The Facts

COVID-19 is a newly identified infectious disease that first came to worldwide attention in December 2019. Cases of COVID-19 infection began to spread globally in increasing numbers and in March 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) designated COVID-19 as a pandemic. To date, COVID-19 has affected countries all over the world, and it is continuing to spread.


The virus causing COVID-19 is officially known as severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). It belongs to a larger family of viruses called coronavirus. Although coronaviruses can affect both animals and humans, only human coronaviruses are known to cause respiratory infections. These infections range from mild illnesses such as the common cold to severe illness such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).

The spread of COVID-19 is not completely understood, however it is believed that COVID-19 can spread directly from person to person through respiratory droplets. You can also come into contact with the virus through aerosols (droplets small enough to float in the air) created when an infected person coughs or sneezes. These aerosols linger in the air for long periods of time. You may also pick up the virus from touching infected surfaces and then touching your eyes, nose, or mouth.

People with highest risk of exposure include:

  • People who work in environments with exposure to many individuals
  • Individuals working in group settings such as correctional facilities, long-term care facilities and shelters or group residences
  • Those facing social, economic or personal barriers that limit their ability to implement public health measures

Symptoms and Complications

People infected with COVID-19 may experience symptoms ranging from little-to-no symptoms to severe illness and death. Most infections are usually mild and begin up to 14 days after exposure.

Most common symptoms include:

  • Dry cough
  • Fever
  • Tiredness

Other symptoms include:

  • Aches and pains
  • Nausea, vomiting or diarrhea
  • Red eyes (conjunctivitis)
  • Headache
  • Chills
  • Loss of smell or taste

However, some people may develop other more severe complications, such as pneumonia or respiratory failure. The risk of dying from COVID-19 is higher for certain populations including adults aged 60 and older (risk increasing by age), people who have underlying chronic medical conditions (including heart disease, diabetes, lung disease), people living with obesity with a BMI of 40 or higher, and people with weakened immune systems.

Making the Diagnosis

If you feel you are experiencing symptoms of a COVID-19 infection you should self-isolate for 14 days and contact your local public health authority. Coronavirus infections can be confirmed by a laboratory-based or point-of-care test. The test is usually done by taking a nasal swab, a throat swab or a saliva sample.

Treatment and Prevention

Most people with mild illness will recover without treatment. However, your health care provider may recommend some available medications to help provide comfort and alleviate symptoms of COVID-19.

Drug treatments for COVID-19 are currently being developed and tested. On July 27, 2020, Health Canada approved remdesivir (Veklury®) to treat severe COVID-19 symptoms in adults and adolescents 12 years of age and older, who weigh at least 40 kg.

In November 2020, Health Canada approved another medication called bamlanivimab to treat mild-to-moderate COVID-19 symptoms. This medication can be used for adults and youths 12 years of age or older, who weigh at least 40 kg and are at high risk of progressing to severe COVID-19 symptoms or hospitalization.

In June 2021, Health Canada approved 2 medications used together, called casirivimab and imdevimab, to treat mild-to-moderate COVID-19 symptoms. It can be used for individuals who are 12 years of age or older, who weigh at least 40 kg and who are not hospitalized due to COVID-19.

Currently, there are 4 COVID-19 vaccines authorized for use in Canada: the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine, the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine, and the Janssen (Johnson & Johnson) vaccine. The vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna use messenger RNA (mRNA) technology to stimulate an immune response by producing antibodies, whereas the vaccines from AstraZeneca and Janssen use adenovirus technology to produce antibodies.

There are other vaccines currently under review, and Health Canada continues to closely monitor the vaccines that have been approved.

Since COVID-19 can spread from person to person, practising good hand hygiene is one of the most important things you can do to keep yourself from being infected. Wear a face mask whenever possible, especially when you're out in public settings. Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unclean hands. You should try to minimize your chances of being exposed to the virus by avoiding contact with people who are sick. If you are sick, you should cover your nose and mouth when sneezing and coughing.

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