Skip to content
My WebMD Sign In, Sign Up

Lung Disease & Respiratory Health Center

Font Size
A
A
A

Coronavirus

A coronavirus is a kind of common virus that causes an infection in your nose, sinuses, or upper throat. Most coronaviruses are not dangerous.

Some types of coronavirus are serious, though. Several people have died from Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) in Saudi Arabia and other countries. People also died from a severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreak in 2003. Both MERS and SARS are caused by coronaviruses.

Recommended Related to Lung Disease/Respiratory Problems

Picture of the Lungs

Read the Picture of the Lungs article > >

Usually, though, a coronavirus causes common cold symptoms that you can easily treat with rest and over-the-counter medication.

What Is a Coronavirus?

Coronaviruses were first identified in the 1960s, but we don't know where they come from. They get their name from their crown-like shape. Sometimes, but not often, a coronavirus can infect both animals and humans.

Most coronaviruses spread the same way other cold-causing viruses do, through infected people coughing and sneezing, by touching an infected person's hands or face, or by touching things such as doorknobs that infected people have touched.

Almost everyone gets a coronavirus infection at least once in their life, most likely as a young child. In the United States, coronaviruses are more common in the fall and winter, but anyone can come down with a coronavirus infection any time.

Common Symptoms of Coronavirus

The symptoms of most coronaviruses are similar to any other upper-respiratory infection, including runny nose, coughing, sore throat, and sometimes a fever. In most cases, you won't know whether you have a coronavirus or a different cold-causing virus, such as rhinovirus.

You could get lab tests, including nose and throat cultures and blood work, to find out whether your cold was caused by a coronavirus, but there's no reason to. The test results wouldn't change how you treat your symptoms, which typically go away in a few days.

But if a coronavirus infection spreads to the lower respiratory tract (your windpipe and your lungs), it can cause pneumonia, especially in older people, people with heart disease, or people with weakened immune systems.

What to Do About Coronavirus

There is no vaccine for coronavirus. To prevent coronavirus infection, do the same things you do to avoid the common cold:

  • Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and warm water or with an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • Keep your hands and fingers away from your eyes, nose, and mouth.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are infected.

You treat a coronavirus infection the same way you treat a cold, too:

  • Get plenty of rest.
  • Drink fluids.
  • Take over-the-counter medicine for sore throat and fever (but don't give aspirin to children; use ibuprofen or acetaminophen instead).

A humidifier or steamy shower can also help ease a sore and swollen throat.

Even when coronavirus causes MERS or SARS in other countries, the kind of coronavirus infection common in the U.S. isn't a serious threat for an otherwise healthy adult. If you get sick, treat your symptoms and contact a doctor if they get worse or don't go away.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Michael W. Smith, MD on August 02, 2013

Today on WebMD

Hot Tub Disease
Article
Lung Disease Health Check
HEALTH CHECK
 
Cigarette butts in ashtray
Article
Household Hazards For People With Copd
Article
 

Bronchitis Overview
SLIDESHOW
Copd Myth Fact Quiz
QUIZ
 
Living With Copd
VIDEO
Energy Boosting Foods
SLIDESHOW
 

cigarette butts snuffed out in ashtray
SLIDESHOW
Healthy Home Health Check
TOOL
 
Senior woman stretching
Article
Diagnosing Copd
VIDEO
 

WebMD Special Sections