There’s a lot of fear surrounding the novel coronavirus. The pathogen, which is spread through respiratory droplets, has infected people across the globe and here in the United States with the disease officially known as COVID-19.
Many doctors have been fielding questions from patients about the virus for weeks, and as more information comes out, the concerns from the general public will likely continue.
It’s totally normal to feel anxious during a pandemic. However, the No. 1 thing most experts stress right now is that preparation ― not panic ― is key.
That said, information is always useful (and can even abate some fears when there’s a lot of confusion). We’ve rounded up some of the most common questions people have about the coronavirus and the answers. Read on so you can feel better prepared:
What are the main symptoms of a COVID-19 infection?
Dr. Linda Anegawa, an internist with virtual health platform PlushCare, said the main symptoms often appear similar to the flu’s, “such as fever over 100.5, cough, malaise, and occasionally nausea, diarrhea. In more severe cases, shortness of breath, chest pain and pneumonia will be apparent.”
“If you have a cold, you can be reassured that you probably don’t have COVID-19 if you just have upper respiratory symptoms and a fever less than 100, without any shortness of breath or severe coughing,” Anegawa said.
You’ll also hear doctors and read stories about how most people will experience “mild symptoms.” This essentially means many people infected will have symptoms that resemble that of a cold or flu you’ve had before, with the same level of severity. Some people may not even experience any symptoms at all with COVID-19.
Is it safe to travel?
Dr. Eudene Harry, a board-certified physician in emergency medicine and medical director for the Oasis Wellness & Rejuvenation Center in Orlando, Florida, recommended following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines up until the time of travel.
The CDC recommends that people, particularly those with other health conditions, avoid or defer all cruise ship travel worldwide. People should avoid visiting what are considered “Level 3” areas where there’s widespread transmission, such as China, Italy, Korea and Iran, Harry said. The White House has also authorized a travel ban on Europe, excluding the United Kingdom.
Right now, the CDC has enacted a “Level 2” travel notice globally, which includes the United States. This means the organization recommends that vulnerable groups ― including those who are immunocompromised or over the age of 65 ― postpone any nonessential travel. If you’re sick, you also should not travel.
If you are healthy and do plan on traveling, the CDC still recommends limiting your interactions with others for 14 days after you’ve returned from any destination.
Will I get sick from going on an airplane?
Planes may seem like a giant, flying petri dish at the moment, but as Harry points out, “airplanes are well ventilated and have medical-grade HEPA filters.”
If you’re healthy and traveling somewhere, the CDC recommends practicing good hygiene by washing your hands frequently and avoiding contact with sick people. You can also wipe down common surfaces like your seat and tray table.
Do disinfectant wipes work?
Speaking of wiping down surfaces, disinfectant wipes do work. Just make sure to used ethanol or bleach-based wipes rather than benzalkonium chloride or hydrogen peroxide disinfectants. Only use one wipe per surface, and give the solution time to sit and work its magic.
Should I wear a face mask?
If you’re not sick, there is no need to wear a face mask. Yes, seriously.
Reports show there’s already a shortage of masks, which health care workers and those who are dealing with an illness do need. Plus, casual use of a face mask may not even do much, anyway.
“It may provide a false sense of protection and perhaps lead to not incorporating the measures that have been shown to be effective,” Harry said. “Face masks are recommended for people who have respiratory infection to prevent droplets from spreading from them.”
Will the flu shot prevent me from getting the coronavirus? Should I still get one?
No, the flu shot won’t shield you from the coronavirus. Yes, you absolutely should still get one if you haven’t already.
“While the flu shot won’t directly protect you ... contracting the flu can make you more susceptible to contracting other illnesses, including the coronavirus infection,” Harry said.
Not only that, but the flu shot will limit the number of severe flu cases that need to be treated by doctors and emergency medicine workers. That can free them up to help other sick people, including those with the coronavirus.
The same can be said for the pneumonia vaccine. It’s always a smart idea to get the vaccines recommended by your physician.
What happens if you’re pregnant?
“The COVID-19 illness, just like other viral illnesses such as influenza, may put pregnant women at higher risk of having more serious symptoms if they do get ill. However, this is not a reason to avoid pregnancy,” said Dr. Kristin Dean, a physician with Doctor on Demand.
It’s important that if you’re pregnant or trying to become pregnant that you take the necessary actions needed to keep yourself healthy.
“Just like we do not recommend that women avoid getting pregnant each year during flu season, we are not recommending that women do not get pregnant due to the coronavirus disease,” Dean continued. “Women who are pregnant or trying to get pregnant should take precautions to avoid getting sick, like staying away from others who are known to be ill and washing their hands frequently.”
It is unknown whether COVID-19 will affect the baby if you do end up getting the illness.
How do I protect myself from the disease?
Healthy habits go a long way in reducing your risk for any illness, including COVID-19.
Wash your hands with warm, soapy water and scrub for at least 20 seconds. (Sick of singing happy birthday to yourself? This hilarious Twitter thread gives you some better alternatives.) Wipe down surfaces, especially your phone. Wash your hands. Try to limit how often you touch your face, especially in areas like your nose and eyes. Sneeze and cough into your elbow. Oh, did we mention you should wash your hands?
“The same basic preventive measures that you take for any other virus such as cold or flu is also effective in preventing coronavirus disease,” Dean said.
Does it matter what soap or sanitizer I use?
The best way to clean your hands is the old-fashioned way — with soap and water. The type of soap doesn’t matter. Since COVID-19 is a viral illness, antibacterial hand soap is not going to give you an advantage over other types.
As for hand sanitizer, you’ll want to use something that has 60% alcohol or more. The same goes for DIY sanitizers (sorry, using Tito’s vodka isn’t going to cut it). When using the sanitizer, make sure to rub the product all over your palms as well as the backs of your hands and in between your fingers. Then let it dry completely.
I am feeling sick and scared I have the coronavirus. What should I do?
If you wake up feeling sick one day, don’t automatically assume you have coronavirus yet. But it is a good idea to get in touch with your physician, preferably from home if you can.
“If they are displaying mild symptoms, it may be best to talk to a doctor via telemedicine to avoid exposing other people to the illness you have, whether it is the flu, a common cold or the coronavirus disease,” Dean said.
The biggest red flags that indicate something severe could be happening are shortness of breath, a high fever and a worsening cough. If you’re experiencing this, seek immediate medical attention, Anegawa said. If you have a history of medical conditions that can weaken your immune system’s response, you’ll want to be extra cautious as well.
Can you recover from COVID-19?
Recovery does happen. Right now, more than 69,000 people globally have recovered from the disease, according to Johns Hopkins University.
Once you get the illness, are you immune to it?
It’s unclear right now whether you can be reinfected once you had coronavirus. Many health experts believe you could develop at least short-term immunity against the virus.
However, viruses tend to mutate and change quickly over time as they move through populations. This could change it into a version that immune systems don’t recognize, therefore making it a possibility you could get sick if you catch it, Live Science reported.
How long are you contagious?
People are thought to be the most contagious when they’re the most symptomatic, or when they’re at their sickest, according to the CDC. A small study found that people may “shed” high amounts of the virus before they show any symptoms, but that research has not been peer-reviewed. Some emerging research suggests the virus can live in patients for up to five weeks after contagion, but experts are still trying to get a handle on a definitive answer.
“The answer — today — is that people appear to be contagious one to two days prior to getting sick, and for one to two weeks after getting sick,” Dr. Stephen Gluckman, an infectious diseases physician at Penn Medicine and the medical director of Penn Global Medicine, previously told HuffPost. (This time frame generally goes for any contagious illness, not just COVID-19.)
Is there a cure for COVID-19?
There is no cure for COVID-19. Treatment for the virus right now involves addressing the symptoms, including lots of rest and medicine like Tylenol for fever. Some doctors in hospitals are also using anti-viral drugs, Live Science reported. There is no vaccine yet.
Again, most cases of COVID-19 are mild, and experts suggest recovery will be similar to that of the flu (though, as previously mentioned, some evidence shows that you still may be able to spread it for some time after you’re recovered). However, people with conditions that compromise their immune systems, those with respiratory issues, and those over the age of 65 are at a higher risk for more severe complications. That’s why, if you are not one of those individuals and you are infected, it’s vital you stay away from people for their protection.
And don’t fall for scams claiming to have a cure. Those include supplements or any other healing product that wellness “influencers” or “gurus” post on social media.
“There is currently no cure, and that includes herbs and other things you may have heard about on the internet,” Harry said. “Treatment is supportive until you recover.”
This piece has been updated with new questions and details about COVID-19 since its original publication.
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