humans including:
Learn more about coronaviruses
- MERS-CoV (commonly known as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome or MERS)
- SARS-CoV (severe acute respiratory syndrome or SARS)
- 2019 Novel Coronavirus (commonly called COVID-19)
Common symptoms include runny nose, cough and fever. But, more severe strains, like those above, can cause pneumonia or more serious symptoms. See our symptoms section below for more information.
Recent Coronavirus Outbreaks
Several notable coronavirus outbreaks have taken place in the last 20 years. These include:
- SARS-CoV – First reported in February 2003, SARS spread to over 20 countries before it was contained. No cases have been reported since 2004.
- MERS-CoV – Primarily found in the Middle East, especially around the Arabian Peninsula, MERS was first identified in 2012. Since then, isolated travel-related cases have been reported globally, including in the United States and Canada. Transmission is generally associated with contact with animals, especially camels.
- COVID-19 – Found in Wuhan, Hubei Province in China, this virus has spread globally with 115 million cases and 2.5 million deaths.
Is There a Coronavirus Vaccine?
Currently, there are vaccines to protect against COVID-19, but not other forms of coronavirus. See our COVID-19 vaccination page to learn more.
Similar to immunizations against Ebola and Zika, it will take time to develop a vaccine against other forms of coronavirus. Avoiding close contact with people who are sick and regular hand washing are currently the best forms of prevention. See our prevention section below to learn more.
How Do Coronaviruses Spread?
Human coronaviruses spread similarly to the flu. Transmission is most common in the fall or winter, but can happen in any time of year. Infection usually occurs through:
- Air by coughing or sneezing
- Close personal contact, like shaking hands
- Touching an object with the virus on it and then touching eyes, nose or mouth before washing hands
- In rare cases, fecal contamination
Young children are most likely to get infected. The viruses pose an added threat to young children, seniors and the immunocompromised.
What Are the Symptoms of a Coronavirus?
Symptoms of coronaviruses can vary slightly from strain to strain. But, generally common symptoms include: fever, dry cough, mild breathing difficulties, gastrointestinal issues, diarrhea and general body aches.
More severe symptoms can range from high fever and pneumonia to kidney failure and death. Severe symptoms are uncommon and account for a small percentage of overall cases.
COVID-19 is the most common coronavirus at this time. Other viruses, like MERS, are most common among travelers to regions where the virus is present.
How Is a Coronavirus Treated?
There is no coronavirus-specific treatment available at this time. Most people infected will recover on their own. But, there are some things used to reduce symptoms:
- Pain relievers
- Humidifiers (to help with sore throat and cough)
- Staying hydrated
- Resting at home
More severe symptoms, like pneumonia, may require more specialized care. If you believe you have symptoms of a coronavirus, contact a healthcare professional such as a primary care physician.