COVID-19 Overview

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COVID-19 Basics

COVID-19 Facts:

  • Symptoms. The most common symptoms are cough and fever. Some patients progress through shortness of breath. Other common symptoms are chills, shivering (shaking), runny nose, sore throat, muscle pains or body aches, headache and loss of smell or taste. The CDC also includes the following less-common symptoms: fatigue (tiredness), nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.
  • Incubation Period: average 5 days (range 2 to 10 days) after coming in contact with the secretions of a person who has COVID-19. Incubation periods can vary depending on the variant.
  • No Symptoms but Infected: more than 30% of infected patients have no symptoms.
  • Mild Infections: 80% of those with symptoms have a mild illness, much like normal flu or a bad cold. The symptoms usually last 2 weeks. If you have had a previous COVID infection or had the vaccine, the infections are usually mild to moderate.
  • Severe Infections: 20% of those with symptoms develop trouble breathing from viral pneumonia. Many of these need to be admitted to the hospital. People with complications generally recover in 3 to 6 weeks. Severe infections are rare in people who are vaccinated. Older adults are at the greatest risk.
  • Deaths: children generally have a mild illness and recover quickly. Pediatric deaths are very rare. Older adults, especially those with chronic lung disease, heart disease, diabetes or weak immune systems, have the highest death rates. The overall death rate is around 2 per 1,000 in the U.S..
  • Vaccine: safe and highly effective vaccines are available. At this time, vaccines have been tested and are FDA approved for 6 months and older.
  • Breakthrough cases are COVID-19 infections that bypass vaccine protection. They are more common with new variants. Many of these infections do not cause any symptoms. Most are mild to moderate and do not require healthcare visits. The vaccine prevents almost all hospital admissions and deaths.
  • Booster Vaccines: the CDC suggests a booster shot when eligible.
    • For Pfizer vaccines, a booster shot is needed 5 or more months after the first ones.  
    • For Moderna vaccines, a booster shot is needed 6 or more months after the first ones.
    • For Johnson and Johnson vaccine, a booster shot is needed 2 or more months after the first one. Experts predict we may need a yearly booster, just like the flu vaccine.
  • Treatment: new anti-viral and monoclonal antibody treatments for COVID-19 are becoming more available. They are mainly used for high-risk patients. The earlier in the illness they are taken, the better chance they have of helping.  

How Is COVID-19 Spread?

  • COVID-19 is spread from person to person.
  • The virus spreads by respiratory droplets that are produced when a person coughs, sneezes, shouts or sings. The infected droplets can then be inhaled by a nearby person or land on the surface of their face or eyes. 
  • Most infected people also have respiratory secretions on their hands. These secretions get transferred to healthy people on doorknobs, faucet handles, etc. The virus then gets transferred to healthy people when they touch their face or rub their eyes.
  • These methods are how most respiratory viruses spread.

Exposure to COVID-19: Levels of Risk

  • Household Close Contact. Lives with a person who has positive test for COVID-19. This carries the highest risk of spreading the infection.
  • Other Close Contact. The CDC defines 6 feet (2 meters) as how far coughing can spread the virus. How long the close contact lasts can also be important. Prolonged close contact is defined as a total of 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period (CDC). Close contact includes kissing, hugging or sharing eating and drinking utensils. It also includes close conversations. Direct contact with secretions of a person with COVID-19 is also close contact. Includes being in the same childcare room, classroom or carpool. These exposures are usually lower risk than living with an infected person.
  • In Same Building – Low Risk Exposure. Being in the same school, place of worship, workplace or building carries a small risk for exposure. This risk increases if several people have the infection.
  • In Same City – Low Risk Exposure. Living in or travel from a city or country where there is major community spread of COVID-19, also carries a small risk. The CDC lists these “hot spots.” Outdoor contacts are much safer than indoor contacts.

COVID-19 Testing – Talk with your Doctor:

  • If COVID-19 is suspected, get a test to know for sure. You can’t tell by symptoms. Reason: most respiratory viruses cause similar symptoms.
  • It is easiest to test at home using a COVID-19 test kit (rapid antigen). Free kits can be ordered to have on hand using this link: https://www.covid.gov/tests. These kits are also available at most pharmacies. Testing is offered at many sites without a doctor’s order. Many doctor’s offices, retail clinics, and urgent care centers offer testing. Community drive-through sites or pharmacies may also be testing site options.
  • Your doctor is often the best resource for up-to-date information on testing. Call during office hours.
  • Public health department websites also can help you find the closest test site.
  • Here are some facts that may answer some of your questions:
  • Diagnostic tests: these are performed on nasal or mouth secretions. The tests can tell us if you have a COVID-19 infection now. Timing is important on when to do this test:
    • With Symptoms. Get a test within 3 days of onset of symptoms. If you test negative on day 1 and continue to have cold-like symptoms, re-test on day 3.
    • Without Symptoms and a COVID-19 close contact. Get a test on day 5 after exposure. To be safe, people who have the COVID-19 vaccine should also be tested (CDC).
  • Repeat diagnostic tests: after a positive test, repeat tests are not recommended. Positive tests are reliable. Even after it is safe to stop isolation (usually 10 days), tests may stay positive for up to 90 days. A positive test does not mean the patient can spread the infection once the required isolation period is completed. After a negative home test, if you live with a high-risk person, talk with your doctor about getting a more accurate PCR test. Reason: negative home tests are not always reliable.
  • Antibody Tests: these are performed on blood. They can sometimes tell us if you have antibodies from a previous infection. They are not done until at least 2 to 3 weeks have passed from the start of the infection. Talk with your doctor if you have questions about this test.

COVID-19 Vaccine – Get Your COVID-19 Shots and a Booster Shot:

  • Vaccines have saved more lives than any other public health action. They are the most powerful weapon we have against deadly infectious diseases. Follow the science.
  • Safe and effective vaccines are now available for people age 6 months and older. 
  • Get your COVID-19 vaccine and booster when recommended. It could save your life and protect your family.
  • Vaccine Sites: find a nearby vaccine site at vaccines.gov or call your doctor’s office.

Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome (MIS-C)

  • MIS-C is a very rare and severe complication of COVID-19.
  • Symptoms: the most common symptoms are fever with a red rash, red eyes, red lips, red palms and soles. Abdominal pain, vomiting and diarrhea also occur. Half of the patients develop trouble breathing. MIS-C always has multiple symptoms.
  • Onset of symptoms: usually about 4 weeks after COVID-19 infection and apparent recovery.
  • Peak Age: 8 years. Age range: 6 months to 21 years.
  • Treatment: MIS-C is treatable with medications, including IV immune serum globulin and steroids.
  • Outcome: most children make a full recovery.
  • Prevention: MIS-C can be prevented by getting your child vaccinated against COVID-19.

Trusted Sources for Accurate COVID-19 Information?

To meet the high demand for COVID-19 information, when possible, find your answers online. Here are the most reliable websites:

Always follow the most current CDC recommendations if they are different than those in this document. 

Author: Barton Schmitt, MD, FAAP
Copyright: Copyright 2022. Updated 6/21/2022.
Disclaimer: this health information is for educational purposes only. You, the reader, assume full responsibility for how you choose to use it.