Coronavirus (COVID-19): General advice
Coronavirus (COVID-19) is the illness caused by a new strain of coronavirus first identified in Wuhan city, China. It can cause a new continuous cough, fever or loss of, or change in, sense of smell or taste (anosmia).
Generally, coronavirus can cause more severe symptoms in people with weakened immune systems, older people and those with long term conditions like diabetes, cancer and chronic lung disease.
This is a rapidly changing situation which is being monitored carefully.
Higher risk of severe illness
Some people are at higher risk of developing severe illness with coronavirus. These people should strictly follow physical distancing measures.
Their household and other contacts should also strictly follow physical distancing advice.
This group includes people who are:
- aged 70 or older (regardless of medical conditions)
- under 70 and instructed to get a flu jab as an adult each year on medical grounds
And those with:
- chronic (long-term) respiratory diseases, such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), emphysema or bronchitis
- chronic heart disease, such as heart failure
- chronic kidney disease
- chronic liver disease, such as hepatitis
- chronic neurological conditions, such as Parkinson's disease, motor neurone disease, multiple sclerosis (MS), a learning disability or cerebral palsy
- problems with their spleen, for example sickle cell disease
- a weakened immune system as the result of conditions such as HIV and AIDS, or medicines such as steroid tablets or chemotherapy
- a BMI of 40 or above who are seriously overweight
Extremely high risk of severe illness
Some groups of people are considered to be at extremely high risk of severe illness with coronavirus. These people should strictly follow physical distancing and hygiene measures.
Their household and other contacts should strictly follow physical distancing and hygiene measures to protect them.
Extremely high-risk group
This group includes people with:
- cancer and are receiving active chemotherapy
- lung cancer and are either receiving or previously received radical radiotherapy
- cancers of the blood or bone marrow, such as leukaemia, lymphoma or myeloma who are at any stage of treatment
- severe chest conditions such as cystic fibrosis, severe asthma, severe COPD, severe bronchiectasis and pulmonary hypertension
- rare diseases, including all forms of interstitial lung disease/sarcoidosis, and inborn errors of metabolism (such as SCID and homozygous sickle cell) that significantly increase the risk of infections
- an absent spleen or have had their spleen removed
- significant heart disease (congenital or acquired) and are pregnant
- Down’s syndrome (adults)
- stage 5 kidney disease
- liver cirrhosis (Child-Pugh class B and C)
And those that have had:
- solid organ transplants
- bone marrow or stem cell transplants in the last 6 months, or who are still taking immunosuppression drugs
- immunotherapy or other continuing antibody treatments for cancer
- other targeted cancer treatments which can affect the immune system, such as protein kinase inhibitors or PARP inhibitors
- immunosuppression therapies that significantly increase the risk of infection
- renal dialysis treatment
I'm not sure if I fall into one of the more vulnerable groups. What should I do?
If you have an underlying health condition or take medicines regularly but you're not sure whether or not you fall into one of the more vulnerable groups, you should phone your GP practice and say you want advice about your underlying condition or your medicines.
People who are considered to be extremely vulnerable to severe illness will receive a letter giving them further advice, but if you remain unsure, contact your GP.
The coronavirus vaccine does not cause a coronavirus infection. It helps to build up your immunity to the virus, so your body will fight it off more easily if it affects you. This can reduce your risk of developing coronavirus and make your symptoms milder if you do get it.
NHS Scotland strongly recommends you get the vaccine when offered it.
After you’ve had your vaccine, it’s important that you continue to follow the latest government advice.
Symptoms of coronavirus
The most common symptoms are new:
- continuous cough
- fever/high temperature (37.8C or greater)
- loss of, or change in, sense of smell or taste (anosmia)
A new continuous cough is where you:
- have a new cough that’s lasted for an hour
- have had 3 or more episodes of coughing in 24 hours
- are coughing more than usual
A high temperature is feeling hot to the touch on your chest or back (you don’t need to measure your temperature). You may feel warm, cold or shivery.
Some people will have more serious symptoms, including pneumonia or difficulty breathing, which might require admission to hospital.
Could I have coronavirus?
Use this guide to find out what to do next if you have developed any of these symptoms and are worried about coronavirus.
If you have coronavirus symptoms
If you’ve developed symptoms (however mild), stay at home for 10 days from the start of your symptoms and arrange to be tested. Do not go to your GP, pharmacy or hospital.
You should remain at home until you get the result of the test, and then follow the advice you will be given based on the result.
When to get help
Urgent advice: Only phone 111 if:
- your symptoms worsen during home isolation, especially if you’re in a high or extremely high-risk group
- breathlessness develops or worsens, particularly if you’re in a high or extremely high-risk group
- your symptoms haven’t improved in 10 days
If you have a medical emergency, phone 999 and tell them you have coronavirus symptoms.
Fever following a vaccination
If a child or adult develops fever following a vaccination, this would normally be within the first 48 hours after the time of vaccination and should usually go away within 48 hours from the start of your symptoms. It is quite common to have a fever after a vaccination.
You should only self-isolate or book a test during this time if you also either:
- have other coronavirus symptoms (a new continuous cough or a loss of, or change in, sense of smell or taste)
- have been told by NHS Test and Protect that you are a close contact of someone who has tested positive for coronavirus
- live with someone who has recently tested positive for coronavirus
- live with someone who has symptoms of coronavirus
If the fever starts beyond 48 hours from the time of vaccination, or persists beyond 48 hours, you should self-isolate and book a coronavirus test. Your household should follow the guidance for households with possible coronavirus infection.
Read further information about:
- the vaccines used to protect against coronavirus
- side effects of the coronavirus vaccines
- any other vaccines
How soon after contact with the virus do people become unwell?
Because this is a new virus, we do not know enough to have a precise incubation period. Experience so far suggests the average time it takes for symptoms to develop is 4 to 6 days after exposure, but it may be as short as 1 day or much longer.
Do the people I live with need to take any action?
If you live with other people and have symptoms, they'll need to stay at home for 10 days from the start of your symptoms even if they don’t have symptoms themselves. They should book a test as soon as possible. Even if they receive a negative result, they must still complete the 10 day isolation.
If they develop symptoms, they need to stay at home for 10 days from the day their symptoms started. They should do this even if it takes them over the original 10-day isolation period.
Your whole household should follow our stay at home guidance for households with possible coronavirus infection.
Get an isolation note to give to your employer
You can send an isolation note to your employer as proof you need to stay off work because of coronavirus.
You don’t need to get a note from a GP.
Is there anything I can do to prepare?
You should start planning now for how you would manage a period of self-isolation just in case everyone in your household needs to stay at home.
Read the Scottish Government’s advice on how to make a plan for your household or family
Testing for coronavirus
There are test centres across Scotland for people with and without symptoms. You can also get tests to do at home.
If you test positive for the virus your close contacts will be traced as part of the national Test and Protect approach to containing the virus.
If you're a close contact and an approved critical worker, you may be eligible for exemption from self-isolation if you have no symptoms.
Overseas visitors, asylum seekers and refugees
People who have come to Scotland to work, study or claim asylum (including refugees) will not pay for any coronavirus tests or treatments they need.
More about the coronavirus arrangements for overseas visitors
How the virus spreads
Because it's a new illness, we don't know exactly how the virus spreads from person to person.
People can become infected when droplets land directly on them or they touch contaminated objects and surfaces. That is why good respiratory hygiene and hand washing are so important.
The virus might also spread by people 2 days before developing symptoms or by those who don’t develop significant symptoms at all.
How to avoid catching coronavirus
You can reduce your risk of getting and spreading the infection by:
- avoiding direct hand contact with your eyes, nose and mouth
- maintaining good hand hygiene
- avoiding direct contact with people that have a respiratory illness and avoiding using their personal items such as their mobile phone
- covering your nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing with disposable tissues and disposing of them in the nearest waste bin after use
- following the guidance for households with possible coronavirus infection and arranging to be tested if someone in your household has symptoms
- making sure everyone in your household follows the Scottish Government’s coronavirus advice as much as possible and to stay away from other people
- making sure your household follows the physical distancing advice, especially anyone in a vulnerable group
You can't catch coronavirus from food. But it is possible to catch it if you touch an infected surface or object and then touch your mouth or nose.
Food Standards Scotland have answered some common questions about coronavirus and food.
Wash your hands regularly
Wash your hands with soap and water or alcohol hand sanitiser before eating and drinking, and after coughing, sneezing and going to the toilet.
There’s no evidence to show a link between ibuprofen, or other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs), and catching or making coronavirus worse.
Paracetamol or ibuprofen can be used to help with the symptoms of coronavirus if needed, unless your doctor has told you paracetamol or NSAIDs are not suitable for you. Use these medications according to the instructions on the packet or label and do not exceed the recommended dose.
Longer-term effects of coronavirus
While most people recover quickly from coronavirus, some people may have ongoing symptoms. These can last a few weeks or longer. This has been referred to as long COVID.
These symptoms are not limited to people who were seriously unwell or hospitalised when they first caught the virus.
As this is a new condition our understanding is developing all the time. There can be different symptoms, which often overlap. These may change over time and can affect anywhere in the body.
Read further information about the risks of longer-term effects of coronavirus (long COVID)
Anyone with symptoms of coronavirus should:
- use their own towels and bed linen
- wash these separately from other people living in the household
Don’t shake dirty laundry as this can spread the virus through the air.
Items that may have been contaminated with the virus aren’t considered to be infectious after 3 days. This includes any personal items or clothing used by someone who has had symptoms.
After 3 days you can:
- place rubbish bags containing personal waste, such as tissues used by someone with symptoms, in the normal waste
- take laundry used by someone who is ill to a launderette
Regular household cleaning is important to remove the virus from surfaces and household items quickly.
Returning unused medications
You can return unused medicines to your community pharmacy for disposal. However, you cannot return essential medicines if you:
- have or have had coronavirus symptoms (or a positive test result) and are still within your 10 days self-isolation period
- are self-isolating for 10 days as someone you live with has or has had symptoms
- have been identified as a close contact of someone who has tested positive
If you or others in your household have symptoms you need to stay at home and follow our guidance for households with a possible coronavirus infection.
When returning medication:
- wipe the outside of the bottle or packaging with a damp cloth using your usual detergent
- place in a plastic bag
- separate any medicines with needles or controlled drugs from other medicines
- wash your hands for 20 seconds with soap and water or alcohol hand sanitiser after handling
There have been no reported cases of coronavirus in livestock in the UK, and infections in pets are very rare.
Read the Scottish Government’s advice for animal owners
We have set up a free helpline (0800 028 2816) to help with any questions you have about coronavirus that you can’t answer online.
The helpline is open from 8.00am to 10.00pm each day.
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