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.
You are contagious 1 to 2 days before you develop symptoms until 5 days after symptoms have started.
If you do infect someone, it takes 1 to 14 days for that person to develop symptoms. This is called the incubation period. The incubation period for the Omicron sub-variants is usually 3 to 4 days.
Possible symptoms of COVID-19
- Cold symptoms (such as a nasal cold, runny nose, sneezing, sore throat)
- Shortness of breath
- Elevated temperature or fever
- Sudden loss of smell and/or taste (without nasal congestion)
Symptoms may also include:
- General aches and pains
- Muscle aches
- Abdominal pain
- Weight loss / loss of appetite
- Eye pain
- Eye infection (conjunctivitis)
- Various skin abnormalities (such as a rash)
- Feeling unwell
What to do if you have symptoms?
If you have symptoms that could indicate COVID-19, you no longer have to use a self-test. It is important to avoid transmitting a possible infection to others, especially people in vulnerable health. COVID-19 is a respiratory infection. For that reason, follow the general recommendations for respiratory infections if you have symptoms.
Recommendations if you have symptoms
You cannot completely avoid getting a respiratory infection. Still, these general recommendations will help you reduce the risk of passing the virus to others:
- Are you ill? Then stay home.
- If you are not ill, but do have symptoms, then work from home if you can. Consult your employer if necessary.
- Cough and sneeze into your elbow.
- Keep your distance from others.
- Avoid contact with people who could become seriously ill from a respiratory infection.
- Impossible to avoid contact (for example because you provide informal care)? Wear a face mask that covers the mouth and nose.
- Good hygiene helps to limit the spread of infections and can help keep you from getting infected.
- Wash your hands often and thoroughly with soap and water, and ventilate indoor spaces.
People who are older, have underlying health conditions, or have impaired immunity have a higher risk of serious illness, especially if they have not been vaccinated or had a previous SARS-CoV-2 infection. More information is provided on the RIVM page about COVID-19 risk groups. This page also presents additional recommendations to prevent infection.
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 also depends 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 or months after COVID-19, and could sometimes last for years. Read more about Long COVID.
Infected more than once
People who are reinfected are generally less likely to become 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, or how effective that protection is against different variants of the virus.
A COVID-19 vaccination prevents you from serious illness due to a SARS-CoV-2 infection. 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 COVID-19 vaccination page.
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.