The World Health Organization (WHO) gave the new coronavirus the name “COVID-19” on February 11, 2020, and declared it a pandemic on March 10, 2020. A review of 22 studies on similar human coronaviruses such as SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus), MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus) and HCoV (endemic human coronaviruses) finds that COVID-19 is not more severe than many flu viruses (J of Hosp Infect, Feb 6, 2020). However, it is incredibly contagious because no human has yet been shown to have been infected with this virus previously, so nobody is immune to it. It probably started in some animal, was transmitted to humans and was first identified in Wuhan, China. It is now being transmitted from person to person in countries all over the world. There is no scientific evidence whatever that this virus came from a bio-warfare program or any other type of conspiracy.
• COVID-19 can infect anyone, but many people may not have any symptoms or have only mild symptoms. People over 65 and those with other diseases or a weakened immune system are more likely to have serious symptoms, severe disease and even death. Older people are at higher risk for complications because aging normally decreases a person’s ability to fight off invading germs. Among the people in the U.S. who have died from COVID-19, almost all have been in their 70s, 80s or 90s. So far, the youngest known fatality was a man in his 40s (New York Times, Mar 14, 2020).
• It is spread by contagious respiratory droplets from person-to-person or on surfaces such as door handles, furniture, clothes and any other object that you may touch.
• COVID-19 has an incubation period of about 2-10 days after exposure to an infected human or surface.
• Early symptoms include shortness of breath, fever, and feeling sick.
• People who have been infected can shed the virus and be contagious for up to 37 days. It appears that the average person can be contagious for about 20 days (The Lancet, March 11, 2020).
• There is no known effective treatment, but people with normal immune systems are likely to get rid of the virus and recover within a few days. We do not know if the drugs currently used to treat flu will help to treat more severe symptoms of COVID-19.
• You are at increased risk for complications if you have any defect in your immune system: a history of heart attacks, cancers, diabetes, lung disease, auto-immune disease, chronic infection or any other serious illness. So far, of the most seriously ill COVID-19 patients, 30 percent had high blood pressure, 19 percent had diabetes, and 8 percent had serious heart disease.
• Deaths from COVID-19 usually occur when it progresses to the lungs, which can then fill with fluid and smother the person to death. People with an existing lung disease (asthma, bronchitis, emphysema, and so forth) are at high risk for complications.
• You can reduce your likelihood of being infected by washing your hands very frequently or using alcohol-based sanitizer products on your hands and on any surfaces that may have been exposed to respiratory droplets from infected people.
• Hard surfaces such as metal, glass or plastic can remain contagious for about 10 days at normal room temperatures, and at near-freezing temperatures it can remain contagious for about 18 days. If a suspect package is shipped to you, I recommend not opening it for at least 10 days from the shipping date.
• Face masks are almost useless for preventing infection, but if you are infected, a mask may decrease spread of the virus to others. A mask may also discourage you from putting your fingers on your face and mouth to bring the infection to you. Health care workers and other people who are frequently exposed to sick people should wear masks.
• Where possible, people with weak immune systems should avoid crowds, hospitals, and any unnecessary exposure to potentially sick people.
• Federal, state and local governments, health departments, schools and businesses are issuing orders and recommendations for cancellations, closures, social distancing, travel restrictions and other measures to help stop the spread of COVID-19. If you are at high risk for complications of COVID-19, you may want to follow even stricter avoidance or self-isolation measures to reduce your chances of exposure.
• The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website is updated regularly and is an excellent source of current information.
• Try to avoid contact with sick people, but if you are exposed to someone with fever or respiratory symptoms, wash your hands and face with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
• Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth with unwashed hands.
• If you develop symptoms that may be COVID-19, check with your doctor or health care provider. Sick people should stay at home (e.g., from work, school or social activities).
• Coughs and sneezes should be covered with a tissue, followed by disposal of the tissue.
• Frequently touched objects and surfaces should be cleaned regularly with an alcohol-based disinfectant.
Dr. Gabe Mirkin is a Villager. Learn more at www.drmirkin.com