How do you get the coronavirus? Covid-19 explained

Illustration shows a young person washing their hands. The text above reads: "Understanding coronavirus"

I’m feeling worried about about coronavirus

If you’re worried about the recent spread of coronavirus, we’re here to help. It’s easy to get swept up in the news headlines and feel anxious or panicked, but there are lots of simple things you can do to help you stay well.

If you are feeling anxious then that’s ok. It’s perfectly natural to worry about your health and to want your loved ones to be safe. There’s no need to be embarrassed that you feel this way, but it’s important to keep your worries in perspective; if you follow the official advice, you’re likely to be fine.

But how do you get the coronavirus? How does it spread and what the hell is a pandemic anyway? Here’s a handy guide to answer all the questions you might have (and hopefully make you feel a lot more relaxed). And don’t forget to visit our coronavirus hub for information about how to manage your finances, mental health and your rights. 

What is coronavirus?

Coronavirus, SARS‑CoV‑2 or COVID-19 as it’s also called, is a relatively new illness caused by a virus. This virus can affect your lungs and your airways.

How does coronavirus spread?

Coronavirus spreads in three main ways:

  • If you breathe in air close to an infected person who is exhaling (or coughing/sneezing) small water droplets and particles that contain the virus.
  • If those small droplets and particles land on your eyes, nose, or mouth. 
  • If you touch your eyes, nose, or mouth with hands that have the virus on them.

What can I do to protect myself?

  • Wash your hands regularly with hot water and soap or clean them with an alcohol-based hand rub.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth where possible.
  • If you cough or sneeze, make sure you cover your mouth, or catch it with a tissue and throw the tissue in the bin.
  • Try to avoid close contact with people who are unwell.

Do I have coronavirus? What are the symptoms of Covid-19?

Not every infected person will have the same symptoms, and some people might pass it on without having any symptoms at all. According to the World Health Organisation, ‘most people infected with the virus will experience mild to moderate respiratory illness and recover without requiring special treatment.’

The most common symptoms include: 

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Tiredness
  • Loss of taste or smell

Less common symptoms include:

  • Sore throat
  • Headache
  • Aches and pains in muscles and joints
  • Diarrhoea
  • A rash, or discolouration of fingers or toes
  • Red or irritated eyes

There are also some more serious (and far less common) symptoms which are unlikely to affect young people:

  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • Loss of speech or mobility, or confusion
  • Chest pain

If you have any of these more serious symptoms, seek immediate medical attention, but always call before visiting your doctor or health facility. If you’re unsure about whether to go to the hospital or not, give NHS 111 a call or visit them online.

If there’s a chance you could have coronavirus, you can buy a test at most chemists. If you tested positive (or have similar symptoms but no access to a test) there is no longer a legal requirement for people to self-isolate, but previous government advice was to ‘end self-isolation after five full days if you have two negative LFD tests taken on consecutive days.’ 

Just because there is no longer a legal requirement to stay home and many people have had their vaccines or Covid-19 booster to protect them from the worst of the disease, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to stop the spread as much as possible. Remember, older people or those with weakened immune systems are most at risk, so do something good for humanity and maybe stay in and watch Netflix.

How many people recover from coronavirus?

The vast majority of people recover from the disease without needing extensive treatment. Older people, and those with underlying health issues, like heart problems or high blood pressure, are more likely to become seriously ill if they become infected with the virus.

Is there a cure for coronavirus?

We now have vaccines, which should help protect against serious illness, but so far haven’t been able to drastically reduce how much the virus spreads. Infectious diseases are tricky, but new treatments are being created all the time, particularly for those who end up in hospital. 

Check out the NHS website for more on vaccines and their side effects

What’s the difference between epidemic and pandemic?

You’ve probably heard these words thrown around when people are talking about coronavirus, but what do they actually mean? An epidemic is a widespread outbreak of disease that increases rapidly and spreads through a community at a particular time. A pandemic is when a disease spreads throughout the world at a specific time.

The World Health Organisation declared that coronavirus was a pandemic in March 2020 and although the disease still exists, we are not currently facing a global emergency with it.

How do I know which information to trust?

Coronavirus is all over the media and it can be difficult to know what to read and which sources of information to trust. Part of the problem is that journalists will often use shocking and attention-grabbing language, which makes it sound like the situation is worse or more dangerous than it really is. This can lead people to spiral into panic-mode, which can make others anxious too.

Here are some reliable and trustworthy pages and contacts with official and up to date advice and information:

WHO information: Coronavirus disease (COVID-19)

NHS information: Coronavirus (COVID-19) – NHS

UK government updates: 

Information for those with asthma: Coronavirus (COVID-19) | Asthma + Lung UK

The Department for Education has opened a helpline to answer questions about COVID-19 related to education. Staff, parents and young people can contact the helpline: 0800 046 8687; [email protected]

Government advice on travel: Travel abroad from England during coronavirus (COVID-19) – GOV.UK

What if I still feel anxious?

If you need support with managing your anxiety then The Mix are here to listen and to talk. You can contact our team of experts and trained volunteers here.

If you can’t stop thinking, ‘do I have coronavirus’ whenever you feel anything unusual, read our articles on understanding anxiety and managing anxiety. You can also find out more about OCD here.

If you’re under 25 and would like free confidential telephone counselling from The Mix to help you figure things out, complete this form and we’ll call you to arrange your first session.

Next Steps

  • If you're under 25 and would like free confidential telephone counselling from The Mix to help you figure things out complete this form and we'll call you to arrange your first session.
  • AnxietyUK run helplines, email support, live chats and therapy services for people with anxiety disorders. 08444 775 774
  • Mind offers advice and support to people with mental health problems. Their helpline runs nine to six from Monday to Friday. 0300 123 3393
  • Visit bemindful for more information on mindfulness and to search for a course near you.
  • Chat about this subject on our Discussion Boards.

By Holly Turner

Updated on 22-Sep-2022