SARS is a highly infectious respiratory viral disease, which presents much like flu (fever, sore throat, dry cough, headache, chills, stiff muscles). Quarantining of patients is the only option, however there have been no reported cases of SARS since 2004.…
Novel coronavirus (COVID-19)
What is a coronavirus and COVID-19?
Coronaviruses a group of viruses that can make humans and animals sick. Some coronaviruses cause illness similar to the common cold, while others cause more serious diseases, such as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS).
A novel (new) coronavirus, identified in Wuhan City in China in December 2019, was named SARS-CoV-2. This coronavirus has caused a global infectious disease pandemic (COVID-19) since early 2020.
Like other viruses, SARS-CoV-2 changes over time. These changes, known as mutations, can have an effect on:
- speed of virus spread;
- severity of illness;
- effectiveness of testing, vaccines and treatment;
- public health and social strategies.
Some people recover from COVID-19 but continue to experience long-term symptoms. This is known as 'long COVID'.
COVID-19 is caused by infection with the novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2). This is most likely to occur person to person through:
- close contact with someone who has COVID-19 or goes on to develop COVID-19 within approximately the next two weeks;
- touching contaminated objects or surfaces (such as door handles or tables), and then transferring the virus to the mouth or face.
Infection methods of COVID-19
SARS-CoV-2 is spread through droplets and virus particles that are released into the air when an infected person breathes, talks, laughs, sings, coughs or sneezes. Tiny infectious particles can linger in the air, especially in crowded or poorly ventilated indoor spaces.
Symptoms may appear within two to 14 days of coming into contact with someone who has COVID-19. This is known as the incubation period. In most people, symptoms appear within five to seven days of exposure.
A person with COVID-19 may be contagious from two days before symptoms appear, and remain contagious for 10 to 20 days. Most people are contagious for seven to 10 days.
About 3 to 17% of people with COVID-19 develop a complication known as acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS). This can result in severe symptoms requiring admission to hospital or breathing support via a ventilator.
COVID-19 affects people differently. Some people don't get sick at all, while others may experience mild symptoms and recover quickly and easily. However, a small number of people may become rapidly and seriously ill.
Risk of serious illness is increased in people aged 70 years and over, and in those with:
- lung problems, including asthma, COPD, cystic fibrosis, pulmonary fibrosis, pulmonary hypertension, and pulmonary embolism;
- a history of smoking and/or vaping;
- heart problems, including cardiomyopathy, congenital heart disease, heart failure, and coronary artery disease;
- brain and nervous system diseases;
- diabetes and excess body weight/obesity;
- a compromised immune system;
- cancer and certain blood disorders;
- chronic kidney disease;
- chronic liver disease;
- mental health conditions.
Signs and symptoms
COVID-19 has similar symptoms to other viral infections. The most common symptoms are:
- fever or chills;
- fatigue or tiredness;
- loss of taste or smell;
- congestion or runny nose;
- sore throat.
Less common symptoms include:
- muscle aches;
- diarrhoea, nausea or vomiting;
- skin rash, or discolouration of the fingers or toes;
- red or irritated eyes.
Serious symptoms include:
- shortness of breath;
- loss of speech or mobility;
- chest pain.
Common symptoms of COVID-19
Methods for diagnosis
When to test for COVID-19
Testing for COVID-19 is recommended if you:
- develop symptoms, such as a fever and/or cough;
- do not have symptoms but have come into contact with someone who has COVID-19;
- are asked to take a test for medical reasons (such as on admission to hospital, or prior to medical or surgical treatment).
How to test for COVID-19
Rapid antigen tests (RATs) are used to detect a COVID-19 infection as quickly as possible. They can be self-administered at home, or used by a healthcare professional at a clinic or hospital.
Nucleic acid amplification testing (NAAT) may be used to confirm COVID-19 infection. This laboratory test is commonly done with a reverse-transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) assay, to detect the SARS-CoV-2 virus in a sample taken from your upper respiratory tract. This test is more commonly known as a PCR test.
What else to consider
While COVID-19 is of concern, it's important to remember that symptoms such as fever, cough, sore throat or tiredness can also be signs of a common cold or other respiratory illness - not necessarily COVID-19.
Methods of management
Management of COVID-19 can vary depending on the severity of illness, level of individual and herd immunity, and availability of resources.
If you think you may have COVID-19, or you've been in contact with someone who has COVID-19, you should take a rapid antigen test (RAT).
If the test is positive and you have symptoms, it's recommended that you stay at home until you no longer have symptoms. This helps to protect the people you know, and the wider community.
For at least seven days after testing positive, you must not visit high-risk settings, such as aged and disability care facilities, or hospitals (unless you're seeking immediate medical care).
Other infection-control measures you may wish to consider include:
- wearing a mask when visiting indoor settings;
- working from home, if possible;
- practising good hand and respiratory hygiene;
- following any additional local State or Territory advice and/or requirements.
It's also important to continue maintaining your general health, including chronic disease management (if applicable) and your mental health.
Methods of managing COVID-19
Methods of treatment
There is no specific treatment for coronaviruses, including COVID-19. Contact your doctor if you have questions or concerns about your personal treatment needs.
Treatment of symptoms
If you experience mild symptoms, you can treat COVID-19 in a similar way to a seasonal flu, by:
- resting at home;
- taking paracetamol or ibuprofen to relieve pain and fever;
- staying hydrated;
- taking cough medicine, if needed;
- monitoring your symptoms;
- seeking medical help if you're concerned.
If you experience severe symptoms, you may need to be treated in hospital. Call an ambulance if your oxygen levels are low and you're short of breath. Most symptoms can be treated with supportive medical care.
The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) has provisionally approved certain medications for the treatment of COVID-19 in Australia, including:
Medications for injection/infusion
- tixagevimab and cilgavimab (Evusheld) - for prevention of COVID-19 in those who are at risk of infection but have not been exposed to the virus (also known as pre-exposure prevention);
- sotrovimab (Xevudy) - for use within the first five days of symptoms starting, in those who have mild to moderate COVID-19 and are at high risk of progression to severe disease;
- remdesivir (Veklury) - for those hospitalised with moderate to severe COVID-19.
Medications in tablet form
- molnupiravir (Lagevrio)
- nirmatrelvir and ritonavir (Paxlovid)
These oral medications are for adults with mild to moderate symptoms who do not require oxygen, but are at risk of progression to more severe disease. They must be taken within five days of developing symptoms.
Antibiotics, ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine are not effective treatments for COVID-19.
Some people experience ongoing symptoms for weeks or months after recovering from COVID-19 infection. This is called chronic COVID or 'long COVID'. Around half of people who are admitted to hospital with severe COVID-19 symptoms develop complications, such as kidney, respiratory and circulatory system issues.
The most common symptoms of 'long COVID' are:
- shortness of breath;
- changes in sense of smell and/or taste;
- chest pain;
- lack of sleep;
Medical research is being conducted around the world on the immediate and long-term health effects of COVID-19. It's currently uncertain how long symptoms may last..
Most people with mild to moderate COVID-19 recover with general treatment. Among those who become infected, it's estimated that:
- 81% experience mild symptoms;
- 14% develop severe illness requiring admission to hospital;
- 5% become 'critical'.
Vaccination is a safe and effective way to reduce the severity of COVID-19, and to prevent hospitalisation and death.
In combination with vaccination, a number of other personal preventive strategies can also help to prevent the spread of COVID-19 infection. These strategies include:
- wearing a mask;
- social/physical distancing;
- staying home/avoiding close contact with others if you feel sick;
- covering your nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing;
- disposing of tissues;
- frequent handwashing with soap and water;
- using an alcohol-based hand sanitiser.
FAQ Frequently asked questions
What is coronavirus disease (COVID-19)?
COVID-19 is an infectious disease that has caused a global pandemic since early 2020. The disease is transmitted from person to person.
What are the signs and symptoms of COVID-19?
Most people with COVID-19 have mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever or chills, cough, tiredness, loss of taste or smell, congestion, runny nose and a sore throat. Some people might also have less common symptoms such as headache, muscle …
What causes COVID-19?
COVID-19 is caused by infection with the novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2). It was identified in Wuhan City in China in December 2019. Like other viruses, SARS-CoV-2 changes, or ‘mutates’, over time to create new versions of the virus, known as ‘variants’.
Is COVID-19 contagious?
COVID-19 infection occurs through direct close contact with a person while they are infectious. The infected person may or may not have symptoms. The virus, known as SARS-CoV-2, is spread through droplets and virus particles released into the air when an infected …
How is COVID-19 diagnosed?
COVID-19 is most accurately diagnosed using a laboratory test, called nucleic acid amplification testing (NAAT), also more commonly known as a ‘PCR test’. A rapid antigen test (RAT) may also be self-administered at home, or given by a healthcare professional at a …
How is COVID-19 treated?
There is no specific treatment for COVID-19. Mild symptoms are treated in a similar way to a seasonal flu. Severe symptoms may require treatment in hospital, with or without breathing support via ventilator. The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) has also …
How long does COVID-19 infection last?
In most people, symptoms appear within 5–7 days of exposure to COVID-19. Most people are contagious for 7–10 days, sometimes starting up to two days before symptoms appear. Approximately 80% of people experience mild symptoms and recover from …
How can COVID-19 be prevented?
Vaccination is a safe and effective way to reduce the severity of COVID-19, and to prevent hospitalisation and death. Other strategies include wearing a mask, social distancing, hand-washing, using sanitiser, covering the mouth when coughing and sneezing, and …
How is COVID-19 spread?
COVID-19 infection is spread through droplets and virus particles released into the air when an infected person breathes, talks, laughs, sings, coughs or sneezes. Tiny infectious particles can linger in the air and accumulate in indoor places, especially in crowded …