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COVID-19 is the illness caused by a novel coronavirus first detected in China in late 2019. Early transmission of the coronavirus was linked to an animal market, suggesting animal-to-person infection. By January 2020, with the spread of coronavirus disease to over 100 other locations, including the U.S., the World Health Organization (WHO) officially declared the outbreak a public health emergency and later, a pandemic.

Our Lung HelpLine is answering questions about COVID-19. Contact our Lung HelpLine by calling 1-800-LUNGUSA or submitting a question online.

Symptoms of COVID-19

Reported illnesses of the coronavirus disease, COVID-19, have ranged from mild symptoms to severe illness and even death. The most common symptoms are fever, cough and shortness of breath, and appear 2-14 days after exposure. For the majority of those infected, these symptoms will clear up on their own. But you should contact a doctor (by phone) immediately if symptoms progress to include difficulty breathing, bluish lips, persistent pain or pressure in the chest or confusion.

When to Call Your Doctor

If you develop symptoms that you think may be caused by the coronavirus, you should call your healthcare provider to discuss. Protect yourself and others by not going to the office or the hospital unless you are told to by your doctor or are having a medical emergency.

Who Is at Risk?

COVID-19 is highly contagious and is spreading rapidly around the globe. Because it is a new disease in humans, our immune systems have not yet developed any defenses against it. The risk for contracting an infection increase with the level of exposure to the virus. For that reason, travelers returning from affected international locations, healthcare workers and anyone who may have come in close contact with someone infected with COVID-19 are at highest risk of contracting the disease.

Though understanding of COVID-19 is still developing, currently individuals of all ages are believed to have the same risk of contracting a coronavirus infection. However, adults over the age of 60 and those with underlying health conditions, including chronic lung disease, are more likely to develop severe symptoms.

Preventing COVID-19 Illness and Spread

There is currently no vaccine to prevent coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

So prevention is focused on good health practices and social distancing as well as encouraging people experiencing symptoms to stay isolated.

Steps to protect yourself from possible infection include:

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If you are unable to wash your hands, using hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol is a good alternative.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth—as it allows the germs on your hands to reach moist, porous surface tissue where the germs can enter your body and cause infection
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Then immediately dispose of it and wash your hands.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces daily.
  • Try to maintain social distance, at least six feet, from other people when out in the community.
  • Stay away from large gatherings. Health experts are recommending the elderly and those with underlying health conditions like chronic lung disease to stay home if possible. In fact, many cities and states are issuing recommendations to shelter-in-place and practice social distancing. Consult your local and state agencies for the latest public health guidance for your area.
  • If you do go out, avoid handshakes, high-fives and fist bumps where the virus can be easily transmitted.
  • Avoid any unnecessary exposure to people who are sick with COVID-19. Stay home if you feel unwell and seek medical attention if your symptoms worsen.

Questions to Ask Your Doctor

  • Do you think I have COVID-19?
  • Should I be tested for it?
  • What is the best way to treat my symptoms?
  • What should I do if my symptoms get worse?
  • How can I protect my family from catching my illness?
  • How long do I need to be in isolation?

The American Lung Association is closely following reports issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and will help relay important public health information provided by the agency. We encourage you to follow along for all in-the-moment updates.
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Page last updated: March 27, 2020

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