Everyone has been hearing about the coronavirus recently in the news, and there is a lot of misinformation being shared. Unfortunately, bad information can lead to poor decision-making and unreasonable fears. It is important for everyone to learn as much as possible about the new coronavirus in order to not just deal with the disease itself but to live with the unique situation created by the fast-spreading pathogen.
A coronavirus is not a single specific type of virus. Rather, it is more like the flu, in that it is a large family of viruses that can seem very different from each other. The common cold is a kind of coronavirus, but so are MERS-CoV (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) and SARS-CoV (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome). While the common cold is normally benign, MERS-CoV and SARS-CoV are frighteningly dangerous and frequently deadly. When looked at under a microscope, coronaviruses look like they have a corona or halo surrounding them.
The coronavirus that has been in the news starting in late 2019 is a new strain, and it is designated as COVID-19 to set it apart from other known coronaviruses. One feature that sets coronaviruses apart from other kinds of viruses is that they are zoonotic, meaning that they can be transmitted between people and animals. SARS-CoV was transmitted from civet cats to humans, MERS-Cov was transmitted from dromedary camels to humans, and COVID-19 may have come from animals, although its origin is not yet known for sure. There are also other coronaviruses that are currently circulating in animals that have not yet transmitted to humans that we know about, and there may be others that are still unknown.
What the Symptoms of COVID-19?
There are several distinctive symptoms of COVID-19:
- dry cough
- fever, and
- shortness of breath
that normally appear between about 2 and 14 days after exposure. Unfortunately, these symptoms may be mistaken for allergies, a cold, or the flu, because they are common symptoms of respiratory ailments. There are other, more extreme symptoms of COVID-19 that require prompt emergency attention:
- difficulty breathing
- chest pain or pressure
- sudden mental confusion or inability to rouse, and
- bluish lips or face.
The main obvious difference between the new coronavirus and the flu is that the flu normally has far more symptoms and they seem to appear all at once. Someone suffering from flu might suddenly be experiencing all these symptoms:
- sore throat
- body aches
- chills, and
- runny nose.
When in doubt, call a medical professional. Diagnosing yourself is a bad idea because you will not be able to be objective. You wouldn’t expect a car accident injury lawyer to know the same things as a doctor, or a cashier to know the same things as a mechanic. Waiting too long to ask for help can be dangerous.
How Is COVID-19 Treated?
Unfortunately, as of right now there is no vaccine to prevent new cases and no specific antiviral treatment that is known to help significantly. However, medical professionals can provide supportive care that can keep the patients’ organs functioning so they can hopefully stay alive long enough to survive the disease. The strategy involves monitoring their patients’ vital signs, such as blood pressure, temperature, and oxygen levels, and trying to keep them as normal as possible.
Oxygen is particularly critical in diseases that affect the lungs. A nasal cannula or mechanical ventilator can help with breathing, while certain medications can regulate blood pressure and other symptoms. Antibiotics will help to deal with accompanying infections. In the end, though, the patient’s immune system will have to fight off the infection. Viruses cannot be cured, but supportive care can give the patient the necessary support to beat the disease.
What Is the Best Way to Avoid Infection?
In order to understand how to avoid infection, it is important to know how scientists believe the disease is spread. With the coronavirus, experts believe that the germs are most likely spread through droplets released into the air when infected persons cough or sneeze. They believe it can also be spread by being close to someone who is infected, especially touching them by hugging or shaking hands, and that it may be spread simply by touching something an infected person has touched and then touching your own eyes, mouth, or nose.
According to the experts, the best way to avoid infection is to practice good hygiene. Most of us probably think our hygiene is already pretty good, but there are some important tips on what constitutes safe hygiene that can help to protect you from diseases. Washing your hands frequently is the most important precaution you can take, and experts recommend using soap and water and washing for at least 20 seconds. When it is not possible to wash your hands, you can wash your hands with an alcohol-based hand sanitizer, but make sure that it is made from at least 60% alcohol. Many people mistakenly believe that hand sanitizers are better, but studies showthat soap and water are actually more effective, especially if your hands are visibly dirty. Soap and water work better against several different kinds of microbes and are also more effective at removing or inactivating other dangerous chemicals like pesticides or heavy metals.
Another important recommendation is to avoid close contact with anyone who is exhibiting symptoms of illness, but considering that the coronavirus is contagious long before it is symptomatic, it is better to keep your distance from anyone during a disease outbreak. Even normal niceties like shaking hands when meeting people should be avoided because your hands are major carriers of germs. If you have to use a computer or other device after someone else, wipe it down with a sanitizing wipe. Try to be mindful of what kinds of surfaces you touch and even taking your coffee cup from someone else’s hand.
It can be difficult to learn not to touch your face, but one way to avoid germs is by not touching your own face and hair. Your hands touch everything, including doors, money, and other kinds of surfaces, and then you transfer the germs from those surfaces to your face. Many people touch their faces out of habit, and it may help to practice with a mirror close by so you can catch yourself and get out of the habit. Germs can stay in the air after sick people have left the room entirely, so you are safer by limiting where you go during a disease outbreak. People should stay home when they are sick, but many go out even knowing they are ill, and others simply do not realize yet that they are ill.
Another important factor to help prevent the spread of coronavirus is testing. The US has not tested as many citizens as other countries, so the total number of infected may be unknown. Understanding where the disease is can be the key to stopping it in its tracks.
What Is the Point Behind the Strategy of Social Distancing?
Social distancing is not a new concept. The term refers to actions taken by public health officials designed to slow down or stop the spread of a contagious disease. Most people are shocked by the strategies being used to fight COVID-19, but for a little perspective, it is important to remember that it was not so very long ago that diseases like measles, smallpox, and polio caused serious public health problems. Thanks to vaccines, society is now protected from diseases that used to terrorize and frighten everyone who experienced them firsthand.
With social distancing, restrictions are put into place on when and where and how people are allowed to gather that minimize contact between people. Health experts learned by watching patterns of disease that diseases spread widely after large gatherings such as conferences or festivals. The most effective social distancing strategies start in the early stages of a pandemic to slow the disease and give people more time to prepare and get used to the situation.
Here are some important methods of social distancing:
- colleges suspending classes and going to web-based learning for a certain time period;
- elementary schools, middle schools, and high schools closing;
- libraries modifying operations so that patrons can only come in to pick up materials reserved online or by phone;
- businesses with large numbers of employees allowing some or all of them to work from home at least temporarily; and
- large gatherings such as concerts and festivals being canceled or postponed until a later date.
During a pandemic, libraries, restaurants, and bars may be closed to keep large numbers of people from gathering in one place. Social distancing may seem extreme to people who are accustomed to doing whatever they want whenever they want to do it, and it may be difficult to enforce the rules, especially if people cannot really see how serious the situation is. When social distancing is done well and is effective at stemming the spread of disease, people may look back and wonder what the big deal was because they never saw the widespread devastation that could have been caused by diseases run amok. Social distancing is difficult for everyone, including patients struggling to find affordable day care and workers who are missing pay.
Essential services will need to stay open to at least some degree; elective surgeries may be rescheduled but emergency rooms will stay open. Grocery stores and gas stations need to keep providing the basics people to live, but an attorney might be better off practicing social distancing and working from home.
Some people believe that most of the people in the world population will eventually be exposed to the new coronavirus. The reason so many countries are creating restrictions to keep the coronavirus from spreading so fast is not necessarily because they believe that it is possible to shield everyone from the virus forever. The real point is that if we all get the coronavirus at once, the current medical systems will be completely overwhelmed and unable to care for so many people. When there are not enough resources to care for everyone, doctors must make heartbreaking decisions as to who will get the use of the resources.
Italy is an example of how normally robust resources are not enough during times of crisis. The outbreak spread rapidly until there were infected people in every region. Known for having one of the world’s most efficient healthcare systems, Italy was still unable to handle the influx of critically ill patients caused by the new disease. One out of two patients accepted into the intensive care units is dying at this stage of the outbreak, and doctors are being forced to make terrible decisions. With almost 30,000 people infected and thousands of deaths, doctors are having to choose which patients will be allowed to have access to the limited resources. In one three-week period, over 1,100 people needed access to intensive care, and there were only 800 beds in the northern region where they were located. Doctors are assessing the patient’s potential ability to eventually recover before giving that patient the much-needed care. Too late, Italy is finally quarantining the entire population.
What Should You Do If You Think You May Be Infected With the New Coronavirus?
Again, do not diagnose yourself. If you have a doctor, or if your insurance has someone you can call for medical advice, call and describe your symptoms and ask what you should do. Even if you do not currently have a doctor, it is better to call ahead because if you are very contagious the medical facility will want to take extra precautions to keep from infecting the other patients. Both the flu and the new coronavirus may have pneumonia as a complication, but coronavirus can also cause severe acute respiratory syndrome and kidney failure.
Health insurance should not be a deciding factor when it comes to getting treatment during a public health crisis. Without emergency care, critically ill patients stand little to no chance of survival. If you have insurance, speak to your health claims administrator about your treatment and make sure that you are getting the treatment you need to recover. Some patients will recover completely and some will need more time, and a home health aide can provide support during longer recovery periods.