Coronavirus testing looks for signs of coronavirus infection in nasal secretions, blood, or other body fluids. Coronaviruses are types of viruses that infect the respiratory system. They are found in both animals and people. Coronavirus infections in people are common throughout the world. They don’t usually cause serious illness.
Sometimes a coronavirus that infects animals will change and turn into a new coronavirus that can infect people. These coronaviruses can be more serious and sometimes lead to pneumonia. Pneumonia is a life-threatening condition in which fluid builds up in the lungs.
Three of these new coronaviruses have been discovered in recent years:
- SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome), a serious and sometimes fatal respiratory illness. It was first discovered in China in 2002 and spread around the world. An international effort helped quickly contain the spread of disease. There have been no new cases reported anywhere in the world since 2004.
- MERS (Middle East respiratory syndrome), a severe respiratory illness discovered in Saudi Arabia in 2012. The illness has spread to 27 countries. Only two cases have been reported in the United States. All cases have been linked to travel or residence in or around the Arabian Peninsula.
- COVID-19 (coronavirus disease 2019). It was discovered in late 2019 in Wuhan City, in the Hubei Province of China. Most infections have occurred in China or are related to travel from Hubei Province. There have been some cases reported in the United States. The outbreak is being closely monitored by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO).
Signs and symptoms of infection with the new coronavirus may appear two to 14 days after exposure and can include:
- Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
The severity of the new coronavirus symptoms can range from very mild to severe, even death. Although understanding of this disease continues to grow, most people with the severe illness have been of older age or had other significant existing medical conditions. This is similar to what is seen in people who have severe infections with other respiratory illnesses, such as influenza.
It’s unclear exactly how contagious the new coronavirus is or how it spreads. It appears to be spreading from person to person among those in close contact. It may be spread by respiratory droplets released when someone with the virus coughs or sneezes.
It’s not known if a person can catch the virus by touching a surface that an infected person has touched, and then putting his or her hand to the mouth.
Risk factors for infection with the new coronavirus appear to include:
- Recent travel from or residence in China
- Close contact with someone who has the new coronavirus — such as when a family member or health care worker takes care of an infected person
People who are older or who have other existing medical conditions, such as diabetes and heart disease, may be at higher risk of becoming seriously ill with the new coronavirus. But there is still much unknown about the virus, and the CDC and WHO continue to investigate.
Although there is no vaccine available to prevent infection with the new coronavirus, you can take steps to reduce your risk of infection. WHO and CDC recommend following the standard precautions for avoiding respiratory viruses:
- Wash your hands often with soap and water, or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
- Cover your mouth and nose with your elbow or tissue when you cough or sneeze.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth if your hands aren’t clean.
- Avoid close contact with anyone who is sick.
- Avoid sharing dishes, glasses, bedding and other household items if you’re sick.
- Clean and disinfect surfaces you often touch.
- Stay home from work, school, and public areas if you’re sick.
WHO also recommends that you:
- Contact your doctor if you have a fever, cough and difficulty breathing, and tell him or her about any recent travels.
- Avoid eating raw or undercooked meat or animal organs.
- Avoid contact with live animals and surfaces they may have touched if you’re visiting live markets in areas that have recently had new coronavirus cases.
If you’re planning to travel internationally, first check travel advisories. You may also want to talk with your doctor if you have health conditions that make you more susceptible to respiratory infections and complications