As of March 2020, it’s likely you can’t turn on your evening news, pick up a newspaper, or scroll through social media without hearing the name or seeing the word “coronavirus.” Whether it’s a reputable news story, a meme or joke making an attempt at humor, or the rampant spread of misinformation, coronavirus is the topic that’s on everyone’s mind these days. And with good reason—as of March 5, 2020, there are more than 95,000 cases worldwide, and the number ticks upward hourly. Many of those cases and deaths are confined to China and Asia, but as the virus begins to spread in the United States, more cases are expected. Read on to learn about what we presently know about COVID-19, what coronavirus symptoms are, how the disease is spread, and what you can do to protect yourself.
What Exactly Is Coronavirus?
You’ve all heard the term coronavirus and COVID-19—but what exactly is coronavirus? Coronaviruses are actually nothing new. In fact, they are common upper-respiratory viruses that are named because of the crown-shaped spikes that are seen on the surface of the virus when viewed under a microscope. The common cold is closely related to the coronavirus family. So is bronchitis and pneumonia. Nearly everyone has already had some form of coronavirus already in their lifetime.
Some coronaviruses are more severe than others. Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) and severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) are two types that are more severe than typical coronaviruses. COVID-19, or coronavirus disease 2019, is also a much more severe and deadly version of coronavirus. This particular type of coronavirus may warrant more precaution.
What Is Coronavirus Disease 2019, or COVID-19?
COVID-19 was first coined as the novel coronavirus, or 2019-nCOV. The first cases were identified in Wuban, China. Efforts were made to contain the virus to the locale, but it was impossible to know exactly who those who had COVID-19 had been in contact with, and the disease spread. Because coronaviruses, and COVID-19 especially, are spread from person-to-person, the disease spread quickly throughout China and also spread through parts of Europe. As of March 4, 2020, there have been 80 confirmed cases and 9 total deaths in the United States.
This form of coronavirus is more aggressive than other types. While other types of coronaviruses might have symptoms that range from mild to severe, COVID-19 can result in pneumonia in both lungs in severe cases, occasionally resulting in death. What can make COVID-19 particularly frightening to people is that it is spread by person-to-person contact. However, knowing what its symptoms are and knowing what precautions to take are imperative.
How Does Coronavirus (COVID-19) Spread?
Any type of coronavirus is spread by person-to-person contact, typically via respiratory droplets. In most cases, this means you need to be relatively close to a sick person (within six feet of a person who is actively coughing or sneezing), and you also have to be actively breathing in the expelled droplets. This is the primary way that COVID-19 or any type of coronavirus is spread. To help alleviate spreading coronavirus—or any other illness, keep these precautions in mind:
- Stay home when you are sick.
- Avoid close contact with others who are sick or who have recently been sick.
- Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue (if possible), then discard your tissue. Use your elbow if a tissue is unavailable.
- Avoid touching your nose, mouth, and eyes.
- The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) does not recommend wearing a facemask if you are well.
Because of the aggressive nature of COVID-19, there are genuine concerns over whether it can be spread in other ways, such as touching the same surface that an infected person has touched, like a public bathroom door. Because these are real concerns, it is wise to take further precautions to protect yourself against the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19). It is important, however, to remember that many of these practices are good habits to keep all of the time to prevent the spread of other illnesses, from everything from the flu to the common cold. Some more techniques to prevent the spread of coronavirus and other germs include:
- Practice good handwashing techniques. This includes washing your hands with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds and using a single-use towel or air dryer to dry them. Avoid touching bathroom doors and faucets after your hands are clean. Use knuckles or elbows instead, if possible.
- Avoid touching public door handles, light switches, etc.
- If warm water and soap are not available, use hand sanitizer that has at least a 60 percent alcohol base.
- Do not shake the hands of others for the immediate future.
- Use disinfectant wipes at stores if they are available, and use hand sanitizer where it is available (doctor’s offices, schools, etc.).
When it comes to stocking up on supplies, many doctors and other authoritative sources have suggested stocking up on:
- Hand soap
- Hand sanitizer
- Disposable latex gloves
- Sanitizing wipes
- Zinc lozenges
According to pathologist Dr. James Robb, MD, FCAP, zinc lozenges can help block coronavirus from multiplying in your throat and nasopharynx. They cannot be used as a preventative measure—in other words, they won’t boost your immunity. But, if you begin to feel sick, the doctor recommends fighting the infection with zinc.
As of early March 2020, many chains and stores have been reporting sellouts and shortages of supplies, especially hand sanitizer. Since the primary ingredient in hand sanitizer is alcohol, it’s quite simple to make your own. However, for it to be effective, it must be 60 percent alcohol, so go ahead and ignore all the social media posts telling you to make it with vodka. Since you’re going to have to cut it with aloe vera in order to stabilize it, you’d have to find 180-proof vodka, which might be more scarce than hand sanitizer in the United States. So, to make effective hand sanitizer, mix in a bowl:
- ⅔ c. isopropyl alcohol (rubbing alcohol, 99 percent)
- ⅓ c. aloe vera gel
Stir it together. Pour into a pump or dispenser of your choice.
What Are the Symptoms of Coronavirus (COVID-19)?
As of March 2020, the symptoms of coronavirus COVID-19 are:
- Shortness of breath
Unfortunately, this sounds like many other respiratory illnesses out there, and it’s still the tail end of winter, so this gives room for people to panic. Do note that many respiratory illnesses aren’t comorbid with fever, but there’s also no reason to think that you have coronavirus if you haven’t been in contact with a known infected person.
The CDC only thinks you should be concerned if:
- You have recently traveled to an area that has had known coronavirus outbreaks (such as China, Italy, Iran, South Korea, or Japan)
- You have active symptoms and have been in close contact with a person who has a known case of COVID-19
If you have symptoms of respiratory illness, but do not meet the above criteria, it is perfectly acceptable and normal still to visit your local urgent care clinic or doctor, but there’s no reason to believe that you may have coronavirus with the current situation in the U.S.
Coronavirus (COVID-19) Myths and Facts
Some of the coronavirus myths circling the internet are downright silly, but the following is a noninclusive list of them, silly and all, mostly debunked:
- You can get coronavirus from eating Chinese food. MYTH. (This one is downright silly.)
- Corona Extra beer and coronavirus are somehow related. MYTH. (Again, downright silly, and keep in mind—coronaviruses have existed for quite some time).
- Coronavirus (COVID-19) has killed fewer people than the flu. YES AND NO. Not only is this comparing two distinctly different diseases, but there is also a vaccine for the flu, even for its different strains, yearly. Plus, coronavirus is still new. Even as such, it still looks as if coronavirus may be more deadly by average (when you compare the actual odds), especially when you look at high-risk age groups, such as the elderly.
- The flu vaccine can help protect against coronavirus. MYTH. The flu vaccine can only protect against the flu, and you need a new flu vaccination every year to protect against new strains of influenza.
- I should avoid getting the flu vaccine because it will weaken my immune system, putting me at greater risk for COVID-19. MYTH. The flu vaccine will not weaken your immune system, and will (in most cases) protect you against influenza.
- I should be worried about ordering packages from China. MYTH. The CDC says no. However, some doctors have said that the virus can live up to a week on contaminated surfaces. Even if this is true, this should render any package from China safe, as most shipments to the U.S. take over a week to arrive. If you are still unsure, sanitize the package prior to opening it.
If you’re not feeling well and need to be seen by a physician today, stop in at one of our locations. Our team is here to help you Feel Better Faster.