The deadly coronavirus that began as a handful of infections in China and exponentially multiplied around the globe has become one of the largest news stories of the decade.
With almost 100,000 cases of COVID-19 confirmed and over 3,000 deaths, the world is struggling on how to contain the virus and prepare for what appears to be an imminent spread in almost every community.
FindaTopDoc consulted with infectious disease experts who are weighing in on what we should expect and how you can prepare to protect yourself and your family.
Here's what you need to know about COVID-19:
Symptoms you should look out for:
Knowing if you are infected or when to go to the doctor is challenging as COVID-19 symptoms mimic that of many other respiratory infections. The incubation period between being infected and exhibiting symptoms appears to be between one and fourteen days. Once infected, even those who do not exhibit symptoms can still spread the virus to others.
Dr. Daniel Perez, an infectious disease specialist in Florida, tells us what symptoms to watch out for: “Common symptoms include fever and cough. COVID-19 symptoms range from asymptomatic to full blown acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS). The difference from influenza, is that COVID-19 is usually associated with lower respiratory symptoms such as cough, shortness of breath, in addition to fever. Influenza is typically upper respiratory symptoms like a sore throat and runny nose.”
There is currently no vaccine to prevent the coronavirus, but Dr. Perez urges everyone to get the flu vaccine. While the flu vaccine won’t protect you against the coronavirus; getting the flu simultaneously with COVID-19 could result in severe pneumonia and respiratory distress. By avoiding the flu, you will also be able to stay away from the doctor’s office, where you are at the greatest risk of being exposed to the virus.
How can you and your family prepare?
While most individuals who contract COVID-19 will experience mild symptoms similar to that of a cold or flu, others around us may not be so lucky.
Infectious disease physician, Rob Dretler, MD, FIDSA, cautions us to look closely at our friends and family who may be more susceptible and start preparing.
“The virus, just like the flu, is a much more serious threat to the elderly and medically fragile. If that describes you or a close household member, it may be prudent to stockpile some non-perishable foods and supplies so that you can limit trips to the store at the height of the epidemic. Also, be sure to have an adequate supply of any medications that you take routinely.”
What makes the coronavirus so contagious?
Researchers believe that the coronavirus can survive on inanimate objects and hard surfaces for up to nine days. After numerous people that attended the same temple in Hong Kong were diagnosed with COVID-19, the city’s Center for Health Protection collected samples from the site. Days after the outbreak, surfaces such as faucets, door handles, books, and other handheld items all tested positive for the virus.
Dr. Dretler says, “Coronavirus, like influenza, is spread by respiratory droplets and contaminated surfaces. We touch these surfaces and touch our faces leading to self transmission. There are a number of ways you can protect yourself. Carry hand sanitizer such as Purell and apply a teaspoon to your hands frequently. Cover all coughs and sneezes with your sleeve or a tissue and urge others to do the same. Finally, if you are coughing and sneezing, stay home to reduce the spread to others.”
The silver lining is that coronavirus is easy to destroy by using proper cleaning disinfectants.
What happens as the disease mutates?
According to Dr. Dretler, “All RNA viruses mutate very rapidly, which makes them more difficult for our immune systems to control. This mutation rate is why we have annual flu epidemics. We all have partial immunity to the flu from prior exposures and vaccines, which blunt the spread of the virus. In years of major genetic shift in the influenza virus, our immune systems are less prepared and the virus spreads more broadly. No one has any immunity to COVID-19, so the first epidemic wave will be very widespread and more difficult to control. Our goal now is to slow the spread while we develop treatments and vaccines.”
What does the future hold?
Pittsburgh infectious disease specialist, Nalini Rao, MD, FACP, FSHEA, says “Coronavirus (COVID-19) is a novel virus not encountered previously. We do not know much about this virus as of yet, although rapid progress has been made regarding its infectivity, transmission, clinical presentation, and its mortality. No vaccine or antiviral antibiotic is available at this point. Work is underway to find an effective drug and a vaccine, which is moving at a rapid pace.”
According to Dr. Rao, “The U.S. has the best surveillance and treatment plan to contain the virus. An excellent group of scientists and epidemiologists are monitoring and working tirelessly to contain, prevent, and treat this virus to avoid a pandemic. The risk at present in the U.S. is low, but it can change. Everyone should be cautiously aware of the information put out by the media and use common sense that we all exercise when we have a common cold.”