Created for Greatist by the experts at Healthline. Read more

The CDC recommends that all people wear cloth face masks in public places where it’s difficult to maintain a 6-foot distance from others. This will help slow the spread of the virus from people without symptoms or people who do not know they have contracted the virus. Cloth face masks should be worn while continuing to practice social distancing. Instructions for making masks at home can be found here. Note: It’s critical to reserve surgical masks and N95 respirators for healthcare workers.

  • The body creates antibodies that protect you (for a time) from getting COVID-19 twice.
  • A vaccine is in the works, but it will take time to develop and distribute.
  • Wash your hands and practice social distancing to protect yourself, your family, and those who are vulnerable to complications due to COVID-19.

Look, no one wants to contract COVID-19 once, let alone twice. But it’s a fair question: Is it possible to contract coronavirus disease more than once?

Sadly, the answer isn’t a simple yes or no. The more doctors learn about COVID-19, the more our understanding of it is bound to change.

As of right now, it appears that people cannot acquire COVID-19 twice (at least, not within 1 to 2 years of originally contracting it, and providing your immune system functions properly).

When we get sick, our immune system creates antibodies to defeat the offending virus or pathogen. Those same antibodies protect you from getting it again.

How long that immunity lasts in regard to COVID-19, however, is yet to be seen. It could be possible to contract it again years in the future, but not immediately after recovery.

Here’s everything we know right now about COVID-19, immunity, and if you can develop it more than once.

A good way to temper fear (and toilet paper panic) is to get your facts straight. According to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), COVID-19 spreads through respiratory droplets, like the kind that make an exit when you sneeze or cough.

If you inhale droplets or touch your face, eyes, or mouth after having touched something with droplets on it, you could contract COVID-19 (less formally known as coronavirus disease).

Then, 2 to 14 days later, symptoms may show up, including:

  • a fever
  • a dry cough
  • shortness of breath
  • body aches and pains
  • a runny or congested nose
  • a sore throat
  • a headache
  • muscle pain
  • chills
  • repeated shaking with chills
  • new loss of taste or smell

The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that 80 percent of COVID-19 cases are mild. However, if you’re over the age of 60 and/or have any underlying health conditions, you’re at higher risk for complications.

What to do if you have symptoms of COVID-19:

If you’re displaying symptoms, have tested positive, or think you might have COVID-19, take a breath. There are treatments available!

First, call your doctor before heading to the doctor’s office or emergency room. Tell them whether you think you’ve been exposed to COVID-19 or if you believe you have contracted it.

You may need to follow special instructions before entering a medical facility, and it’s very important to follow protocol for your safety and the safety of everyone you come into contact with.

If possible, wear a mask before heading to your doc’s office or the emergency room.

At home, you can treat coronavirus disease as you would the flu. Drink plenty of liquids to stay hydrated and use over the counter pain relievers to ease the fever and pain.

If you have difficulty breathing, contact your doctor immediately. People with severe cases of COVID-19 may need additional oxygen or a respirator.

Last but not least, be sure to self-isolate (that goes for anyone else you’ve been in contact with as well) for at least 14 days. Your doctor can give exact guidelines for keeping the virus contained while you recover.

Unfortunately, there’s no cure or vaccine for COVID-19 at this time. You might be sick of hearing the terms “quarantine” and “social distancing,” but they bear repeating.

Avoid public places unless absolutely necessary and avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth. Regularly wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water aren’t available, a hand sanitizer with 60 percent alcohol is a good alternative.

And don’t forget: Group hangs and visits to friends and family are a big no-no while quarantine is in effect. While it might feel safe to spend time with the people in your inner circle, every time you mingle with others you risk contracting and spreading the virus — no bueno!

Here’s what we know so far: Scientists are exploring the body’s immunity after recovery, but their research is in the preliminary stages. Early evidence (from studies on monkeys) suggests that the body has immunity immediately after recovery. However, even after recovery, the virus lingers in your system.

Dr. Dimitar Marinov, an Assistant Professor at the Department of Hygiene and Epidemiology at the Medical University of Varna, Bulgaria, says, “viral RNA can be found in the blood even 13 days after recovery.” You can still test positive for COVID-19 during that time.

If symptoms show up after you thought you’d recovered, it’s most likely a continuing infection or relapse rather than a second round of COVID-19.

Long-term immunity is a bit of a gray area because this is such a new virus. There hasn’t been sufficient time to know how long immunity will last. However, COVID-19 belongs to the same virus family as SARS, which we know more about.

A 2007 study of SARS, found that immunity lasted an average of 2 years. The body may react differently to viruses of the same family, but hopefully, immunity from COVID-19 will last at least that long.

Unfortunately, once your body no longer produces the right antibodies, you can get COVID-19 again. And, viruses frequently mutate. Dr. Wuhan He, MD, a physician at Massachusetts General Hospital’s Emergency Department, says, “You can have an amazingly long-term response to the first strain of COVID-19 that we are seeing now, but then, if the virus changes, it may seem like quite a short-term immunity.”

Look at it this way: If you contract and recover from COVID-19, you’re likely not getting it again this year. In the future, your body may recognize the virus and fight it off without a problem. Or, you could get sick, but not as sick as the first time you had it.

Your body’s response depends on how your immune system functions. We’re all different, so immune system responses will differ from person to person.

Vaccines cause the body to create antibodies against a specific virus, helping your body recognize and fight it off.

On March 16, 2020, researchers at Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute Vaccine and Treatment Evaluation Unit (VTEU) in Seattle began a trial of a COVID-19 vaccine made by ModernaTX, Inc.

However, vaccines have to go through a rigorous and time-consuming three-stage testing process before they’re made available to the public.

Right now, the testing revolves around safety. Elizabeth A. Schainbaum, a senior communications consultant at the Kaiser facility where the test is being conducted, says, “The trial is expected to take 14 months […] In this phase, Kaiser Permanente researchers are testing safety and antibody production, meaning they’re testing various doses’ safety and whether these doses are producing an immune response.”

Later phases of testing will determine how effective the vaccine is at preventing COVID-19. That’s all good news, but don’t expect a viable vaccine for another 14 to 18 months or possibly longer.

Until an approved vaccine or drug treatment is available, your best defense is good hygiene. Here are a few coronavirus tips:

  • Wash your hands: If you’ve been in public, wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Also, wash your hands after going to the bathroom and before eating.
  • Hand sanitizer: Hand sanitizer will do if you don’t have access to soap and water. Make sure it’s at least 60 percent alcohol.
  • Practice social distancing: Maintain a distance of at least 6 feet from other people except for the people with which you live.
  • Cough and sneeze into your elbow: Keep germs off your hands and out of the air as much as possible even if you’re not showing symptoms, and wash your hands after you cough or sneeze.

Your chances of getting COVID-19 twice, at least this year, are incredibly small. For your safety and the safety of others, practice good hygiene. Consistent handwashing and social distancing protect you and those who are at high risk should they contract COVID-19.