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What is COVID-19?

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                                                                                                                                               Photo: Getty Images

Updated March 25

The latest strain of coronavirus, COVID-19, is a respiratory illness that, until December 2019, had not been seen in humans. The illness was first detected in China and has since spread around the world. The first cases of COVID-19 in Virginia were reported in early March.

COVID-19 causes symptoms much like the common cold or flu. Symptoms include fever, a worsening cough and shortness of breath. COVID-19 symptoms are more severe than those of the common cold and may last longer.  

If you were sick, how would you know if it was COVID-19 or something else, like the flu?

View our infographic, which compares symptoms of COVID-19, the flu and allergies. As with any illness, exact symptoms can vary from person to person.

The sections below describe the symptoms and incubation period of COVID-19, flu and allergies. 

COVID-19 (Incubation period: 1-14 days)
Common symptoms:

  • Fever
  • Dry cough
  • Shortness of breath
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Fatigue

Sometimes:

  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Body aches
  • Sore throat

Flu (Incubation period: 1-4 days)
Common symptoms:

  • Fever/chills
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Fatigue
  • Body aches
  • Headache
  • Loss of appetite

Sometimes:

  • Runny or stuffy nose

Allergies (Incubation period: n/a)
Common symptoms:

  • Sneezing
  • Congestion
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Itchy/watery eyes

Allergy symptoms typically only affect parts of the head and are not accompanied by fever.

When to call your doctor

It’s important to call your primary care doctor or your child’s pediatrician if you have specific concerns or your symptoms seem to be getting worse. Your doctor will want to know is if you’ve traveled to an area where COVID-19 outbreaks have occurred, such as China, or if you’ve been in contact with someone within the past 14 days who has a confirmed case of the disease. If either of these is true, and you display symptoms linked to COVID-19, your doctor may choose to test you for the virus.

Practice prevention

With COVID-19 you can share germs before you start to experience symptoms. Symptoms may start to appear anywhere from 1-14 days after exposure -- or perhaps even more. This is why infection prevention measures -- including social distancing, hand hygiene, regular cleaning of high-touch surfaces and cough/sneeze etiquette – are so important.

Call our general information hotline

For general questions about COVID-19, call our hotline at (804) 628-7425. Please continue to check our website for updates and new content pertaining to COVID-19.