Coronavirus 101: Your Questions Answered

Posted on March 12, 2020 by Henry Ford Health Staff

Coronavirus — or COVID-19, as the World Health Organization (WHO) has named it — is the virus everyone’s talking about and preparing for. Other types of coronaviruses (like the common cold) have been around for a while, but COVID-19 is a new coronavirus that hasn’t affected humans until now. Because of its novelty and how quickly it’s spreading, a vaccine isn’t currently available, and scientists are quickly trying to understand how the virus behaves.

Meanwhile, countless articles are being written about it as concern among the public grows. But with an influx of information also comes an influx of rumors, myths and panic.

To separate fact from fiction, we asked infectious disease specialist Odaliz Abreu Lanfranco, M.D., our most pressing questions. Here, he talks about how to keep yourself safe from the virus, when to see a doctor, whether it’s safe to travel, and much more. 

How does COVID-19 spread?

It spreads from person to person through droplets that live on surfaces for five to six hours.

How can I help prevent spreading the virus?

Wipe down surfaces regularly, don’t touch your face, and wash your hands. Cough and sneeze into a tissue or your sleeve — not your hands — and always throw away the tissue. Avoid close contact with other people who are sick, and stay home if you’re sick.

What is the proper handwashing technique?

Wash with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, paying particular attention to the backs of your hands, in between your fingers, under your nails, and around jewelry. Rinse thoroughly under water, and try not to re-touch faucet handles. (Use paper towel to turn them off.) Also, use paper towel or tissue to open the bathroom door.

What are the symptoms of COVID-19?

Fever is the most common symptom; you might also have a cough and respiratory distress. A fever — not just a runny nose — would warrant thoughts of coronavirus.

If I get COVID-19, am I going to die?

Based on what we know today, about 80% (or eight out of 10) of people with coronavirus will experience a cold or run-of-the-mill, flu-like symptoms. Two out of ten will experience heightened symptoms requiring a hospital visit. The full picture of the severity of coronavirus is not yet known and WHO officials continue to study it. 

Should I go to the emergency room if I think I have a touch of the flu?

No! Unless symptoms include trouble breathing, chest pain, bluish coloration of the lips or face, confusion, or the inability to arouse, please do not go to the hospital. With both the coronavirus and flu, those with mild to moderate symptoms can isolate themselves at home and recuperate there.

If it is not an emergency and you are concerned, call or send a message to your doctor’s office for advice. You can also make an appointment for a virtual visit with your doctor, if possible. They will be able to determine the best course of action based upon your symptoms. 

Are there any specific medications to prevent or treat the coronavirus?

There is no specific antiviral treatment recommended for COVID-19, and no vaccine at the moment. People infected with COVID-19 should get plenty of rest and drink lots of fluids to help relieve symptoms. 

Am I more likely to catch the virus if I have a compromised immune system or am receiving cancer treatment?

Yes, you could be more susceptible. The main concern is that a person with a compromised immune system — like those undergoing chemotherapy or taking transplant anti-rejection medication — will have a diminished ability to fight the virus. The best protection is precaution. In any scenario, immune-compromised patients are advised to wash their hands regularly. They should also wear masks when visiting their provider or walking around crowded public areas, and avoid those places as much as possible. If you or a loved one are in this situation, be sure to get in touch with your doctor's office for any specific instructions or questions you may have. 

Are children more or less likely to get the virus?

Kids seem to have the lowest risk of getting and showing signs of infection, but we don’t know about newborns. 

Will wearing a mask prevent me from contracting the virus?

The virus most commonly spreads through hands. Those who do not have pre-existing conditions, or who are otherwise healthy, should avoid using masks so that they’re available for those who truly need them, like medical professionals. If you have symptoms, wear a mask to help prevent transmission. You can also wear a mask if you’re caring for someone who is sick.

Can I get sick if I haven’t come into contact with anyone infected with coronavirus?

Yes. The virus can travel from an area of infection, like Italy or China, from person to person without causing symptoms in some people. One of those people could still infect someone, and that person could show symptoms. This is called community spread, and is one of the reasons government officials are recommending limiting activities with large gatherings of people and have taken measures like school closures.

Which countries should I avoid visiting?

Since the situation is evolving around the world, it's best to check with the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), which has an interactive map that gives instructions for travel anywhere in the world and is updated regularly.

Is airplane travel safe?

Honestly, the air on planes is filtered over and over, so it is relatively safe. Again, COVID-19 is spread through droplets that fall on surfaces. If you travel on airplanes, wipe down your seat and the areas within six feet of you with sanitary wipes. This includes armrests, seatbacks, buttons, seat belts and straps. Avoid touching high-contact things like elevator buttons and door handles. If you do, immediately wash your hands afterward, or use hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol.

Airline employees are also instructed by the CDC to screen those who are sick and keep them away from other passengers. Because this virus is so unpredictable, be aware that your travel could be affected by an outbreak. This could include being quarantined, which could extend your time away for weeks. Keep this in mind as you make decisions on whether to travel.

Should I stop ordering things online?

A package being shipped overseas won’t harbor germs because of the time it takes to arrive at your doorstep. A delivery person sneezing on your package, however, could transmit the virus. The best defense is to wash your hands.

Should people who visit busy places like superstores, hospitals, hotels and churches be worried?

The CDC recommends that older people and those with pre-existing conditions avoid gathering places like these so they don’t come into contact with those who may be ill. Many events and gatherings are also being cancelled as a precaution to avoid the risk of community spread. 

Otherwise, be aware. If someone is ill, try to stay six feet away from them and wash your hands if you have contact with them. And be logical. For instance, at church, do not share cups, shake hands or hug strangers. But feel free to wave or show the peace sign.

At work, your employer should follow guidelines to keep you safe in the event of an outbreak. This is particularly important at hospitals, where employees could be caring for patients with COVID-19.

Can pets get coronavirus?

This virus jumped from animals to humans, so it’s possible that pets could get it. We take some of what we know about this virus from influenza, so as a precautionary measure, it's not a bad idea to stay away from your pets if you get sick if possible. 

Is there anything I can do right now to prepare for a potential outbreak in my area?

Plan ahead — it’s the same as when a big storm is predicted. Refill your prescriptions now. Make sure you have non-perishable foods. If your kids aren’t going to be able to go to school, think about what they’ll do. But most of all, stay calm and stay informed through reliable sources, like the CDC or Michigan Department of Health & Human Services.

For up-to-date information about Henry Ford Health’s response to the coronavirus, visit henryford.com.

To learn more about Henry Ford’s virtual care services, including virtual visits, MyChart messaging and other options for care, visit henryford.com/virtualcare.

Dr. Odaliz Abreu Lanfranco specializes in infectious diseases and sees patients at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit.

Categories : FeelWell

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