FYI: It looks a lot like the flu.

Leah Groth
January 27, 2020
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This story originally appeared on: health.com

Since it was first reported in Wuhan, China in December 2019, the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) has become a global health issue. According to the most recent information provided by the World Health Organization (WHO), the outbreak is responsible for more than 330,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus and nearly 15,000 deaths—most of which occurred in China—worldwide.

Clearly, the coronavirus has caused quite a panic worldwide. To make matters worse, China’s health minister Ma Xiaowei made a startling statement recently, claiming that people can spread the disease before they become symptomatic. "This is a game changer," William Schaffner, MD, a longtime adviser to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said per CNN. "It means the infection is much more contagious than we originally thought. This is worse than we anticipated."

The situation is rapidly evolving and, at this moment, "poses a serious public health crisis," says the CDC. While different parts the country are experiencing different levels of COVID-19 infection, no state is immune. Indeed, every state in the nation has reported cases of the new coronavirus to the CDC. Here are the core symptoms to watch out for when it comes to the new coronavirus and how it differs from other illnesses.

What are the symptoms of coronavirus?

First of all, coronaviruses are a group of different viruses—and the symptoms of the current newsworthy strain of coronavirus, COVID-19, differ from other coronavirus strains.

As the CDC explains, there are three main symptoms of the current illness: Fever, cough, and shortness of breath—symptoms that are similar to the flu or common cold.

Among hospitalized patients, fever is the most common symptom, according to CDC interim guidance for doctors who are managing COVID-19 patients. Complaints of muscle pain or fatigue are also common among these patients. Less often, they report headache, sore throat, productive cough, or GI symptoms, like diarrhea.

How does coronavirus progress?

The CDC explains that, at this time, symptoms appear to arise in as few as 2 days after exposure or as long as 14 days after. This is based on the incubation period of MERS, another type of coronavirus.

However, the infection's progression varies widely. Initially, some people have very mild symptoms, like headache or low-grade fever, to start, and they may even begin to feel better for falling severely ill, per reporting by NBC News.

Among reported cases of COVID-19, some people initially experience mild symptoms or no symptoms at all, while others present with severe illness, according to the CDC. "Some reports suggest the potential for clinical deterioration during the second week of illness," says CDC.

If you think you've been exposed to COVID-19 or are experiencing fever or other symptoms, such as cough or difficulty breathing, call your healthcare provider, the CDC suggests. Anyone who is having trouble breathing or experiencing other concerning symptoms, like chest pain, confusion, or bluish lips, ought to seek immediate medical care.

How can you protect yourself from coronavirus?

The WHO suggests a variety of safety measures to take to keep yourself safe from the novel coronavirus, which include hand and respiratory hygiene.

First and foremost, it's advised that people frequently clean their hands with soap and water or by using alcohol-based hand gel. It's also important that, when coughing and sneezing, people always cover their mouth and nose with their elbow or a tissue (and then immediately throw that used tissue away and wash their hands). People should also try their best to avoid others who have a fever or cough.

Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth, because if the virus is on your hands, it can enter your body through your mucus membranes and make yourself sick, says WHO.

It's also important to maintain "social distancing"—leaving a buffer zone of about 6 feet between people to prevent person-to-person transmission, the CDC recommends.

Clean and disinfect any surfaces your touch daily, the CDC adds. And, by all means, if you are sick, stay home and recover. If you develop serious symptoms, call your healthcare provider.

The information in this story is accurate as of press time. However, as the situation surrounding COVID-19 continues to evolve, it's possible that some data have changed since publication. While Health is trying to keep our stories as up-to-date as possible, we also encourage readers to stay informed on news and recommendations for their own communities by using the CDC, WHO, and their local public health department as resources.

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