This article was updated on March 25, 2020 to include information on transmission through different bodily fluids and on April 4, 2020 to include information about using face masks.

The new strain of coronavirus spreads through person-to-person contact. It is highly contagious. Anyone who has it should remain home and avoid contact with people.

This article will discuss how the new coronavirus spreads and how to lower the risk of contracting it.

a busy subway carriage that is a hotbed for coronavirus transmissionShare on Pinterest
A person may catch SARS-CoV-2 by coming into close contact with someone who has contracted the virus.

Coronaviruses are a family of viruses that cause infections in humans and animals.

This new strain, called severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), has spread rapidly around the world.

The SARS-CoV-2 strain causes coronavirus disease 19 (COVID-19). The disease causes mild symptoms — including a cough, fever, and shortness of breath — in most people who get it. However, some cases can lead to severe illness.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), roughly 80% of those who contract the virus will not need specialist treatment and will recover by themselves. However, 1 in 6 people can become seriously ill.

Coronavirus resources

For more advice on COVID-19 prevention and treatment, visit our coronavirus hub.

Was this helpful?

Coronavirus spreads as a result of coming into contact with people who have contracted SARS-CoV-2.

This contact does not need to be physical. For example, it is possible to get the disease from being within 6 feet of someone who has it.

People with COVID-19 can pass tiny droplets containing the virus to others by coughing or breathing. These droplets can enter the nose or mouth to cause an infection.

How easily does it spread?

The ease with which a virus can spread depends on a variety of factors, including the virus itself and whether or not people can contain the virus before it spreads.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), SARS-CoV-2 appears to be spreading easily.

In fact, it is now at a community spread level in most cases. This means that people in certain areas have the infection and may be unaware of how or where it came from.

Human-to-human transmission

According to the CDC, the virus typically transmits from person to person. When a person sneezes, coughs, or talks, they can pass the virus on through respiratory droplets to anyone within 6 feet.

The droplets can enter the body by landing on the nose or mouth and entering through the lungs.

It may also be possible to contract the virus by touching a surface where it is present and then touching the eyes, nose, or mouth.

Is it transmitted in different bodily fluids?

The virus can be present in various bodily fluids, although researchers do not currently know if it is infectious in these fluids.

The CDC note that scientists have detected SARS-CoV-2 RNA in blood and stool, and one study found the virus in oral swabs, anal swabs, and blood.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have also confirmed the presence of the virus in the stool of individuals carrying the infection. They are advising that it may be possible for the virus to spread through contact with an infected stool sample.

Other studies similarly suggest that faecal–oral transmission may be a possible route of infection.

A small study from February 2020 found that one person with novel coronavirus pneumonia also had conjunctivitis. It also found that SARS-CoV-2 was present in their ocular secretions. This suggests that tears and conjunctival secretions may be a route of infection.

More research is necessary to confirm whether or not SARS-CoV-2 is transmissible via these fluids. It is currently unclear whether or not the infection can spread through vomit, urine, breast milk, vaginal discharge, or semen.

Transmission between humans and animals

Although animals can have coronaviruses, there is no evidence to suggest that a pet can pass the virus on to a human.

According to the CDC, this new strain of the virus likely originated in bats.

There is also a link between the virus and pangolins. According to an article in the journal BMC Medicine, researchers have found a coronavirus in pangolins that is 99% similar to the new coronavirus and has an identical receptor binding domain to the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

However, researchers have not confirmed the relationship between the pangolin and SARS-CoV-2, and due to its rarity, there are likely other mammals involved.

For now, experts recommend avoiding direct contact with animals when visiting live animal markets and adopting good food safety practices when handling raw meat, milk, and animal organs.

If a person is asymptomatic or not unwell

People with symptoms of COVID-19 are able to spread the illness more easily. However, those who have contracted the virus but not yet experienced symptoms may still be infectious.

According to the European Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, around 48–62% of cases have transmitted during the presymptomatic stage.

Also, those who have recovered from COVID-19 should still avoid contact with people for several days as a precaution.

Are masks effective?

According to the WHO, masks help prevent people from spreading the illness to others.

The CDC recommend that all people wear cloth face masks in public places where it is difficult to maintain a 6-foot distance from others. This will help slow the spread of the virus from asymptomatic people and those who do not know that they have contracted the virus.

People should wear face masks while continuing to practice social distancing measures. Instructions for making masks at home are available here.

Objects and surfaces

It is unclear how long the virus can survive for on surfaces and other objects. Factors that may affect how long the virus can survive on surfaces include the type of surface and the humidity and temperature of the environment.

The WHO suggest that it could survive for several hours to several days.

However, the chance of someone contracting the infection from a package that has arrived in the post is low.

It is important to thoroughly clean all surfaces and use an alcohol-based hand rub several times per day. A person should also avoid touching their face.

There is currently no cure for COVID-19. Treatment options will focus on relieving the symptoms.

People who suspect that they may have COVID-19 should contact a healthcare provider for advice on treatment and avoid self-medicating.

Anyone with mild symptoms should stay at home and call a doctor. People with severe symptoms should contact the emergency services. Anyone with COVID-19 must stay at home unless a doctor advises otherwise.

Treatment options may include antipyretics to reduce the fever. If a person has a severe case of COVID-19, a doctor may treat respiratory conditions using oxygen therapy.

There are ongoing investigations regarding creating a vaccine. Learn more here.

What to do after recovery

According to the CDC, if a person has had COVID-19, they can stop self-isolating when:

  • 72 hours have passed with no fever, without the use of antipyretics
  • other symptoms have improved
  • at least 7 days have passed since the symptoms appeared
  • they get two negative tests in a row, 24 hours apart

People who do not have COVID-19 should avoid direct contact with anyone who does have it. This applies to both physical and nonphysical contact. A person should try to keep a distance of at least 6 feet.

Washing the hands regularly throughout the day is also important. Use plenty of soap and water, washing for at least 20 seconds per time.

Wash the hands immediately after being in a public place, and avoid touching the face with unwashed hands.

In areas with a high infection rate, it is a good idea to avoid nonessential travel and large gatherings of people. Staying at home and avoiding direct contact with people may be the safest option.

Anyone who has COVID-19 should stay home until a doctor advises otherwise. They should wear a mask when around other people and be careful to cover their nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing.

It is also a good idea to keep the surroundings clean using a disinfectant.

There is currently no vaccine for preventing COVID-19, but scientists are investigating the options.

Researchers can develop vaccines by introducing safe parts of a virus to the body. The immune system is then able to produce antibodies that fight off the virus.

Next time the body comes into contact with the same virus, the immune system will be able to prevent it from spreading.

Producing a vaccine that effectively prevents viral infections takes time. It is also necessary to prove that the vaccine is safe for humans in a clinical trial.

The new coronavirus is spreading easily. SARS-CoV-2 spreads through person-to-person contact.

There is currently no cure or vaccine available for COVID-19. However, it may be possible to slow the spread by washing the hands regularly and avoiding direct contact with people who have COVID-19.

People with mild symptoms should stay at home and call a doctor. Anyone with severe symptoms should contact the emergency services.