The COVID-19 pandemic continues to sweep the globe.

By Leah Groth
Updated April 28, 2020
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Coronavirus infections have relentlessly surged since the World Health Organization (WHO), on March 11, declared the new coronavirus a pandemic. Worldwide, more than 3 million cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed to date, according to Johns Hopkins University's real-time tracker. The US leads with nearly 1 million cases, more than Spain (232,000), Italy (199,000) and the UK (158,000). The US death toll, as of April 28, exceeds 56,000—close to the number of Americans killed in the Vietnam War.

Ultimately, knowledge is power when it comes to protecting yourself and preventing the spread of coronavirus. As hospitals expand capacity and gather needed equipment and supplies for current and future outbreaks, public health experts and government officials want you to do your part to keep yourself and others safe and help slow the spread of the infection.

First, know the symptoms of COVID-19. According to the CDC, symptoms of the new coronavirus can include fever, cough, and shortness of breath/difficulty breathing, chills, repeated shaking with chills, muscle pain, headache, sore throat, and new loss of taste or smell. Further investigation of the disease has also found that some people experience digestive symptoms, such as diarrhea and vomiting, in addition to fever and breathing difficulties and, in rare cases, without any respiratory symptoms. A small study published online by the American Journal  of Gastroenterology found, among 17% of confirmed COVID-19 patients, the illness initially presented as loose stools occurring typically three times a day.

Also, be aware that symptoms may arise within days or up to two weeks after exposure, meaning an individual is contagious prior to showing any symptoms. Some studies have documented the infection in people who never develop symptoms, says the CDC.

Obviously you should also understand how coronavirus spreads. According to the most recent Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report from the CDC, COVID-19 spreads person-to-person predominantly via respiratory transmission—essentially, coming into contact with respiratory droplets from an infected person who coughs, sneezes, or even talks too close to you. Touching a surface or object with the virus on it and then touching your own mouth, nose, or eyes is another potential source of transmission.

Although SARS-CoV-2 (the cause of COVID-19) has been found in the feces of people with COVID-19, little is know about whether the virus in stool is infectious, says the CDC. However, it adds, the risk of transmission from feces is believed to be low. Likewise, according to the US Food and Drug Administration, the potential for the virus to be passed along through blood and blood products is unknown, although the agency notes that respiratory viruses are not know to be transmitted via blood transfusions. 

Based on current CDC advice, you should wear a cloth covering over your nose and mouth when in public setting where it is difficult to maintain social distancing. It's particularly important to do so in areas of the country where there is significant community transmission. It can help slow the spread of the virus, the CDC explains, and it can protect you from transmitting the virus to other people in case you have the virus but don't have symptoms.

If you're caring for someone in your home (over the age of 2) who has the virus, that person should wear a cloth face covering when around other family members to prevent transmitting the virus, per the CDC. As a caregiver, you can opt to wear a mask too, but it's unclear how protective it may be, the agency adds. 

Bottom line, if you’re not feeling well, stay home; avoid others who are sick; wash your hands frequently or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol. (Hand hygiene is especially important after being in a  public place, or after coughing, sneezing, or blowing your nose, says the CDC.)  Also remember to clean commonly touched surfaces and objects; maintain social distancing; and keep your hands away from your face as much as possible.

The information in this story is accurate as of press time. However, as the situation surrounding COVID-19 continues to evolve, it's possible that some data have changed since publication. While Health is trying to keep our stories as up-to-date as possible, we also encourage readers to stay informed on news and recommendations for their own communities by using the CDCWHO, and their local public health department as resources.

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