What is COVID-19?

Welcome to “A Virtual Q&A with Shoppers Drug Mart Pharmacists”! Join our pharmacists as they answer your questions on various health and medication topics.

What is COVID-19?

COVID-19 is a newly identified infectious disease that we've never seen before, and it's part of a larger family of viruses named Coronavirus. Coronavirus is a whole family that, when you look at them under a microscope, they have spikes on their surfaces that look like a crown, and that's how it gets its name, Corona, which is derived from the Latin word “crown”.

There's many different types of Coronavirus that range from mild illnesses, like the common cold, to more severe illnesses that you may have heard of, such as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, known as SARS, which had an outbreak in 2002, or the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, known as MERS, which had an outbreak in 2012. The virus that causes COVID-19, on the other hand, is a Coronavirus named SARS-CoV-2, or Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2.

Generally, Coronaviruses can circulate in both humans and animals, but with SARS-CoV-2, the theory is that it seems to have originated in animals first, but then mutated to infect human beings. We also know that COVID-19 is a respiratory illness and it's believed to be spread through droplets in the air that's excreted when people cough, sneeze or speak. These droplets can linger in the air for quite a while and can be transmitted if someone breathes these droplets in. Also, these droplets can land on surfaces, and can be transmitted to other people if they touch these infected surfaces and then touch their face.

If the virus enters the body, it attaches to our cells and tricks them into making copies of more viruses. In a sense it turns our own cells into virus-making factories to produce thousands of new viruses. In the beginning, when the virus is first replicating, the infected person might not have any symptoms. This is what they call the incubation phase. As the virus replicates and spreads through the body, symptoms may or may not appear, and may range from little to no symptoms to severe illness, or even death. It's reported that most symptoms usually start mild and then begin gradually 2 to 14 days after exposure.

Now, everyone can be potentially at risk for catching COVID-19, regardless of age, race or gender. Most people, about 80%, recover from the disease without needing hospital treatment, but around 1 out of every 5 people who get COVID-19 become seriously ill, and develop difficulty breathing. Older people and those with underlying medical problems, such as high blood pressure, heart and lung problems, diabetes or cancer, are at higher risk of developing serious illness.

Now, currently COVID-19 is diagnosed by a healthcare provider based on symptoms and then confirmed through a lab test. This test is usually done by taking a nasal swab or a throat swab. Unfortunately, there are currently no proven medications, therapies or vaccines that can prevent or cure COVID-19. Most people with mild illness will recover without treatment. However, your healthcare provider may recommend some available medications or therapies to help provide some comfort or alleviate some symptoms of COVID-19.

There are vaccine and drug treatments for COVID-19 that are being currently tested and hopefully developed soon.

Whether you have questions about your prescription medications, over-the-counter products, immunizations, or other health concerns, our pharmacists are here to help. The information provided is for personal use, reference and education only and is not intended to be a substitute for a physician’s advice, diagnosis or treatment. Please consult your healthcare professional for specific information on personal health matters. This information included in this recording is correct as of June 5, 2020.