Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses, some causing illness in people and others circulating among animals including camels, cats and bats.
There are several known coronaviruses that infect people and usually only cause mild respiratory disease, such as the common cold. However, at least two previously identified coronaviruses have caused severe disease — severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV) and Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV).
COVID-19 is a disease caused by a new strain of coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2), so people most likely have no immunity to it. It causes a respiratory illness ranging from mild flu-like symptoms to severe pneumonia.
The symptoms of COVID-19 are similar to what someone may get from a seasonal illness:
- Shortness of breath
- Muscle aches
- Sore throat
- A decrease in smell or taste
Most people with COVID-19 will have mild to moderate symptoms. However, people of any age with certain underlying medical conditions are at increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19.
The virus is thought to spread mainly from person-to-person:
- Between people who are in close contact with one another (within 6 feet).
- By respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes.
- These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs.
Currently, there are no specific medicines or vaccines for the new virus, and antibiotics do not work either (they fight off bacteria). Most people get better on their own. Scientists are working to develop a vaccine, but this will have to be tested in trials first, so it could be some time before it is ready. Scientists are also conducting studies to determine if medications already on the market could be effective in treating COVID-19. Treatment is only to manage symptoms, such as drinking lots of fluids, getting plenty of rest, etc.
People of any age with the following conditions are at increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19:
- Chronic kidney disease
- COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease)
- Immunocompromised (weakened immune system) from solid organ transplant
- Obesity (body mass index [BMI] of 30 or higher)
- Serious heart conditions, such as heart failure, coronary artery disease, or cardiomyopathies
- Sickle cell disease
- Type 2 diabetes
Based on what we know now, people with the following health conditions might be at increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19:
- Asthma (moderate to severe)
- Cerebrovascular disease (a disease which affects blood vessels and blood supply to the brain)
- Cystic fibrosis
- Immunocompromised state (weakened immune system) from blood or bone marrow transplant, immune deficiencies, HIV/ • AIDS, use of corticosteroids, or use of other immune weakening medicines
- High blood pressure or hypertension
- Liver disease
- Neurologic conditions such as dementia
- Pulmonary fibrosis (having damaged or scarred lung tissues)
- Thalassemia (a type of blood disorder)
- Type 1 diabetes
Children who have special health care needs or are medically complex are also at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19. These children may have neurologic, genetic, or metabolic health conditions or a congenital heart disease.
Smoking may also increase the risk of severe illness from COVID-19. For more information on who may be at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19 and what precautions these individuals should take, visit https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/ need-extra-precautions/people-with-medical-conditions.html.
See our Frequently Asked Questions page for more information on COVID-19.