Questions and answers on COVID-19: Medical information

1. What are the symptoms of COVID-19 infection

Symptoms of COVID-19 vary in severity from none at all (being asymptomatic) to having:

  • fever
  • cough
  • sore throat
  • general weakness, fatigue and muscle pain.
  • loss of the sense of smell and of the sense of taste.

The most severely ill cases can lead to shortness of breath due to pneumonia and acute respiratory distress syndrome, as well as other complications, potentially leading to death. Reports show that people with COVID-19 can get worse quickly, often during the second week of disease. If you experience difficulty in breathing, contact your healthcare provider.

2. What is post-COVID-19 condition?

In some people with COVID-19 (roughly one in ten, according to some estimates), symptoms persist for weeks or even months after recovering from the acute illness. This is sometimes described as ‘long COVID’. If you experience similar symptoms persisting for more than a few weeks after being diagnosed with COVID-19, consult your healthcare provider.

Such persisting symptoms include

  • weakness
  • cough
  • headaches
  • shortness of breath
  • cognitive difficulties (‘brain fog’).

3. Are some people more at risk than others?

Age accounts for most of the increase in risk of severe COVID-19. People over 60 years of age and with underlying health conditions are more at risk of developing severe symptoms. Other factors that increase risk of severe symptoms include:

  • hypertension
  • diabetes
  • cardiovascular disease
  • chronic respiratory disease
  • pregnancy
  • immune suppression.

Men in these groups also appear to be at a slightly higher risk than women. people are at higher risk for severe infection and death compared with vaccinated people as the vaccine gives effective protection against severe infection and death.

4. Are children also at risk of infection and what is their potential role in transmission?

Children make up a small proportion of COVID-19 cases in the reported data. According to data from the European Surveillance System (TESSy) between 4 January 2021 and 20 June 2021, children aged 1-11 years and 12-18 years represented 8.5 and 6.6% of cases, respectively.

SARS-CoV-2 variants of concern (VOCs), especially the Delta variant, are more easily transmitted among people of all ages. In regions where more adults are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 but where children are not vaccinated, it is possible that increasingly greater proportions of reported SARS-CoV-2 cases will be among children.

Children of all ages may get and transmit SARS-CoV-2. Cases of SARS-CoV-2 in younger children appear to lead to transmission less frequently than cases in older children and adults. However, children tend to have a much lower risk of developing symptoms or severe disease than adults. Children only rarely suffer from severe COVID-19 with pneumonia and respiratory insufficiency.

Some symptoms such as fatigue, dizziness, headache and difficulties in concentration may persist for weeks or months or appear after the acute illness is over. This presentation is known as post-COVID-19 condition. The syndrome is also described in adults. The cause of the persistence of symptoms is unknown.

5. What is the multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children?

Multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C) or paediatric inflammatory multisystem syndrome temporally associated with SARS-CoV-2 (PIMS-TS) is a rare condition characterised by inflammation in several body organs, such as the heart, lungs, kidneys, brain, skin, eyes, or the gastrointestinal system. We do not yet know what the cause of that syndrome is. However, we know that many children who developed this syndrome were infected with the virus previously. Most children with this syndrome have antibodies to SARS-CoV-2. It is usually a serious condition requiring medical (including hospital) care.

6. What is the risk of infection in pregnant women and newborn babies?

Existing data indicate that pregnant women have a higher risk of severe disease compared with non-pregnant women. There is also a higher risk of pregnancy complications such as preterm birth. Pregnant women who have diabetes and/or are obese may experience more severe disease.

COVID-19 vaccination of pregnant women should be considered, in line with relevant national recommendations, as antibodies might also protect the foetus. No pregnancy complications have been reported after vaccination.   

Current evidence on in-utero transmission of SARS-CoV-2 is inconclusive. A limited number of cases have been reported with good overall outcomes and no severe illness for the newborn. Existing evidence has not identified major risks of complications in babies born to mothers with COVID-19.

All pregnant women should follow the same general precautions for the prevention of COVID-19, including:

  • physical distancing
  • wearing a face mask in closed spaces
  • regular handwashing
  • avoiding individuals who are sick
  •  self-isolating in the event of symptoms.

Their healthcare provider should be consulted for advice. For additional information on the scientific literature relating to COVID-19 in pregnancy see below.

7. Is there any treatment for COVID-19 disease?

Treatment for persons with mild symptoms only addresses the symptoms (e.g., antipyretics, fluids and rest). Use of other medicine, such as antibiotics is discouraged as no pharmaceutical agent has been proven to delay or prevent progression to severe disease in people with mild symptoms.

The treatment for people who are hospitalised with moderate or severe COVID-19 is largely supportive (e.g. oxygen therapy, fluid supplementation, etc., as needed), mostly targeting the symptoms.   

Several medicines have been studied in clinical trials to assess their safety and efficacy as potential treatments for COVID-19. There is evidence that dexamethasone, a corticosteroid, and tocilizumab are beneficial for people with severe disease (i.e. patients who require oxygen).

Specific antiviral agents such as remdesivir and some antibody preparations against the virus may also be used in specific circumstances.

8. When and where should I be tested for COVID-19?

Anyone who develops symptoms of COVID-19 should be tested for the virus, wherever possible. Testing is also recommended, if possible, for people who do not have symptoms but who have been in close contact with a confirmed case.

Two types of tests are used:

  • Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests, which are molecular tests that can detect genetic material of the virus.
  • Rapid antigen tests, which can detect certain viral proteins. They are faster, but less accurate than PCR.

Tests are usually conducted on samples collected from the throat or nose using a swab.

Testing strategies will be adapted to the local situation. Testing people without symptoms to screen for COVID-19 can be required in specific circumstances to decrease the risk of COVID-19 transmission, such as

  • before travel
  • attending cultural events
  • at the workplace
  • in healthcare
  • in school settings.

A third type of testing called ‘serological testing’ is available to check for antibodies. This provides information on whether someone has been infected with the virus in the past. These tests are conducted using a blood sample to detect antibodies which usually develop within a few weeks of the initial infection. Serological tests are predominantly used in scientific studies and are not considered proof of immunity.

Contact your local authorities to inquire about whether and where you should be tested. .

9. Should people who suffer from pollen allergy self-isolate if they develop typical hay fever symptoms?

No. There is no reason for people suffering from a known pollen allergy to self-isolate if they develop typical hay fever symptoms. If symptoms get worse they should seek medical advice.

Page last updated 9 Sep 2021