Frequently Asked Questions About COVID-19

Go to the profile of Julie Grishaw, ACNP
Apr 08, 2020

1) How did COVID-19 begin?

According to the World Health Organization, on 31 December 2019, the WHO China Country Office was informed of cases of pneumonia of unknown etiology (unknown cause) in Wuhan City, Hubei Province of China.  On January 7, 2020, this virus was identified as a novel type of coronavirus.  On January 11 and 12 2020, the WHO received information that the outbreak may have been associated with exposures to a seafood market in Wuhan City, China.  This led to the initial hypothesis that the spread was animal-to-human.  However, it was later discovered that person-to-person spread was occurring.  It is now known that the mode of transmission of COVID-19 is by respiratory aerosol and is spread from person-to-person.

2) What is the incubation period for COVID-19?

According to data provided from the CDC, the average incubation time is 4 days, with a range from 2-7 days.  Some estimates say that the incubation period may last up to 14 days based on information obtained from other coronaviruses.

3) What are risk factors for severe illness associated with COVID-19?

Data reported from the CDC indicates the elderly (adults >65) are at a higher risk of developing severe complications due to COVID-19.  They also report that the elderly are at higher risk of death due to these complications.  Individuals with heart disease, lung disease, cancer, liver disease, kidney disease, diabetes and those with immunocompromised states are at higher risk to develop serious illness. Those with asthma, HIV, and those who are pregnant are also considered potential at-risk groups. 

Regarding pregnancy, the CDC states that while pregnant individuals are known to be at higher risk for severe viral illnesses, pregnancy has not, at this point, shown to confer greater risk for COVID-19.

Please see here for more information on COVID-19 and pregnancy.

Specifically regarding the elderly, the CDC urges this population to exercise increased caution as this age group is particularly vulnerable to COVID-19 related illness and has an increased risk of hospitalization and subsequent mortality.  The CDC reports that 8 out of 10 COVID-19 hospitalizations have occurred in individuals 65 years and older. Out of all COVID-19 cases reported in the US that required hospitalization 31-59% were adults age 65-84 and 31-70% were adults 85 years old and older. Of those that required admission to an ICU, 11-31% were 65-84 years old and 6-29% were 85 years old and older.  Of those who died 4-11% were 65-84 years old and 10-27% were 85 years old and older.  

4) What are signs and symptoms of COVID-19 in adults?

The signs and symptoms associated with COVID-19 are variable and can mimic many other illnesses.  According to the CDC, the following signs and symptoms are associated with COVID-19 at time of illness onset: fever, constant or intermittent (77–98%), cough (46%–82%), myalgia or fatigue (11–52%), and shortness of breath (3-31%).  The CDC also noted that while fever was present in only 44% of patients at the time of hospital admission, 89% of patients became febrile during their admission.  Other possible symptoms include sore throat, headache, productive cough, nausea, and diarrhea.

5) Are children at increased risk of developing COVD-19?

According to the CDC, otherwise healthy children do not appear to have a higher than average risk of contracting COVID-19 as compared to adults, nor do they manifest a greater severity of illness based on available data. Symptoms are also similar in children as compared with adults.

Please see here for more information on COVID-19 and children.

6) What are treatments for COVID-19?

Treatments for COVID are discussed in full here.

7) What is the mortality rate of COVID-19?

Age and underlying medical conditions are key in predicting outcomes of patients with COVID-19.  The most recent data provided by the CDC was as of March 7, 2020.  For all-comers with COVID-19 who reported no underlying medical conditions had an overall case fatality of 0.9%, but case fatality was higher for patients with comorbidities: 10.5% for those with cardiovascular disease, 7% for diabetes, and 6% each for chronic respiratory disease, hypertension, and cancer.  The elderly are at greatest risk of dying from COVID-2019.  Among those over 60-years, the case-fatality proportion was: 3.6%; 70-79 years: 8%; ≥80 years: 14.8%. Those that required ICU admission fared even worse, with a case fatality rate of 49% for those who developed respiratory failure, septic shock, or multiple organ dysfunction. 

8) Can patients become reinfected with COVID-19? 

The CDC reports that there is not yet enough data to fully answer this question. Data from similar viruses, such as MERS-CoV infection suggests possible short-term immunity, but there is no data to substantiate this claim.  Early claims of reinfection were thought to be due, at least in part, to false negative laboratory tests.

9) Can my pet contract COVID-19?

As per the CDC, no cases of animals contracting COVID-19 have been reported, and the disease is transmitted via person-to-person. However, given the limited information about the disease, individuals are encouraged to avoid contact with pets while ill and to practice appropriate hand-washing after touching pets.  News outlets have reported three possible cases of domestic animals with COVID-19, but these cases have not been confirmed by the CDC or WHO.

10) What are the differences between a surgical mask and an N95 mask?

Please see this infographic from the CDC to understand the differences.

11) Should individuals wear a mask when going out in public to prevent contracting COVID-19?

At this time, the CDC is recommending cloth face coverings for individuals when going out in public settings when social distancing may be difficult. This is to help slow the spread of the virus and help asymptomatic individuals from transmitting it to others. The CDC recommends that N95 masks be reserved for healthcare providers, used under the current CDC guidelines. 

Go to the profile of Julie Grishaw, ACNP

Julie Grishaw, ACNP

Senior Editor, McGraw-Hill Education

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