Frequently Asked Questions about COVID-19 (Coronavirus)
What is COVID-19?
Coronaviruses are part of a huge family of viruses that cause infection in humans and many animals. In humans, they can cause illness ranging from the common cold to more serious diseases like severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS).
Since December 2019, a new coronavirus—SARS-CoV-2—has been causing infections in humans. This highly contagious virus is easily transmitted from one person to another. The disease it causes is known as COVID-19.
WHAT IS A VARIANT?
When a virus multiplies, it is not unusual for errors to occur in its genetic code. This is what we call “mutations,” and since the mutated virus is different from the original virus, it is referred to as a “variant.”
Often, mutations have no impact on the virus at all, however, some can make it easier to transmit or more likely to cause serious illness. The Delta and Omicron variants are examples of variants that are more transmissible than the original SARS-CoV-2 virus.
What are the symptoms of COVID-19?
The most common symptoms of COVID-19 are similar to those of a cold or the flu. Symptoms usually appear between 3 and 7 days after being exposed to the virus, but their onset can take up to 14 days in some cases.
COVID-19 symptoms vary from one person to another, from one age group to another, and from one variant to another. Following are the most commonly reported symptoms:
- Sore throat
- Runny nose
- Cough (new or worsening cough)
- Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
- Fever (≥ 38⁰C) or feeling feverish
- Fatigue or weakness
- Muscle pain or aches
- Loss of sense of smell or taste
- Stomach pain, diarrhea, or vomiting
- Feeling very unwell
How can I protect myself against COVID-19?
Vaccination is the best way to protect yourself against complications caused by COVID-19. In order to be effectively protected, it is important to receive a primary series of vaccine, then a booster dose (or doses), as recommended by local health authorities. To learn more about vaccination recommendations, consult your health professional or your provincial government’s COVID-19 website.
In addition to getting vaccinated, here are some other ways to help you stay healthy and reduce the risk of contracting COVID-19 and other viral infections like colds or the flu:
- Wash your hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water aren’t available, use a hand sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth before washing your hands.
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
- Cough or sneeze into a tissue or into the crook of your elbow.
- Stay home if you are sick, to avoid infecting others.
- Follow the recommended health measures in effect in your region.
How do COVID-19 vaccines work?
There are four types of vaccine approved for use in Canada: mRNA vaccines (Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech), viral vector-based vaccines (AstraZeneca and Janssen), recombinant protein vaccines (Medicago, also called plant-based virus-like particle vaccine; and Novavax, also called protein subunit vaccine). None of the vaccines contain SARS-CoV-2, therefore they do NOT cause COVID-19.
COVID-19 vaccines help the body to develop antibodies and other immune cells to fight SARS-CoV-2. They do this by employing different strategies to expose your immune system to a protein specific to the virus, triggering the production of virus-specific antibodies.
- mRNA vaccines send the recipe for the protein directly to your cells so they can make it themselves. There is no risk of mRNA vaccines altering your genetic code.
- Viral-vector vaccines use a harmless virus as a means of delivering the protein recipe to your cells, which will then produce it themselves.
- Recombinant protein vaccines contain copies of the virus protein, so your cells don’t need to produce it.
When your immune system detects the presence of this protein that doesn’t belong there, it begins building cells, such as antibodies, to attack it, and stores that information. If you are exposed to the virus after being vaccinated, your immune system will then be able to react more quickly and effectively since it already has all the information it needs to fight the infection.
The intensity and duration of the immune response to the vaccine varies from one person to another. No vaccine provides 100% protection against the disease. The main goal of vaccination is to reduce the risk of complications, hospitalization, and death linked to COVID-19.
For people who have severely compromised immune systems and who are unlikely to develop an adequate response to the vaccine, there is a preventive treatment that can be given in addition to vaccination. Monoclonal antibody treatment is a long-acting treatment administered as an intramuscular injection. To find out if this preventive treatment is offered in your province and is appropriate for you, consult your health professional or your province’s COVID-19 website.
Who is at risk of developing complications from COVID-19?
Anyone who is exposed to SARS-CoV-2 can develop COVID-19. Symptoms can range from mild to so serious that hospitalization is required, even in people in good health.
However, certain factors can increase the risk of developing complications if someone contracts COVID-19, such as (non-exhaustive list):
- Age over 60
- Down syndrome
- Chronic illness, e.g., lung disease, heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, kidney disease, liver disease, dementia, or other
- Weakened immune system caused by an illness or treatment, e.g., certain cancers, organ transplant, untreated HIV infection
- Inadequately vaccinated against SARS-CoV-2
People with one or more of these risk factors should continue taking the necessary measures to reduce their risk of being exposed to the virus, including avoiding physical contact, maintaining sufficient distance from people who are not members of their household, and limiting the time they spend in indoor public spaces, especially if they are crowded.
What should I do if I have symptoms or if I think I've been exposed to the virus?
Health recommendations for people who have been exposed to the virus or who have COVID-19 symptoms vary from one province to another. To check the recommendations for your area, consult your province’s COVID-19 website. The Public Health Agency of Canada’s COVID-19 hotline (1-833-784-4397 or firstname.lastname@example.org) can also help you find local resources.
If you have symptoms that resemble those caused by COVID-19 and you have access to a rapid test at home, test yourself. If you test positive, follow your province’s recommendations on self-isolating, to reduce the risk of spreading the virus to others.
WHO CAN ACCESS ORAL TREATMENTS AGAINST COVID-19 (Paxlovid)?
People who are at high risk of complications may be eligible for an oral treatment against COVID-19 (Paxlovid™) if they contract the virus. The treatment helps to reduce the risk of hospitalization and death from COVID-19. Treatment must begin within 5 days of the onset of symptoms.
To find out what the eligibility criteria are in your region, consult your province’s COVID-19 website or talk to a health professional.
For the moment, this is the only oral COVID-19 treatment available. While other treatments exist, they must be administered in a healthcare setting.
Getting my medication
If you have symptoms that resemble those caused by COVID-19 or if your COVID screening test is positive, do not go to the pharmacy to pick up your medication. Instead, call the pharmacy or use the mobile app to have it delivered to your home. Alternatively, you can ask a friend or family member to drop by and pick it up for you. Remember, you will need to authorize the pharmacy to hand over your medication.
Where can I find the most up-to-date information on COVID-19?
For the latest information, consult the COVID-19 page of your provincial government’s website or the Public Health Agency of Canada site.
Canadians who plan to travel abroad should read the COVID-19 page on the travel.gc.ca website.
The information contained herein is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to provide complete information on the subject matter or to replace the advice of a health professional. This information does not constitute medical consultation, diagnosis or opinion and should not be interpreted as such. Please consult your health care provider if you have any questions about your health, medications or treatment.