On January 30th, 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared that the coronavirus known as COVID-19 was a Public Health Emergency of International Concern. On March 11th, it was classified as a global pandemic. Understanding what is known about the symptoms of this disease can help you reduce your risk of exposure during an outbreak, and understand when to contact your doctor if you are concerned.

What is a Coronavirus?

It’s important to understand that coronavirus is not a virus itself, but a family of viruses named for their crown-like (hence, the use of the Latin word, corona, which means “crown”) protrusions on their surfaces. Coronaviruses can infect avians and mammals, including humans. Although there are hundreds of different known coronaviruses, humans may only be vulnerable to seven of these.

Coronaviruses develop into an active illness in different ways, but all seven known types of these human-contracted coronaviruses can lead to infections in the upper respiratory system and can spread via airborne droplets from the mouth and nose. Three of these are shown to progress into severe and life-threatening medical conditions after the initial coronavirus incubation period. COVID-19 is one of these three.

What Does the Name COVID-19 Mean?

As the spread of COVID-19 has progressed, the virus has come to be known by many different names other than the generic “coronavirus” or the more specific “COVID-19.” Headlines, articles and studies frequently refer to COVID-19 as a novel coronavirus, which means that it is a type of coronavirus that has not been known to infect humans before.

You may also see COVID-19 referred to as SARS-CoV-2. SARS stands for Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, which is a coronavirus first recognized in 2002. SARS and SARS-CoV-2 are not the same, but they are both coronaviruses that cause serious upper respiratory infections.

To further distinguish the novel coronavirus from the known viruses, the CDC and other organizations in the United States follow the WHO standards for naming diseases and refer to SARS-CoV-2 as COVID-19: coronavirus (COVI) disease (D) 2019 (19).

Common Coronavirus (COVID-19) Symptoms

The coronavirus incubation period, which is the period of time before symptoms show up once the virus has been contracted, is anywhere from five to 14 days. When symptoms of COVID-19 develop, they most often include a feeling of fatigue, a high fever and a dry cough. As the virus progresses, upper respiratory issues may advance to shortness of breath or difficulty breathing.

Other symptoms reported by those who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 include body aches, sinus congestions, gastrointestinal distress and a sore throat. Some patients have also said they noted a significant impairment to their senses of taste and smell prior to the onset of other symptoms and a COVID-19 diagnosis.

The World Health Organization (WHO) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) agree that although most people who contract COVID-19 will experience only mild symptoms, around one-fifth of those with the virus will experience serious signs of illness and respiratory distress. High-risk individuals include the elderly and those who have underlying health conditions, especially medical issues with the heart and lungs, but a severe case of COVID-19 can still develop in those who are young or otherwise healthy.

As doctors and researchers have gained more knowledge about how COVID-19 develops and spreads, they have advised that it is possible to contract the virus and never experience definitive symptoms of the illness or any symptoms at all. These people can still spread the virus via airborne droplets from the nose and mouth, which is why it’s important for anyone who knows they have been exposed to COVID-19 to self-isolate as a precaution and seek medical attention to monitor their health even if they don’t feel unwell.


If you are concerned that you’ve been exposed, or are experiencing symptoms, call your doctor immediately. Most medical providers are expanding their telehealth services to allow for virtual appointments. If your physician determines that you should be tested for COVID-19, you may be sent to a testing facility. If you have Medicare, you will be covered for testing and any Coronavirus-related treatment.

For more information on how Medicare can help during this crisis, visit www.medicare.gov. For updates and the most current information regarding COVID-19, visit the official CDC website.

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