Coronavirus (COVID-19): what it is, symptoms and treatment

The coronavirus that first appeared in China in 2019 is responsible for the emergence of a respiratory infection, known as COVID-19, which can range from a simple flu to very serious complications, such as pneumonia, putting life at risk.

The most serious complications of this infection seem to arise especially in elderly people over the age of 60, but the virus can affect people of all ages, so it is very important to be aware of the appearance of symptoms that may indicate the infection, especially high fever, persistent cough and difficulty breathing.

COVID-19 is transmitted through respiratory secretions and saliva, and it is recommended to take care to avoid catching the infection and passing it on to others, such as covering your mouth when coughing or sneezing, washing your hands regularly and avoid touching your face, mainly in the eyes, nose and mouth.

Online Symptom Test

The symptoms of the COVID-19 infection appear to range from a simple flu to a more serious infection. If you think you may be infected, please answer the following questions to find out what your risk is and what to do:

  1. Do you havea headache or general malaise?



  1. Do you havegeneral muscle pain?



  1. Do youfeel excessive tiredness?



  1. Do you havenasal congestion or runny nose?



  1. Do you have anintense, especially dry cough?



  1. Do youfeel severe pain or persistent pressure in the chest?



  1. Do you have afever above 38ºC?



  1. Do you havedifficulty breathing or shortness of breath?



  1. Are your lips or face slightly bluish?



  1. Do you have asore throat?



  1. Have you been in a place with a high number of COVID-19 cases, in the last 14 days?



  1. Do you think you have had contact with someone who might be with COVID-19, in the last 14 days?


In the case of more serious infections, systemic symptoms may also appear, such as muscle pain and gastrointestinal symptoms, such as diarrhea and vomiting, as well as changes in the blood test, such as a decrease in the amount of lymphocytes, platelets and neutrophils.

In addition, cases have been reported of people who appear to have conjunctivitis and loss of smell during the infection of the new coronavirus, however studies that demonstrate the incidence of these symptoms are not known. Loss of smell is a condition known scientifically as anosmia, which can arise when there is temporary or permanent irritation of the lining of the nose, and is common in other viral respiratory infections. Understand more about loss of smell and why it can happen .

See the latest recommendations from our healthcare professionals on how to deal with the new coronavirus:

How to confirm the diagnosis

The diagnosis of COVID-19 infection is initiated through the assessment of symptoms, and the WHO has determined that the diagnosis is based on clinical and epidemiological parameters. Regarding the clinical parameters, the person needs to have fever and another flu symptom, and at least one of the epidemiological parameters which are: having been in a place where many cases of COVID-19 were identified, having had contact with a suspected person or have been in direct contact with a person with a confirmed COVID-19 infection.

After the first evaluation, the doctor may order a COVID-19 test with the respiratory secretions or a blood test to confirm that it is really a new coronavirus infection or not. Depending on the type of exam, the results may take up to 6 hours to be available. Learn more about the COVID-19 test .

What to do in case of suspicion

What to do when a COVID-19 infection is suspected is to contact the “Disque Saúde” line through the number 136, to know how to proceed. Another option is to contact the line through the Whatsapp number: (61) 9938-0031.

If it is advisable to go to the hospital or health clinic, you must take some care on the way between home and the health unit, such as:

  • Use a disposable maskto protect others from coughing and sneezing that can spread the virus;
  • Cover your nose and mouth to sneeze or cough, using a disposable tissue and discarding after each use;
  • Wash your hands before leaving homeand as soon as you arrive at the hospital;
  • Avoid direct contact with other people, through touching, kissing or hugging;
  • Avoid using public transportto reach the hospital.

Once in the hospital it is important to keep some distance from other people, especially in the waiting rooms, as this allows to delay the transmission of the virus.

In addition, it is important to warn everyone who has been in close contact in the past 14 days, such as family and friends, about the suspicion, so that these people can be alert to the appearance of symptoms.

How the transmission happens

The transmission of the coronavirus can happen through contact with infected wild animals or through person-to-person contact through the inhalation of droplets released into the air when coughing or sneezing that contains the virus or through the fecal-oral route, already that SARS-CoV can also be excreted in the faeces.

Check out the 9 most important steps to protect yourself against COVID-19 .

How the treatment is done

There is no specific treatment for COVID-19, only supportive measures are recommended, such as hydration, rest and a light and balanced diet. In addition, medicines for fever and painkillers, such as Paracetamol, are also indicated, provided they are used under the supervision of the doctor, to relieve symptoms and facilitate recovery.

Some studies are being carried out with the aim of testing the effectiveness of several antiviral drugs to eliminate the virus from the body, such as Remdesivir, Hydroxychloroquine or Mefloquine, which have already shown positive results in some patients, but so far no drug has been proven . See more about the drugs being tested for COVID-19 .

In the most severe cases, the infected person can still develop viral pneumonia, with symptoms such as intense pressure in the chest, high fever and shortness of breath. In such cases, it is recommended to be admitted to the hospital to receive oxygen and to be under continuous surveillance of vital signs.

Who is at higher risk of complications

The risk of serious complications due to COVID-19, such as pneumonia, appears to be higher in people over 60 and all those with weakened immune systems. Thus, in addition to the elderly, they are also part of the risk group:

  • People with chronic diseases, such as cancer, diabetes, kidney failure or heart disease;
  • People with autoimmune diseases, such as lupus or multiple sclerosis;
  • People with infections that affect the immune system, such as HIV;
  • People undergoing cancer treatment, especially chemotherapy;
  • People who have had recent surgery, mainly transplants;
  • People undergoing immunosuppressive treatment.

Being in the risk group does not mean that there is a greater chance of catching the disease, but that there is an increased risk of developing serious complications that can be life-threatening. Thus, during periods of epidemic or pandemic, these people should, whenever possible, be self-isolated or socially distant to reduce the chances of catching the disease.

Coronavirus or COVID-19?

“Coronavirus” is actually the name given to a group of viruses belonging to the same family, the  Coronaviridae, which are responsible for respiratory infections that can be mild or quite severe depending on the coronavirus responsible for the infection.

The new coronavirus from China is actually known in the scientific community as SARS-CoV-2 and the infection caused by the virus is COVID-19. Other diseases known and caused by other types of coronavirus are, for example, SARS and MERS, responsible for Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, respectively.

So far, 7 types of coronaviruses that can affect humans are known:

  1. SARS-CoV-2 (coronavirus from China);
  2. 229E;
  3. NL63;
  4. OC43;
  5. HKU1;
  6. SARS-CoV;
  7. MERS-CoV.

Type SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19)

This type of coronavirus is the most recent and was first identified in China, however there are already reported cases of infection in Italy, Thailand, Japan, South Korea, Iran and the United States. There is still little information on this type of coronavirus, however it is known that, like SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV, it causes severe respiratory infection, which can lead to respiratory failure and result in death.

Regarding the form of transmission of this type of virus, it was found that people who attended a market in Wuhan, China, where wild animals were marketed, were infected by the virus, proving animal-to-person transmission. However, other people, who were not present in the market but who had contact with sick people, were also infected with this same virus, confirming the hypothesis that COVID-19 is also transmitted from person to person through inhalation of respiratory droplets and direct contact, without due precautions, with infected people.

Learn more about this virus in the following video:

Types 229E, NL63, OC43 and HKU1

These types are often associated with common colds and are responsible for mild respiratory diseases that are naturally fought by the immune system itself. These types of viruses are transmitted from person to person and lead to the appearance of typical symptoms of the common cold or mild pneumonia depending on the activity of the person’s immune system.

Types SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV

These types are related to severe respiratory infections and it is usually necessary for the person to be hospitalized in order to be monitored and complications are prevented. These viruses are transmitted from animals to people and, therefore, end up triggering a more severe immune and inflammatory response, resulting in more serious complications and symptoms.

In addition, the severity of infection by these viruses can be related to the person’s immune system, as it is more common to appear in people who have compromised immune systems due to diseases, such as HIV, or due to cancer treatment, for example, mainly in the case of the MERS-CoV virus. The first case of MERS-CoV infection was in Saudi Arabia in 2012, however the virus managed to be easily transmitted to other countries in the Middle East. Learn more about MERS.

The first reported case of SARS-CoV infection was in 2002 in Asia and the virus was soon associated with severe respiratory infection due to the fact that it is able to spread rapidly among the population. Understand what SARS is.


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