Skip Navigation

Protecting Health, Saving Lives—Millions at a Time

COVID-19 | School of Public Health Expert Insights

COVID-19

School of Public Health Expert Insights

What You Need To Know About COVID-19, the Novel Coronavirus

Get Answers from Hopkins Experts

Is hand sanitizer effective? Will this spread throughout the US? Are face masks effective?

Read More

Novel coronavirus primer adapted from Global Health NOW. Last updated April 6, 2020.

What is a coronavirus?

Coronaviruses are a family of viruses that typically cause mild respiratory infections like the common cold but also more severe (and potentially deadly) infections. They are zoonotic diseases, meaning they are transmitted between animals and people.

Why is it called a coronavirus?

Coronaviruses are named after the Latin word corona, meaning “crown” or “halo,” because they have “crown-like spikes on their surface,” according to the US Centers for Disease Control.

What severe diseases are caused by coronaviruses?

A coronavirus that originated in China led to the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) outbreak in 2003. Another coronavirus emerged in 2012 in Saudi Arabia causing Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS).

What’s the difference between coronavirus and COVID-19?

The novel coronavirus responsible for this outbreak is known as SARS-CoV-2. The illness caused by the virus is called COVID-19. More information can be found here: Naming the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) and the virus that causes it—WHO

What symptoms do coronaviruses typically cause? How severe are the symptoms in the current outbreak?

Common signs of infection include runny nose, cough, fever, sore throat, and shortness of breath. In more severe cases, infection can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure, and even death.

When and how should I seek medical attention?

Via the CDC:

If you develop any of the following emergency warning signs for COVID-19, get medical attention immediately by calling your doctor's office. Emergency warning signs include (but are not limited to)*:

  • Trouble breathing
  • Persistent pain or pressure in the chest
  • New confusion or inability to arouse
  • Bluish lips or face

How are coronaviruses transmitted between people?

Coronaviruses are typically transmitted from person to person through exhalation of respiratory droplets (from the nose and mouth) and close contact. Those droplets can land on objects and surfaces, and others can then catch the virus from touching those surfaces and then touching their eyes, nose, or mouths. People can also catch COVID-19 if they breathe in droplets from an infected person who coughs or exhales droplets.

How can I protect myself against coronaviruses?

The World Health Organization suggests avoiding close contact with anyone showing symptoms of respiratory illness such as coughing and sneezing; covering your mouth and nose when coughing and sneezing; and regular hand washing to protect yourself against infection and limit the spread of the virus.

  • The best way to prevent illness is to avoid exposure to the virus through the following steps.
  • Regularly and thoroughly wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or clean with them with an 60% alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • Maintain at least 6 feet of distance between yourself and anyone who is coughing or sneezing.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with your bent elbow or a tissue when you cough or sneeze, then dispose of the used tissue immediately.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces daily, including doorknobs, tables, light switches, countertops, handles, desks, phones, keyboards, toilets, faucets, and sinks.
  • Stay home if you feel unwell. If you have a cough, fever, and difficulty breathing, seek medical attention but call in advance.
  • Keep up-to-date on the latest COVID-19 hotspots (cities or local areas where the virus is spreading widely) and avoid traveling to those places, especially if you are an older person or have diabetes, heart disease, or lung disease.

What treatments are there for coronaviruses?

Currently, there are no licensed vaccines or therapeutic agents for coronavirus prevention or treatment, though accelerated research into potential treatments is underway and will be tested through clinical trials.

What treatments are there for coronaviruses?

The World Health Organization has information about common myths here: Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) advice for the public: Myth busters


Subscribe to Global Health NOW