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The COVID-19 virus and symptoms

What is COVID-19? 

COVID-19 is a disease caused by the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2. It affects your lungs, airways and other organs. 

Coronaviruses are from a large family of viruses that cause illnesses. This includes the common cold, severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS). 

SARS-CoV-2 was first recognised in China and likely originated in animals. It is still unclear how the virus came to infect humans. The virus has mutated over time as it adapted to humans. Some of these mutations, such as the Delta and Omicron variants, can spread more easily than the original virus and can cause more severe disease. 

COVID-19 symptoms 

Symptoms include: 

  • a new or worsening cough 
  • a fever 
  • shortness of breath 
  • sore throat 
  • sneezing and runny nose 
  • temporary loss of smell or altered sense of taste. 

These symptoms do not necessarily mean you have COVID-19. The symptoms are similar to other illnesses that are much more common, such as colds and flu. 

Shortness of breath is a sign of possible pneumonia and requires immediate medical attention. 

If you have cold, flu or COVID-19 symptoms call your doctor or Healthline on 0800 358 5453 and get advice about being tested. 

Less common symptoms 

Some people may also have less common symptoms such as only: 

  • diarrhoea 
  • headache 
  • muscle pain or body aches 
  • nausea 
  • vomiting
  • malaise — a general feeling of discomfort, illness or unease 
  • chest pain 
  • abdominal pain 
  • joint pain 
  • confusion and irritability. 

Symptoms can take up to 14 days to show after a person has been infected. The virus can be passed onto others from up to two days before symptoms develop. This means it can be passed on before someone knows they have COVID-19. 

How COVID-19 spreads 

COVID-19 is usually spread from person to person. When an infected person breathes, speaks, coughs, sneezes or sings, they may spread particles containing the virus. 

The risk of COVID-19 spreading is higher: 

  • in enclosed spaces that do not have good airflow 
  • in places with many people nearby 
  • in close-contact settings, such as close-range conversations, singing, or shouting. 

The risk is lower outside, with fewer people, if people are physically distanced from each other. 

How to protect yourself and others 

These simple steps can slow the spread of the virus and help protect you, your whānau, and your community from COVID-19. 

  • If you have cold, flu or COVID-19 symptoms, stay home and call your doctor or Healthline for free on 0800 358 5453
  • Sneeze and cough into your elbow. 
  • Keep your distance from people you do not know. 
  • Wear a face covering when it is required or when physical distancing is difficult. 
  • Keep track of where you have been with the NZ COVID Tracer app or with detailed written notes. 
  • Clean or disinfect shared surfaces often. 
  • Regularly wash and thoroughly dry your hands. 

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