Mō te KOWHEORI-19 About COVID-19

COVID-19 is a highly contagious disease that affects your lungs, airways and other organs. There are different strains that spread between people and affect them differently. Some people with COVID-19 can get very sick, and some people severely sick. Find out about symptoms, spread, treatment and prevention.

COVID-19 symptoms

For most people, COVID-19 symptoms will be mild and can be managed at home. They can be similar to cold and flu symptoms. Some people have no symptoms. Symptoms tend to show 2 to 5 days after you have been infected with COVID-19, but it can take up to 14 days.

Symptoms of COVID-19 can include 1 or more of the following:

  • a new or worsening cough
  • sneezing and runny nose
  • a fever
  • temporary loss of smell, or altered sense of taste
  • sore throat
  • shortness of breath (this is a sign of possible pneumonia that requires urgent attention)
  • fatigue or feeling tired.

Less common symptoms include:

  • runny poo (diarrhoea)
  • headache
  • muscle pain or body aches
  • nausea and vomiting
  • a general feeling of discomfort, illness or unease
  • chest, abdominal, and joint pain
  • confusion or irritability.

These less common symptoms almost always occur with 1 or more of the common symptoms.

It is important to keep an eye on symptoms, whether they are your own, or those of a whānau member or friend. 

Worsening COVID-19 symptoms

Worsening symptoms can include:

  • new or worse trouble with breathing
  • severe dehydration such as a very dry mouth, not peeing very much, feeling lightheaded or dizzy
  • severe headache.

If symptoms get worse or you need advice on how to manage them, call your:

  • doctor
  • usual healthcare provider
  • Healthline on 0800 611 116

Older people, ethnic minorities, and those with underlying medical conditions are more at risk of getting very sick from COVID-19.

Severe COVID-19 symptoms

Call 111 immediately if you or the person you are caring for have severe symptoms.

Severe symptoms include:

  • finding it difficult to breathe
  • feeling faint, passing out, or finding it very difficult to wake up
  • being blue around the mouth, or very pale and cold
  • having severe chest pain.

People at risk of severe illness from COVID-19

Some conditions and treatments can weaken a person's immune system, including:

  • having chemotherapy or radiotherapy
  • bone marrow or organ transplantation
  • some blood cancers
  • immune deficiencies including HIV infection
  • some immunity weakening medications, such as high-dose corticosteroids and disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs that treat inflammatory conditions such as arthritis and inflammatory bowel disease
  • long-term haemodialysis or peritoneal dialysis.

There is information available for people with weakened immune systems:

COVID-19 and people with weakened immune systems Healthify (external link)

High-risk medical conditions include:

  • chronic lung or airways disease
  • serious heart conditions such as congestive heart failure, coronary artery disease, rheumatic heart disease and congenital heart disease
  • poorly controlled hypertension
  • chronic neurological or neuromuscular disease
  • diabetes
  • chronic kidney disease
  • severe liver disease such as cirrhosis
  • severe blood (haematological) disorders
  • severe mental illness such as schizophrenia, major depressive disorder, bipolar or schizoaffective disorder
  • active cancer
  • morbid obesity — a body mass index (BMI) greater than 35
  • sickle cell disease
  • Down syndrome.

Others at higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19 include:

  • people over the age of 65 who have underlying medical conditions
  • people who live in an aged care facility
  • people who are pregnant or have recently given birth
  • disabled people, who have underlying medical conditions, with less access to public health information, or whose living situation increases their chance of infection
  • people living with mental health conditions and addictions
  • Māori and Pacific people, who are not immunised, have co-existing medical conditions and difficulties accessing healthcare
  • people who smoke.

Some tamariki are at higher risk of severe disease from COVID-19.

This includes:

  • pēpi under the age of 1 month
  • tamariki under the age of 2 who were born premature (less than 37 weeks)
  • tamariki with multiple chronic conditions.

If you are at high risk of severe illness from COVID-19, talk to your doctor, hauora provider, or community pharmacist about your medical condition and how to best manage it.

If you are at risk of becoming very unwell with COVID-19 you may be able to get a prescription for funded COVID-19 antiviral medicines before you get COVID-19. This means the pharmacist will have the prescription ready to use if you become unwell.

If you have had COVID-19 before

If you have had COVID-19 before and get symptoms again, what you should do depends on how long it has been since your previous infection.

Count the days from when you tested positive or first had symptoms.

28 days or fewer since last infection

If you are at low risk of serious illness, you do not need to take another test. Stay home and recover until 24 hours after you no longer have symptoms.

If you have an underlying health condition or have COVID-19-like symptoms that are getting worse, get advice from a healthcare provider or call Healthline free on 0800 611 116

29 days or more since last infection

It is recommended that you take a RAT and isolate for 5 days if the result is positive, and follow the advice for people who have COVID-19.

If you have COVID-19 (internal link)

Complications of COVID-19

Some people who have had COVID-19 suffer health impacts longer than a few weeks or months. This is commonly referred to as long COVID.

Find out more about long COVID symptoms and how to manage them.

Long COVID (internal link)

How COVID-19 spreads

COVID-19 spreads from person to person. When an infected person breathes, speaks, coughs, sneezes or sings, they may spread particles containing the virus. It is more likely that COVID-19 will spread through the air than on surfaces, but both are possible.

There are 3 main ways you can get COVID-19.

  • Breathing in air with COVID-19 particles.
  • COVID-19 particles landing on your mouth, nose or eyes, for example, from a cough or sneeze.
  • Touching your mouth, nose or eyes when your hands have the virus on them, either through direct contact with someone or by touching contaminated surfaces.

When COVID-19 is more likely to spread

A person is most infectious and more likely to spread COVID-19 in the few days around the time that symptoms develop. This means that some individuals can be infectious before they develop symptoms.

Your risk of getting COVID-19 increases when you are:

  • near a person with COVID-19
  • near that person for a long time
  • in a poorly ventilated indoor space
  • in enclosed spaces that do not have good airflow
  • in crowded places with many people nearby
  • in close-contact settings, such as close-range conversations, singing, or shouting.

Your risk of getting COVID-19 is lower outside, with fewer people, and if people are widely spread.

Find out if you have COVID-19

If you think you have COVID-19, you should test and consider isolating while you wait for the results. You are no longer required to isolate, but we recommend a 5 day isolation with some additional mask wearing to avoid spreading COVID-19 to others.

If you have COVID-19 (internal link)

If you are not sure what to do, call Healthline for free advice on 0800 611 116

COVID-19 treatments

Most people who get COVID-19 experience mild to moderate illness, and can recover safely at home.

Some people at higher risk of severe illness are eligible for treatment with COVID-19 antiviral medicines. These medicines reduce the amount of virus in your body so you do not get as sick, and are less likely to go to hospital. 

Find out where you can get antivirals, and the eligibility criteria.

Medicines to treat COVID-19 (internal link)

COVID-19 prevention

Get immunised

Getting immunised means if you have COVID-19, you are far less likely to:

  • get very sick
  • need to go to hospital
  • infect other people.

While a 2-dose course provides some protection against severe disease from Omicron, this protection can decrease over time. Booster doses reduce the chance of serious illness and lower the risk of spreading COVID-19 to others.

You can book your vaccine or booster online.

Find out more about COVID-19 vaccines and boosters, who needs them, when to get them and how to book them.

Protect yourself and others

Here are some ways to lessen your chance of getting COVID-19 or giving it to others.

  • Stay up to date with your immunisations and boosters.
  • Stay home if you are sick.
  • Limit time in crowded places.
  • Wear a face mask.
  • Keep your distance from others when indoors.
  • Improve ventilation.
  • Cough or sneeze into your elbow.
  • Wash your hands often with warm soapy water.
  • Clean surfaces with regular household cleaners or bleach.

Healthy habits (internal link)

Find out more about mask recommendations and when you should wear one.

COVID-19: Face masks (internal link)