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FAQs: Covid-19 (the virus)

Health information about the virus including risk, symptoms and testing (Updated 24th January 2022)

This article is about the virus itself. For information on how the virus is affecting how we live our everyday lives see: Covid basics: Living with the virus. For information on the vaccine see: FAQs Covid-19 (the vaccine).

You can check the following for more specific advice for your country:

What are the basics?

The laws around Covid-19 and our behaviour may change. But the basic facts around the virus don't change at all.

There are no laws about crossing the road but most of us still look before we do it. It's a quick, easy precaution that massively reduces the risk. The same applies to Covid-19. 

  • get vaccinated
  • wear a mask - and social distance as far as possible.
  • avoid unnecessary travel
  • be air-aware - the highest risk is indoors. Risk increases with time and with the number of people you come in contact with. Open windows, stay as far away from others as possible - even in another room. Talking can spread droplets far and wide.
  • wash your hands regularly and well and follow government hygiene guidance.

These quick, easy precautions will:

  • reduce your risk of Covid-19 and long covid
  • reduce your knob's risk from Covid-19 and long covid (yes, really!)
  • reduce your family and friends' risk of Covid-19 and long covid
  • reduce key workers' risk of Covid-19 and long covid.
  • reduce the risk of vaccine-resistant variants of Covid-19 developing
How do you catch Covid-19?

Through contact with someone who has it. It’s a respiratory virus meaning it affects lungs and breathing. It is spread through water droplets. The main thing is to avoid getting the water droplets carrying the virus onto your face. Larger droplets fall to ground or nearby surfaces but smaller ones can be blown around on the air for some time and over some distance, especially indoors. Talking can spread droplets as much if not more than coughing.

Most respiratory viruses such as corona viruses can live on surfaces for a few days. It depends on the surface and the temperature.

Viruses survive longest in colder, dry environments - that why we have respiratory viruses (such as colds and flu) in winter.

What are the symptoms of Covid-19? 

There are three symptoms which the NHS says 'most people with coronavirus have at least one of'.

Since the start of the crisis, the NHS have listed high temperature and new continuous cough as the main symptoms. On Monday 18th May 2020 they added: loss of or changes in sense of taste or smell (meaning you cannot smell or taste anything, or things smell or taste different from normal).

However, there are other symptoms including breathlessness, headache, muscle ache and other symptoms typical to colds and flu. This seems particularly true for the Omicron variant.

(For some, symptoms appear to develop over a few days: a high temperature, then a cough, then breathlessness.)

Do I need to take my temperature?

No. You can usually tell if you have a high temperature - your forehead, back or chest will feel hot. Some public places are checking people’s temperatures. 

As regards coughing, the NHS say to look out for coughing a lot for more than an hour, or 3 or more coughing episodes in 24 hours. (If you usually have a cough, it may be worse than usual.)

But the truth there are many symptoms associated with the virus, many of which also appear in other conditions. To coin a phrase, stay alert. If you're feeling poorly and it persists, seek help.

How do I avoid Covid-19?

There's more on this on our page living with Covid-19 and the offical guidance on what you can and can't do in England on the government website. 

Am I at risk of Covid-19?

Yes. We’re all at risk. But it’s not just about you. If you’re young and fit, the virus in you may be less severe than in an older person (but not necessarily - it also kills young fit people). The point is you don’t want to be the person who passes a potential killer on to someone else. To minimise the impact of the virus, we all need to act.

Many - but not all - of the people dying from Covid-19 are older and/or have existing health issues (such as diabetes or diseases of the lungs, heart or liver). For this reason, older people or those with existing health issues that may weaken their resistance need to be especially mindful of the guidance.

But it’s a myth that young adults are not affected - Li Wenliang the Chinese doctor who first raised the alarm about the new virus and later died was only 34 years old. In the UK, thousands of people under 50 have died, many of them unvaccinated.

At any given age, men are twice as likely to die of Covid-19 as women. There is more on the biological and behavioural reasons why men might be at greater risk on this site.

People from black, asian and minority ethnic (BAME) communities are also at higher risk.

It’s a respiratory virus so smokers who get the virus are at more risk of it being serious.

I have symptoms

If you have:

  • a high temperature and/or
  • a new, continuous cough,
  • loss or change to your sense of smell or taste,

the NHS say you should use the 111 online Coronavirus service:

Call NHS 111 if you can't get help online.

Call 111 or again visit if an individual's symptoms get worse or do not clear up after seven days.

Don't go out if you're infectious. 

Can I get tested?

Theoretically, yes.

  • PCR tests are mainly for people with symptoms, they're sent to a lab to be checked
  • Rapid lateral flow tests are only for people who do not have symptoms (they give a quick result using a device similar to a pregnancy test)

Both tests are free. Again check out

There is more detailed guidance here.

Have I had the virus?

Hard to say . But this is not particularly useful information anyway, since it doesn't mean you can't get it again or that you shouldn't be vaccinated,

So can you get the virus twice?

Yes. Research from Imperial College London as early as October 2020 showed that Coronavirus antibodies in our blood reduce with time. (Antibodies are part of our body's natural reaction to an invader.)

People who have had Covid-19 will develop high levels of antibodies to it these fall over the months leaving the individual at risk again. The fall in antibodies appears to affect all ages with the smallest drop in the youngest age group (age 18-24) and the largest in the oldest group (age 75 plus).

If a prevailing variant is very different from the one you had, then your risk of catching Covid-19 again is probably higher. The Omicron variant, which is now the dominant strain of Covid-19 in the UK, has many changes (mutations) to the spike protein, which could make it better at infecting people who have had already Covid.

However, antibodies are only part of the body's defence against Covid-19 and while important we don't yet know how big a role they play. 

Will vitamin D help?

It won't do you any harm. Many of us are deficient in vitamin D anyway. And there is some evidence it may protect against more severe Covid-19. However, the government have been reluctant to get into this discussion and the official guidance from NICE is that more research is needed. 

Dr Paul Chrisp, director of the Centre for Guidelines at NICE, said: 'While there is insufficient evidence to recommend vitamin D for the prevention or treatment of Covid-19 at this time, we encourage people to follow government advice on taking the supplement throughout the autumn and winter period'.

Vitamin D helps maintain healthy bone and muscle. The main source is sunlight. In the absence of this commodity, the current official advice is that everyone should take a daily 10 microgram (400 international units) vitamin D supplement from October to early March. 

What is self-isolation?

The aim of self-isolation when required is to keep you away from others so that if you do have it, you don’t pass it on. It involves staying at home as separate as possible from others. Ideally, stay in your room. Use the bathroom after everyone else in your household and then clean it. Don’t share towels, utensils etc. Get delivered items left outside. The NHS has useful advice for those staying at home.

I'm a carer.

Carers UK have published some useful guidance.

What about the vaccine?

We have a separate page on this.

What about the pneumonia vaccine? I've heard that most Covid-19 deaths are pneumonia.

Probably not effective in this case as Covid-19 causes viral pneumonia. Respiratory physician Professor John Wilson, who is president-elect of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians, said: 'The pneumonia vaccine is aimed at a bacterial infection (pneumococcus) not a viral pneumonia.'

John also ruled out the flu vaccine. 'The influenza vaccine is closer, but this is a different virus and (the vaccine is) not known to be active against Covid-19.'

However, you should get a flu vaccine if you can, as high levels of Covid -19 plus high levels of flu will put the NHS under serious strain. The number of people eligible for a free flu vaccine has been increased. See if you're eligible.

How do I find out more about Covid-19?

In England, you can find general Covid-19 info at: and from the online 111 service:

Outside England, there's also:

Date published 09/03/20
Date of last review 24/01/22
Date of next review 22/04/22


The Men’s Health Forum need your support

It’s tough for men to ask for help but if you don’t ask when you need it, things generally only get worse. So we’re asking.

In the UK, one man in five dies before the age of 65. If we had health policies and services that better reflected the needs of the whole population, it might not be like that. But it is. Policies and services and indeed men have been like this for a long time and they don’t change overnight just because we want them to.

It’s true that the UK’s men don’t have it bad compared to some other groups. We’re not asking you to ‘feel sorry’ for men or put them first. We’re talking here about something more complicated, something that falls outside the traditional charity fund-raising model of ‘doing something for those less fortunate than ourselves’. That model raises money but it seldom changes much. We’re talking about changing the way we look at the world. There is nothing inevitable about premature male death. Services accessible to all, a population better informed. These would benefit everyone - rich and poor, young and old, male and female - and that’s what we’re campaigning for.

We’re not asking you to look at images of pity, we’re just asking you to look around at the society you live in, at the men you know and at the families with sons, fathers and grandads missing.

Here’s our fund-raising page - please chip in if you can.

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