COVID-19 and you

Find out more about COVID-19 and the virus that causes it. 

 
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What is COVID-19?

COVID-19 (Coronavirus disease) is the disease caused by the virus called SARS-CoV-2.

SARS-CoV-2 stands for Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2. It is a new type of coronavirus that first started causing severe disease symptoms in people around December 2019.

Coronaviruses are a large group of viruses that can cause illness in the breathing system of the human body. This includes the nose, throat, airways and lungs.

Studies from around the world have found that the SARS-CoV-2 virus is likely to have come from bats. Changes in the virus allowed it to spread to other animals and then to humans. Other viruses that came from animals have caused human diseases over time, like SARS, Ebola, smallpox and measles.

The disease COVID-19 spread quickly around the world. It was first found among people in Wuhan, China, in late 2019.

Find out more from healthdirect

What are the symptoms of COVID-19?

Symptoms of COVID-19 include:

  • fever
  • cough
  • sore throat
  • tiredness
  • difficulty breathing – if you have this symptom call 000 immediately
  • headache
  • muscle pain
  • joint pain
  • loss of sense of smell
  • loss of sense of taste
  • vomiting
  • diarrhoea
  • loss of appetite.

Symptoms differ from person to person and may be very mild for some people. These symptoms are not unique to COVID-19. Most people who have some of them will have an illness such as a cold or flu. Always speak with a doctor if you are worried about your symptoms.

Use the healthdirect symptom checker

How does it spread?

The SARS-CoV-2 virus spreads mainly by close contact from person to person. Some people with the virus have few or no symptoms of COVID-19 but can still pass it on.

You can catch it through:

  • close contact with a person who is infectious. This can be up to 48 hours before they feel sick
  • contact with droplets from an infected person’s coughs or sneezes
  • touching objects that have viral droplets on them. For example touching doorknobs or tables, and then touching your mouth or face.

Find out more from healthdirect about how COVID-19 spreads

Find out more from the Australian Government about how COVID-19 spreads

How can I avoid catching or spreading the virus?

There are many ways to avoid catching the virus or spreading it to others:

  • Stay up to date with your COVID-19 vaccination (if you are able to)
  • Good hygiene (hand washing often with soap and running water)
  • Wear a mask
  • Keep space between yourself and others. This is important when inside or if there is not a lot of fresh air
  • Getting tested for COVID-19 if you have any cold or flu symptoms
  • Stay away (isolate) from others if you have the SARS-CoV-2 virus, or if you have been exposed to it.

If you test positive for the virus, you must isolate for at least 7 days.  If you are a close contact of someone who has COVID-19 you must follow state and territory advice.

Hygiene and distancing

Good hygiene

You can help slow the spread of COVID-19 and reduce your chance of becoming ill:

  • wash your hands well and often with soap and running water
  • use alcohol-based hand sanitiser when soap and water is not available
  • avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth
  • clean and disinfect surfaces you use often, such as desks, benches and doorknobs
  • clean and disinfect items you use often, such as phones, keys and work passes
  • use contactless cards instead of keypads or cash.

Find out more from the Australian Government about good hygiene for COVID-19

Physical distancing

If there is more space between you and other people, the virus can’t spread.

To create this space:

  • stay at least 1.5 metres away from others when possible
  • avoid all physical greetings such as handshakes, hugs or kisses
  • practise extra care on public transport
  • avoid crowds and large groups of people.

Find out more from the Australian Government on physical distancing for COVID-19

Find out what your state or territory’s current situation is here:

Find out more from healthdirect about avoiding COVID-19

Find out more from the Australian government on how to protect yourself and others

How do I get tested?

There are two types of test that can detect if you have the COVID-19 virus:

  • polymerase chain reaction (PCR, or RT-PCR)
  • rapid antigen self-tests (RATs)

If you have any COVID-19 symptoms, you should get tested. To find a clinic in your area visit:

The test involves taking a swab from the back of your nose and throat. The swab is then sent for testing. You need to isolate yourself until you get your results.

If your PCR test is negative, you will get a phone call or an SMS text message letting you know. If it is positive you must isolate straight away. You can call the National Coronavirus Helpline. The helpline will tell you how to look after yourself when you are sick with COVID-19. Call 1800 020 080.

You can purchase RATs from some supermarkets, pharmacies and retail outlets.

You can get free RATs if you hold an eligible Commonwealth concession card. You can access up to 20 RATs over a 6-month period (max 5 over a 1-month period) through community pharmacies. Find out more about free RATs here.

Find out how to do a rapid antigen test (RAT)

Find out more from healthdirect about what happens when you are tested for COVID-19

What if I test positive?

If you test positive for COVID-19, you must isolate to avoid passing the virus on. You will usually need to isolate for 7 days from when you received your positive test result. But, you should check the rules for your state or territory.

If you test positive using a RAT, you may be required to let health authorities know. Follow your local health advice to register as a COVID-19 positive case.

If you have serious symptoms, you will need to go to hospital, where you will be isolated from other patients.

If you are well enough to be at home, you will need to isolate. You can only leave isolation after 7 days and if your symptoms have cleared up.

If people who have been in contact with you develop symptoms, they need to get tested for COVID-19.

Find out more from healthdirect about what happens if you test positive

Isolation

If you have tested positive for COVID-19 , you must isolate yourself. You can only leave isolation after 7 days and if your symptoms have cleared up.

If your symptoms are not improving or are getting worse, call a doctor for an urgent appointment.

If you develop a severe case, you will need to go to hospital.

When you isolate:

  • you must not go out or let in any visitors who do not live with you
  • you will have to ask others to get you food and necessities. State and territory health agencies will help those who need it
  • you can get prescriptions and medical help from home via telehealth. If you have not been diagnosed, but you develop any symptoms of COVID-19, call your doctor to discuss getting tested
  • there are fines and other penalties for breaking isolation restrictions.


Find out more from the Australian Government about isolation

How is COVID-19 treated?

Several medicines are approved to treat COVID-19 in Australia. These are not meant to be used instead of getting a COVID-19 vaccine.

Oral medicines can be given to some people with mild forms of COVID-19. These are for people who are at high risk of getting sicker. These medicines can be taken at home without the need to travel to hospital for treatment.

Find out more about oral medicines for COVID-19.

Most people with COVID-19 have only a few minor symptoms and get better within days or a couple of weeks. Treatment for mild illness includes rest, fluids and medicines for aches, pain or fever. This type of treatment is just about managing the symptoms and letting your immune system fight the virus.

Some people may end up feeling ill for many weeks or even months. This has been described as 'long COVID'. COVID-19 is an infection caused by a virus. Antibiotics will have no effect on it. Some medicines are being tested in Australian hospitals. Special rules are in place for those who can be part of these trials.

What should I do to stay healthy?

The best things you can do to stay healthy are:

  • stay up-to-date with your COVID-19 vaccines by getting a booster dose, if you are able to
  • keep your usual health and medicine routines. Take your usual medicines and see your doctor as normal
  • exercise
  • sleep well
  • look after your mental health
  • practice good hygiene (eg, hand sanitising) and respect any physical distancing and mask wearing requirements.

Find out more about staying healthy during COVID-19

Other reliable information

Where can I find good information about COVID-19 in Australia