A coronavirus is a kind of common virus that causes an infection in your nose, sinuses, or upper throat.
Coronaviruses were first identified in the 1960s, but we don’t know where they come from. They get their name from their crown-like shape. Sometimes, but not often, a coronavirus can infect both animals and humans.
Most coronaviruses spread the same way other cold-causing viruses do: through infected people coughing and sneezing, by touching an infected person’s hands or face, or by touching things such as doorknobs that infected people have touched.
Almost everyone gets a coronavirus infection at least once in their life, most likely as a young child. In the United States, coronaviruses are more common in the fall and winter, but anyone can come down with a coronavirus infection at any time.
- COVID-19: In early 2020, after a December 2019 outbreak in China, the World Health Organization (WHO) identified a new type, 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV), which can be fatal. The organization named the virus severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) and named the disease it causes COVID-19. The outbreak quickly moved from China around the world.
- Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS): About 858 people have died from MERS, which first appeared in Saudi Arabia and then in other countries in the Middle East, Africa, Asia, and Europe. In April 2014, the first American was hospitalized for MERS in Indiana and another case was reported in Florida. Both had just returned from Saudi Arabia. In May 2015, there was an outbreak of MERS in Korea, which was the largest outbreak outside of the Arabian Peninsula.
- Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome ( SARS ): In 2003, 774 people died from an outbreak. As of 2015, there were no further reports of cases of SARS.
The symptoms of most coronaviruses are similar to any other upper respiratory infection, including runny nose, coughing, sore throat, and sometimes a fever. In most cases, you won’t know whether you have a coronavirus or a different cold-causing virus, such as rhinovirus.
You could get lab tests, including nose and throat cultures and blood work, to find out whether your cold was caused by a coronavirus, but there’s no reason to. The test results wouldn’t change how you treat your symptoms, which typically go away in a few days.
But if a coronavirus infection spreads to the lower respiratory tract (your windpipe and your lungs), it can cause pneumonia, especially in older people, people with heart disease, or people with weakened immune systems.
- Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and warm water or with an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
- Keep your hands and fingers away from your eyes, nose, and mouth.
- Avoid close contact with people who are infected.
You treat a coronavirus infection the same way you treat a cold:
- Get plenty of rest.
- Drink fluids.
- Take over-the-counter medicine for a sore throat and fever. But don’t give aspirin to children or teens younger than 19; use ibuprofen or acetaminophen instead.
A humidifier or steamy shower can also help ease a sore and scratchy throat.
Even when a coronavirus causes MERS or SARS in other countries, the kind of coronavirus infection common in the U.S. isn’t a serious threat for an otherwise healthy adult. If you get sick, treat your symptoms and contact a doctor if they get worse or don’t go away.
The UK Chief Medical Officers have raised the risk to the public from low to moderate.
Health professionals are working to contact anyone who has been in close contact with people who have coronavirus.
There are some countries and areas where there’s a higher chance of coming into contact with someone with coronavirus.
The symptoms of coronavirus are:
a high temperature
shortness of breath
But these symptoms do not necessarily mean you have the illness.
The symptoms are similar to other illnesses that are much more common, such as cold and flu.
Because it’s a new illness, we do not know exactly how coronavirus spreads from person to person.
Similar viruses are spread in cough droplets.
It’s very unlikely it can be spread through things like packages or food.
Do I need to avoid public places?
Most people can continue to go to work, school and other public places.
You only need to stay away from public places (self-isolate) if advised to by the 111 online coronavirus service or a medical professional.
- wash your hands with soap and water often – do this for at least 20 seconds
- always wash your hands when you get home or into work
- use hand sanitiser gel if soap and water are not available
- cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when you cough or sneeze
- put used tissues in the bin straight away and wash your hands afterwards
- try to avoid close contact with people who are unwell
- do not touch your eyes, nose or mouth if your hands are not clean
Check if you need medical help
NHS 111 has an online coronavirus service that can tell you if you need medical help and advise you what to do.
Use this service if:
- you think you might have coronavirus
- in the last 14 days you’ve been to a country or area with a high risk of coronavirus – see our coronavirus advice for travellers
- you’ve been in close contact with someone with coronavirus
Information:Do not go to a GP surgery, pharmacy or hospital. Call 111 if you need to speak to someone.
Getting help in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland
- Scotland: call your GP surgery or call 111 if your surgery is not open
- Wales: call 111
- Northern Ireland: call 111
How to self-isolate if you’re asked to
If there’s a chance you could have coronavirus, you may be asked to stay away from other people (self-isolate).
This means you should:
- stay at home
- not go to work, school or public places
- not use public transport or taxis
- ask friends, family members or delivery services to do errands for you
- try to avoid visitors to your home – it’s OK for friends, family or delivery drivers to drop off food
You may need to do this for up to 14 days to help reduce the possible spread of infection.
Read more coronavirus self-isolation advice.
There is currently no specific treatment for coronavirus.
Antibiotics do not help, as they do not work against viruses.
Treatment aims to relieve the symptoms while your body fights the illness.
You’ll need to stay in isolation away from other people until you’ve recovered.