COVID-19 is a new coronavirus, which first appeared in the Wuhan province in China. It is actually part of the same family of viruses at as those which cause the common cold. It is similar to the virus which caused SARS in China and MERS in the Middle East, and is thought to have been transmitted from an animal, probably a bat, to humans in a live animal market in China. It is transmitted through respiratory droplets, and although it has been found in other bodily products such as stool, transmission through that route has not been proven. The most common symptoms are fever, cough, muscle pain, fatigue, and shortness of breath. Patients can have the infection for 4-7 days before they show symptoms.
Besides China, cases of coronavirus have been found in dozens of countries, the most densely affected being South Korea, Italy, Iran, Hong Kong, and Japan. There have also been cases discovered in the US in Washington state, California, Arizona, Ohio, Illinois, Wisconsin, Oregon and Massachusetts. Most of these patients have traveled to China or one of the other listed countries, or have been in close contact with people who have. There have been a few patients for whom a clear exposure has not yet been identified. Although this is a changing dynamic, the number of US cases as of this writing has been about 60 patients.
COURSE OF ILLNESS
Most cases of Covid-19 run a course similar to a viral illness and do not result in severe disease. Fatal cases have generally been seen among patients of an older age with other significant medical problems. To put this in some prospective, the mortality rate so far in China has been 2% of the patient’s infected which is fairly identical to the mortality rate of influenza in the US. It is hard to tell if this disease is more infectious than influenza because taking all ages, about 50% of people in the US get a flu shot, which offers most of them protection from that disease. Right now, there is no vaccination or specific medication for Covid-19, and although there are kits available to diagnose the disease preliminarily at some hospitals, only the CDC can confirm a case of this virus.
What should you do to prevent coronavirus infection? The first rule is Don’t Panic. Since COVIR-19 is transmitted as a respiratory virus, the same precautions we use to avoid catching a cold should be followed. The best form of prevention is handwashing with soap for about 20 seconds. Hand sanitizer can be used instead of soap but it should have at least 60% alcohol in the ingredients. If you have touched something in common usage such as a handrail or a doorknob, you should wash your hands before touching your face or glasses. It is wise to use respiratory precautions as much as possible, but the use of a face mask such as those that are available to visitors in a hospital is not recommended since these masks mostly protect other people from the person wearing the mask. Masks called respirators which seal the mouth and nose are difficult to adjust properly and are indicated only for healthcare workers and other individuals interacting with patients diagnosed with known Covid-19 infection. It is also recommended to avoid traveling to countries with the largest number of infected individuals such as those listed above. Notify your doctor if you are ill, and make sure you let them know if you had been traveling outside the US.
Statistically speaking, the chance of contracting the new coronavirus in the US is extremely small and presents the same level of severe danger as influenza. Making yourself and others anxious beyond wisely taking precautions can cause unnecessary stress and worry.
For more information, please visit the CDC website: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/