COVID-19 - which originated in Wuhan, China, in December 2019 - was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO) on 11 March 2020. WHO has further declared this coronavirus infection a public health emergency of international concern. (As of 25 March 2020, 563 total cases (512 active cases) of COVID-19 had been reported in India, whereas the global count of patients had gone over four lakh people infected across 170 countries and regions!)

India went into a three-week lockdown from the midnight of 24-25 March in order to prevent the spread of the disease. Ironically, because of this lockdown, people have started panicking more. Floating around - by word of mouth and via social media and WhatsApp - are many myths around the transmission and cure of COVID-19.

Here in this article, we will be addressing 32 frequently asked questions about COVID-19 and presenting fact-after-fact on what you need to know about this viral infection, how to protect yourself, the best way to care for a COVID-19 patient at home and more.

  1. What is coronavirus?
  2. What is COVID-19?
  3. Why is the infection called COVID-19?
  4. What are the symptoms of COVID-19?
  5. What should I do if someone in my house starts showing symptoms of COVID-19?
  6. How are the symptoms of COVID-19 different from flu?
  7. How does COVID-19 spread?
  8. I am completely healthy and young, should I be worried about COVID-19?
  9. I already have a medical condition, how prone am I to get the disease?
  10. Is COVID-19 the same as SARS?
  11. Can I take medicines like antibiotics to prevent the disease?
  12. Is there any vaccine or cure for COVID-19?
  13. How do I protect myself from COVID-19?
  14. What kind of sanitizer should I use?
  15. Is it okay to sanitize my hands regularly rather than washing them frequently?
  16. Should I wear masks to protect myself from COVID-19?
  17. Is there a proper way to use the masks?
  18. Which masks are best for preventing COVID-19?
  19. How long does it take for COVID-19 symptoms to start showing up?
  20. Can my pet catch COVID-19?
  21. Should I stop eating outdoors?
  22. Can the virus survive on surfaces like doorknobs and tables?
  23. Can I receive packages from China and other areas with COVID-19 cases and deaths?
  24. Will warm weather end the COVID-19 outbreak in India?
  25. Who should go into self-quarantine?
  26. I just came back from a vacation but I'm feeling fine, do I need to quarantine myself?
  27. How can I protect my child from COVID-19?
  28. How can we clean our houses to protect ourselves against COVID-19?
  29. Are pregnant women more prone to get COVID-19?
  30. I am totally healthy, should I get tested for COVID-19 in advance?
  31. Is it safe to have sex during the COVID-19 pandemic?
  32. Should I take hydroxychloroquine to avoid COVID-19 infection?
Doctors for 32 most frequently asked questions about COVID-19

Coronavirus is a large family of viruses which affect both animals and humans. Corona means crown. This family of viruses is so named because of the spikes on their surfaces that make them look like crowns.

There are seven strains of coronavirus that affect the human body. The first four strains - 229E, NL63, OC43, and HKU1 - are known to cause upper respiratory tract infections. The remaining three - Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and COVID-19 - are the more severe forms of coronavirus as they can cause lower respiratory tract infections like bronchitis or pneumonia.

COVID-19 is a highly contagious infection that presents with flu-like symptoms such as fever, cough and difficulty breathing. Patients have also cited the inability to smell things and fatigue among their symptoms.

COVID-19 is one of the types of human coronavirus infection. It is caused by the most recently discovered strain of coronavirus, named SARS-CoV-2 by the World Health Organization (WHO).

This infection was first reported to the World Health Organization on 31 December 2019, from Wuhan City, Hubei Province, China. Since then, it has spread to more than 85% of the world and has been declared a "pandemic" by the WHO.

Since COVID-19 is caused by a new (or novel) coronavirus, there is no known cure for it. Treatment comprises managing the symptoms, antiviral drugs and oxygen therapy.

Diagnosis is done by taking a thorough travel history and medical history of the suspected patient, doing an rRT PCR test and sometimes a lung biopsy. At the height of the pandemic in China, doctors there were also using lung CT scans but this is not common practice. (Read more: Who can get tested for COVID-19)

Infants, the elderly and the immunocompromised are at greater risk for contracting more severe forms of the infection. (Read more: COVID-19 prevention tips for older people and people living with chronic illnesses)

Prevention methods include social distancing, washing your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds up to one minute, and coughing into the crook of your arm. Medical masks or N95 masks may be used by medical professionals, patients and primary caregivers of patients at home to avoid infection.

The world over, countries are taking unprecedented steps to curtail the spread of the virus. For example, India did not allow any commercial international planes to land anywhere in the country from 22 March 2020 to the midnight of 28 March 2020. This was done to limit the movement of people from countries that are badly affected by the COVID-19 infection.

The World Health Organization declared coronavirus disease 2019 or COVID-19 as the official name for the novel coronavirus outbreak, first identified in Wuhan China in 2019. The "CO" in COVID-19 stands for "corona", "VI" for "virus" and "D" stands for disease.

The most common symptoms of COVID-19 are:

These symptoms are usually mild and appear gradually. Some people may also have body pain and diarrhoea. In severe cases, the patient may also suffer from organ damage.

Do not panic if someone at your house starts showing the symptoms of COVID-19. Start by isolating them at home. Call the clinic or hospital beforehand if you think the sick person in your home needs to see a doctor. Make sure you and your sick loved one wear masks before going to see the doctor.

Stay in touch with your nearest hospital or family doctor on the phone and keep them updated with your family member’s health. If your family member is showing the signs of COVID-19, follow these measures:

  • Try not to come in direct contact with the isolated person for two weeks as they can spread the illness to you easily. You may give them mobile phones and laptops so that they can stay in touch with you.
  • Do not share your household articles like utensils, towels, beddings or soaps with the isolated person. Viruses can survive on these daily use objects for a few hours or even days - sharing these objects can easily spread the disease.
  • You can use gloves while handling the dirty laundry or dirty dishes of the isolated person. Make sure that you wash their laundry and dirty dishes separately. You can also add any disinfectant in their soiled laundry. 

The person should stay isolated until they are better and no longer pose a risk of infecting others. The doctor may consider them disease-free if:

  • They are free from fever without the use of antipyretics (fever-reducing medications).
  • They do not show any symptoms including cough.
  • Two consecutive respiratory test specimens taken from them 24 hours apart show no trace of the virus.

Most of the symptoms of COVID-19 are same as that of the flu. But the classic difference between them is that a person with flu may not have breathing difficulty but a person with COVID-19 would have shortness of breath as one of the signs. However, the confirmation of the disease can only be done after getting tested in laboratories.

COVID-19 can spread through direct contact. The disease travels from an infected person to a healthy person, through the inhalation of air-droplets which get infected when the person with COVID-19 coughs or exhales.

The disease can also spread indirectly as the air-droplets can land on objects and surfaces around the infected person. The virus transmits to a healthy person when he/she touches these objects or surfaces with his/her bare hands and then touches their eyes, nose or mouth with the same hands.

The virus also spreads rapidly and sustainably in a community, which is known as community transmission. Community transmission is a term used for people who have been infected in a localised community but are unaware of how and where they got infected.

Those who are completely healthy are also prone to get the disease. Though the effect of COVID-19 infection is generally mild in children and young adults, it can turn into a life-threatening condition at any moment. 

You can protect yourself, your loved ones and your community by taking necessary precautions like regular and thorough hand-washing, restricting or postponing any travel, meetings or gatherings and staying indoors unless absolutely necessary.

There has not been a definite statement about this but it has been reported that older people and people with pre-existing medical conditions like high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, lung disease or cancer have a higher chance of developing serious illness than others. 

No, SARS or Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome and COVID-19 are not the same but are related to each other as they belong to the same virus family, coronavirus. SARS was first reported in Asia in February 2003 and was more deadly but less infectious. No cases of SARS have been reported after 2003. However, COVID-19 is highly infectious and has been spreading rapidly since December 2019.

No, there are no antibiotics which can work against viruses as antibiotics are meant for bacterial infections only. Antibiotics should not be used as a preventive measure for COVID-19.

No, currently there is no vaccination or cure for COVID-19. So far, COVID-19 patients are being treated with antiviral drugs, oxygen therapy and various other drugs to protect the organs from the damage due to viral load in the body.

There are a few things that can be done in order to protect yourself and the people around you from COVID-19:

  • Wash your hands regularly and thoroughly with soap and water. You can also rub your hands with an alcohol-based hand rub (with at least 60% alcohol) as it kills the viruses that may be present on your hands.
  • You need to maintain a distance of at least one metre between yourself and anyone who is coughing or sneezing. The distance is necessary because when someone coughs or sneezes, they scatter small droplets of infection from their nose and mouth which may contain the virus. If the distance is not there, you can inhale those COVID-19 infected droplets.
  • Our hands touch many surfaces and are very much prone to carry the virus along. Once the hands are contaminated, they can transfer the virus to the body through our eyes, nose and mouth. So try to avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth frequently. 
  • Whenever you cough or sneeze, cover your nose and mouth with your bent elbow or tissue (throw the used tissue in a dustbin with a lid immediately). This would prevent the spread of diseases like cold, flu and even COVID-19 into the air in the form of droplets. Encourage people to do the same, in order to prevent the spread of the disease. 
  • If you feel you have any of the symptoms of COVID-19, kindly stay at home. Call your doctor and tell them about your current health situation. Follow the directives of the doctor or local health authority. You can inform the nearest hospital prior to your visit, as this would allow the healthcare professionals to direct you to the right health facility.  
  • Avoid travelling and public gatherings, especially if you are an older person or have any underlying medical condition like hypertension, diabetes or any heart condition.

Since most hand sanitizers are alcohol-based, they can help in deactivating the bacteria and viruses present on the surface of our hands. Most of the sanitizers contain ethanol, isopropanol, water and glycerol. An effective hand sanitizer should have 60% to 95% alcohol content in it. The alcohol present in the sanitizer dissolves the outer wall of bacteria and viruses whereas the hydroxyl groups break up the peptide bonds of the inner membrane. This deactivates the pathogens and they can no longer spread infections.

Read more: How to make hand sanitizer at home

You can use alcohol-based sanitizers if you do not have water and soap near you. Sanitizers can kill the bacteria and viruses present on the surface of the hands, whereas washing hands with soap and water removes them completely. You should wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.

According to the World Health Organization, people who do not have any symptoms do not require any masks. People who have COVID-19 or are living with people who have COVID-19 should wear masks. You can wear masks when you take public transport - try to avoid this during the pandemic, though. The health professionals also urge people to not use masks unnecessarily as there is already a worldwide shortage of masks during this pandemic.

Read more: How useful are masks against COVID-19 and how to use them properly

Masks are only necessary for health workers, people with respiratory symptoms, fever and cough and their caretakers. There is a certain way of wearing and disposing of masks:

  • Clean your hands with an alcohol-based sanitiser or soap and water before touching the mask.
  • Make sure that the coloured side of the mask is facing outwards whereas the white part touches your face.
  • The top side of the mask would be the one with the metal strip.
  • Place the mask over your mouth and nose and tie the upper two ends of the mask behind your head.
  • Now pinch the metal strip over the bridge of your nose. Make sure that the strip moulds to the shape of your nose.
  • Pull down the bottom of the mask to cover your mouth and chin and tie the lower ends at the back of your neck.
  • If you have a mask with elastic loops, you can directly place the loops behind your ear.
  • After use, when you have to remove the mask, open the tied ends at the back of the head and neck. Do not touch the mask with your hands. 
  • If you have the mask with elastic loops, remove the loops without touching the mask.
  • Hold the mask by the thread/loop and discard it in a closed bin. 
  • Use alcohol-based hand rub or wash your hands with soap and water, after discarding the mask.

There are two types of masks which can be used by people who have developed the symptoms of COVID-19:

  • Surgical masks: These are also known as face masks and mouth masks. The mask acts as a barrier between the mouth and nose and the contaminants in the environment. They are used only once and should be thrown after a single-use.
  • N-95 respirator: These masks have the ability to filter the airborne particles present in the air. They provide a better seal over the mouth and the nose.

Cloth masks can only provide protection against big sized particles but do not prevent the transmission of airborne particles.

The incubation period of COVID-19 is 14 days. That means, if a person contracts the virus, they will start showing symptoms like fever, cough and shortness of breath within the period of 14 days.

There is no evidence to show that your pets (dogs or cats) can transmit COVID-19. COVID-19 is mainly spread through droplets produced when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or speaks. To protect yourself and your pet, clean your hands frequently and cough or sneeze in your bent elbow. That said, if you are sick, avoid playing with your pets for a little while.

Properly cooked food cannot transmit the virus to you. Handle raw meat, milk or animal organs with care to avoid contamination of uncooked foods and avoid consuming raw or undercooked animal products. 

However, if a person affected with COVID-19 prepares your food, then there is a possibility that the food might get contaminated - either while preparing or while packing.

Yes, the virus can stay on inanimate or non-living surfaces. However, scientists do not know exactly how long the virus that causes COVID-19 survives on surfaces. Some studies suggest that coronaviruses can stay on surfaces for a few hours or up to several days.

The fix: you can disinfect high-touch surfaces (like doorknobs, fridge doors and sinks) with a disinfectant daily. Sanitize your hands frequently or wash your hands with soap and water. Do not touch your eyes, mouth, or nose.

There is a very low risk of getting an infection from a package. The idea that the virus could survive on commercial goods for the entire transit period seems impracticable. So yes, you can receive packages from the areas which have reported cases of COVID-19.

Some viruses, like the ones that cause common cold and flu, spread more during winters. Similarly, it is being assumed that the spread of COVID-19 would stop (or at least slow down) as soon as the weather gets warmer. However, scientists have not confirmed any such information. Scientists are still working to know more about the ways of transmission, the severity of the disease and various other features of COVID-19.

Self-quarantine means that a person or group of people separate themselves from others, as they might have been exposed to a contagious disease but do not present any symptoms yet. Self-quarantine is necessary because if these asymptomatic people are affected by the disease, they can spread the disease to many healthy people. Self-quarantine is usually done until the incubation period is over, which, in the case of COVID-19, is 14 days. The incubation period is the time period between getting the virus and the appearance of the symptoms of the disease.

If you have just returned from an affected area, even if you do not have any symptoms, isolate yourself for at least 14 days after travel - 14 days is the incubation period for the disease. If you have contracted the COVID-19 virus, you would start showing the symptoms within 14 days.

Don't panic if you do start experiencing symptoms like shortness of breath, cough or fever, immediately isolate yourself in a different part of the house and call your doctor on the phone to seek their medical opinion: only visit a clinic or hospital if the doctor recommends it or if the symptoms seem severe. 

You can follow these steps while you practise self-quarantine:

  • Stay in a separate room and use a separate bathroom, if possible. This would minimize the risk of your other family members getting exposed to the infection. 
  • Check your temperature at least twice a day with a thermometer and keep a record of it in a diary.
  • Place a tissue on your mouth and nose while sneezing or coughing. Throw the tissue immediately after use and then wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
  • Use alcohol-based sanitizers before touching any surface.

Here are a few things you can do in order to protect your child from COVID-19:

  • Do not let your child go out to play with other kids.
  • Encourage them to wash their hands frequently.
  • Clean your child’s toys with a disinfecting solution.

Since the symptoms of COVID-19 in children are the same as adults, call your doctor on the phone if they start showing any of the symptoms like fever or cough.

There are certain things you can do in order to create a healthy and safe environment at home:

  • Make sure that you clean and disinfect high-touch surfaces such as tables, doorknobs, light switches, countertops, remotes, handles, desks, phones, keyboards, toilets, faucets, and sinks, on a daily basis.
  • Put handwashes and sanitizers everywhere possible.
  • Add disinfectant in your dishwasher and laundry soap.

The doctors do not have proof of this yet but they believe that since pregnant women are already undergoing immunologic and physiologic changes, they can be prone to viral infections, including COVID-19. Scientists are still researching whether or not a COVID-19 infected pregnant woman can transmit the virus to her fetus or neonate before, during or after delivery.

Read more: What pregnant women need to know about COVID-19

You don't need to get any tests done until and unless you start showing symptoms or the local healthcare authority asks you to. COVID-19 test is a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) molecular test done on a sample swab taken from the nose, throat or chest. This test is only being done for the people who have shown the symptoms of COVID-19.

It is best to avoid having sex at this time. COVID-19 spreads through bodily fluids, including spit and sperm. Since symptoms may take 2-14 days to show up - if they show up at all - you may not find out if your partner is sick until it is too late.

The Indian Council of Medical Research has not approved the use of hydroxychloroquine - an anti-malaria drug - for the general population.

However, this drug may be prescribed by a physician to those have already contracted the virus as well as their primary caregivers who have a higher risk of getting the infection.

Hydroxychloroquine can have side-effects like headachedizziness, nausea and vomiting, stomach pain,
loss of appetite, irritability, skin rash or itching and hair loss.

Pallavi Tripathy

Pallavi Tripathy

General Physician
3 Years of Experience

Dr Sarath

Dr Sarath

General Physician
6 Years of Experience

Dr. Mukesh Prajapat

Dr. Mukesh Prajapat

General Physician
3 Years of Experience

Dr. Hitesh Suthar

Dr. Hitesh Suthar

General Physician
2 Years of Experience

Medicines / Products that contain 32 most frequently asked questions about COVID-19

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  1. World Health Organization [Internet]. Geneva (SUI): World Health Organization; Q&A on coronaviruses (COVID-19)
  2. Center for Disease Control and Prevention [internet], Atlanta (GA): US Department of Health and Human Services; Frequently Asked Questions
  3. United Nations [Internet]. New York. United States; COVID-19 FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
  4. US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) [internet]; N95 Respirators and Surgical Masks (Face Masks)