Q: I am concerned because I keep hearing about the spread of coronavirus and that it can be deadly. What are the symptoms of coronavirus and how can I avoid catching it? Is there any treatment for it?
A: The symptoms of coronavirus or its official name COVID-19 may include fever, cough, and/or being short of breath. The shortness of breath is a red flag because it’s not common with ordinary colds.
Symptoms may include fatigue or muscle aches. Diarrhea, sore throat and headache have also been reported.
In some cases, COVID-19 infection progresses to pneumonia, respiratory failure, organ failure and death.
The risk of severe infection may be higher in older patients or those with chronic medical illnesses.
Coronavirus, like many upper respiratory infections, spreads when an infected person coughs or sneezes within a proximity of 6 feet from another person, who then inhales the aerosolized secretions.
The longer the time of exposure, the greater the chance of transmission of the infection. It is possible you can also contract COVID-19 by touching a surface that has infected secretions on it.
The symptoms may start within 2 to 14 days of exposure.
There is no vaccine against COVID-19, so the best way to avoid contracting it is to avoid sick people (especially if they have recently traveled to one of the countries where there are documented cases of coronavirus).
It is always prudent to carry hand sanitizer (and use it often) and frequently wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds, especially before eating or after coughing, blowing your nose or using the bathroom.
Keep your hands off your nose, mouth and eyes unless your hands have been washed recently. The CDC does not recommend wearing a face mask if you are healthy, unless you are caring for a patient who is infected (who should also be wearing a mask).
If you are exposed to coronavirus or have symptoms, see a healthcare provider promptly. Advise your doctor’s office, the paramedics or emergency room personnel of your symptoms or exposure to COVID-19 so they can protect themselves and other patients (until the diagnosis is confirmed or ruled out).
If you have symptoms of coronavirus, stay isolated at home and wear a face mask to help protect others. If your symptoms are severe, your doctor may hospitalize you. If you are caring for an infected patient in your home, wear a mask and gloves and ask the doctor about other precautions you should take to avoid getting infected.
If you plan to travel, you should always check the CDC’s travel updates.
The virus started in China, where it proved to be quite contagious, and nearly 78,000 have been infected so far, with more than 2000 deaths.
The CDC warns against travel to China at the highest level of warning. Most recently, the CDC has advised not travelling to South Korea unless absolutely necessary because they have confirmed more than 800 cases of coronavirus, and these numbers are rapidly increasing.
The CDC also advises travelers to Iran, Italy and Japan to take precautions. Japan has the third highest number of confirmed cases. There are also confirmed cases throughout the Orient, plus Canada, Australia, Europe, Southeast Asia, the Middle East, Scandinavia, India, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Nepal, the Philippines and Russia. There have been more than 30 confirmed cases so far in the US.
There is no vaccine to prevent coronavirus. There are tests to confirm COVID-19 but they are only done by the CDC on suspected cases.
If your doctor determines that you have it clinically by your history, symptoms and physical examination, you may become a “person under investigation” for COVID-19 and reported to the CDC. Laboratory tests and imaging studies may support the diagnosis.
There is no antiviral medication to treat COVID-19. All treatment is symptomatic.
You are more likely to develop the more serious complications during the second week of illness, so keep your doctor aware of any changes in your condition if you are being cared for at home.
Supportive care in the hospital may be necessary if you become really sick and develop pneumonia or other complications. Ventilator support may be necessary if respiratory failure develops.