Medical Conditions - COVID-19

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(Coronavirus disease, 2019 novel coronavirus)

The Facts

COVID-19 is a newly identified infectious disease that first came to worldwide attention in December 2019, originating in Wuhan, China. 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 investigations have identified the beginning of the outbreak within an animal market. 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 in areas of high COVID-19 transmission
  • Health care workers caring for patients with COVID-19
  • Close contact of persons with COVID-19
  • People who do not follow public health measures (e.g., wearing a mask, washing hands)

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 gradually 2 to 14 days after exposure.

Most common symptoms include:

  • Dry cough
  • Fever
  • Tiredness

Other symptoms include:

  • Aches and pains
  • Diarrhea
  • Headache
  • Nasal congestion
  • Runny nose
  • Sore throat

However, some people go on to develop severe breathing problems, heart rhythm problems, heart injury, and shock. The risk of dying from COVID-19 is higher for certain populations including adults aged 65 and older (risk increasing by age), people who have underlying chronic medical conditions (including heart disease, diabetes, lung disease), and people with weakened immune systems.

Making the Diagnosis

If you feel you are experiencing symptoms of a COVID-19 infection you should seek medical advice. Your health care provider will ask you about your symptoms, your travel history, and whether you might have come in contact with someone who has COVID-19. Coronavirus infections are diagnosed by a health care provider based on symptoms and are confirmed through a laboratory test. The test is usually done by taking a nasal swab or a throat swab.

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.

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 is thought to mainly be 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, as the virus can stay in the air. 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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