Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is the official name given by the World Health Organization (WHO) to the disease caused by SARS-CoV-2, the new coronavirus that surfaced in Wuhan, China in 2019 and spread around the globe. The WHO has characterized COVID-19 as a pandemic, a disease outbreak that covers a wide geographic area and affects an exceptionally high proportion of people.
Knowledge about the spread and potential treatment of COVID-19 is evolving rapidly as scientists investigate the disease. There is much to learn about how the virus spreads and why it affects people in different ways—some have mild symptoms or no symptoms at all, while others experience severe symptoms and even die from the disease. While doctors are still working to develop a complete clinical picture, people ages 65 and older, and people of all ages with underlying health conditions appear to be at higher risk of developing serious illness.
But the disease has also led to serious illness and deaths in younger and middle-aged adults who are otherwise healthy. While COVID-19 is rare in children, doctors are concerned about a condition they are calling pediatric multisystem inflammatory syndrome (PMIS), which can infect infants through teenagers and can cause dangerous inflammation levels throughout the body. While more information is needed, medical experts believe PMIS is related to COVID-19.
“There is still much to learn about how this pathogen is transmitted between individuals,” says Richard Martinello, MD, a Yale Medicine infectious diseases specialist and medical director of infection prevention at Yale New Haven Health. “Data is needed not only to better understand when those who become ill shed the virus, but also which body fluids contain the virus and how those may contaminate surfaces and even the air surrounding them.”