The coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 causes the disease COVID-19. The symptoms often resemble the common cold at first. The course of illness varies. Some people do not become ill at all, or are only mildly ill from the virus. Others may become seriously ill and sometimes die from the effects of the disease. COVID-19 vaccination protects you from becoming seriously ill.  

What is COVID-19?

COVID-19 is the disease caused by the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2. The disease can cause respiratory symptoms and fever, and in severe cases it leads to breathing problems. The virus is spread by coughing, sneezing, singing, talking and so on. During activities that produce droplets, the virus is released into the air. If other people inhale those droplets, or get them in their mouth, nose or eyes, for example via their hands, they may become infected with the virus.

Possible symptoms of COVID-19:

  • Cold symptoms (such as a nasal cold, runny nose, sneezing, sore throat)
  • Coughing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Elevated temperature or fever
  • Sudden loss of smell and/or taste (without nasal congestion)

Symptoms may also include:

  • Tiredness
  • General aches and pains
  • Headache
  • Muscle aches
  • Dizziness
  • Irritability/confusion
  • Abdominal pain
  • Weight loss / loss of appetite
  • Diarrhoea
  • Nausea/vomiting
  • Eye pain
  • Eye infection (conjunctivitis)
  • Various skin abnormalities (such as a rash)
  • Feeling unwell

Infection and prevention

You can already infect others before developing symptoms yourself. For example, if you shout, small droplets containing the virus could fly into the air from your nose and mouth. This could also happen as a result of talking, sneezing and coughing. Other people could become infected if they inhale those droplets, or get them in their mouth, nose or eyes via their hands.

If you maintain distance from others and regularly wash your hands well, the chance that you will become infected by the droplets is very small. The risk that you will infect others is very small if you keep your distance from others, sneeze and cough into your elbow, use paper tissues, and stay home if you have symptoms. Always use a self-test if you have symptoms. 

If you do infect someone, it takes 2 to 14 days for that person to develop any symptoms. This is called the incubation period. This usually takes 3 to 6 days; in very rare cases (1%) it can take more than 10 days.


More information is available on the RIVM page on hygiene and COVID-19.

Hygiene is a collective term for everything you do that minimises your contact with pathogens, such as bacteria and viruses, like SARS-CoV-2 or the flu virus (influenza). That includes washing your hands, or keeping your kitchen clean. Sometimes it is also necessary to disinfect after cleaning. 

Information about hygiene and food safety is available on the RIVM page on foodborne infections. For more general information about hygiene, see the RIVM page on hygiene (in Dutch).

Do you work in healthcare? Then take a look at this page about hygiene in the healthcare sector (in Dutch).

Risk groups

People who are older, have underlying health conditions, or have impaired immunity have an increased risk of becoming seriously ill, especially if they have not been vaccinated or had a previous SARS-CoV-2 infection. A detailed description is provided on the RIVM page about COVID-19 risk groups. This page also presents additional recommendations to prevent infection.

Pregnancy and COVID-19

If you are pregnant, you could become very ill if you get COVID-19. For more information, go to the RIVM page on pregnancy and COVID-19.


Do you have mild symptoms, such as a nasal cold, runny nose, sneezing, sore throat, mild cough or elevated temperature (up to 38 degrees Celsius)?  Then use a COVID-19 self-test right away. Read more about what you should do if your self-test is positive. You can consider using paracetamol to help with fever or muscle aches.

Recovery after illness

The amount of time it takes to recover from COVID-19 can vary from person to person. Some people only have cold symptoms and recover within a few days, but there have also been people who had persistent symptoms for a long time, extending many weeks. People with COVID-19 who have been admitted to hospital generally need more time to recover. This depends, among other things, on whether they are healthy other than the coronavirus infection.


Some people have long-term symptoms after a SARS-CoV-2 infection. This is referred to as ‘Long COVID’ or ‘PASC’: Post-Acute Sequelae of SARS-CoV-2. These symptoms may persist for several weeks after COVID-19, and could sometimes last for months.   Read more about Long COVID.

Infected more than once

People who become reinfected generally seem to become less seriously ill, but can still pass the virus to others. Most people build up immunity to the virus after infection. It is not yet certain how long you will be protected and how effective that protection is against  different variants of the virus


Vaccination prevents you from becoming seriously ill from an infection with the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2. If you have been vaccinated, you can still become infected. However, you are less likely to be contagious than if you had not been vaccinated.

For more information about the vaccination programme in the Netherlands, go to the RIVM page on COVID-19 vaccination.

Flu and COVID-19

What are the most important similarities and differences between flu and COVID-19? See the FAQs about flu and COVID.


There are many different types of viruses, including a family known as the ‘coronaviruses’. Examples include the coronavirus that causes Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV) and the coronavirus that causes Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV1) and was the virus behind the SARS epidemic in 2003. The coronavirus that causes COVID-19 is officially called SARS-CoV-2. There are different variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, such as the Delta variant and the Omicron variant. 

For more information about the different variants and related research, see the RIVM page about the SARS-CoV-2 variants.

Can animals also get SARS-CoV-2?

In early 2021, research in the Netherlands showed that about 20% of cats and about 15% of dogs had antibodies against SARS-CoV-2 in their blood.  Other animals can also catch the virus, such as rabbits, ferrets or hamsters. It is likely that most of these pets were infected by their owners. 

More information about pets and COVID-19 is available from OneHealth (in Dutch).