Posted By Mercury Healthcare (formerly Healthgrades) on 03/20/2020

10 Things to Know About Coronavirus

10 Things to Know About Coronavirus

The first diagnosis of the respiratory disease caused by the novel (new) coronavirus was in Wuhan in Hubei Province, China, in December of 2019. The virus quickly spread throughout China and to the rest of the world. As the number of U.S. cases increase—50 at the beginning of March to more than 7,300 cases today—large public events are canceled, companies are instituting remote working arrangements, and schools are closed. 

On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization declared coronavirus a pandemic. The statistics for the novel coronavirus are updating frequently. For the most current data and prevention guidance, contact your state's health department, visit the CDC website, or refer to this list of CDC and other resources.

Here’s what you need to know about the novel coronavirus:

1. The novel coronavirus is named SARS-CoV-2 and the disease is COVID-19.

The name of the virus that causes the respiratory illness is SARS-CoV-2, for Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome-Coronavirus-2, because the virus is very similar to the SARS coronavirus first discovered in 2003. The SARS-CoV-2 disease is named COVID-19, for Coronavirus Disease 2019.

2. The 2019 coronavirus spreads easily from person to person.

On January 30, 2020, the CDC confirmed the first person-to-person transmission of the new coronavirus. SARS-CoV-2 spreads through tiny respiratory droplets from the nose or mouth when an infected person coughs or sneezes. The droplets can make contact within 6 feet. You can contract the coronavirus if these droplets land in your nose or mouth, you inhale them, or you touch a contaminated surface or object and then touch your nose or mouth before washing your hands. 

People are contagious with or without symptoms. Studies show the virus multiplies fast in the nose and throat even in the beginning of an infection when the person does not yet feel ill. 

3. The first cases in the United States were in people who traveled from China.

Some of the first known cases of COVID-19 in the United States were in people returning from travel abroad, from China, cruise ships, and subsequently from other countries with COVID-19 spread. These are so-called “imported” cases. On February 25, 2020, the CDC diagnosed the new coronavirus disease in a person who lives in California but who had no known travel history or close contact with an infected person. Since then, there has been a rapid and alarming rise in the number of diagnosed cases around the country. Doctors consider these "community" cases because they did not arise from a known source.  

4. It's likely COVID-19 will become widespread in the United States.

The CDC says the risk to the general public of contracting the virus is still considered low in areas without community spread. However, SARS-CoV-2 is a highly contagious virus and disease-tracking experts warn of many more outbreaks and a steep rise in the number of cases, which is already happening. On March 13, 2020, President Trump declared a state of national emergency. The federal government is giving wide latitude to state governments and loosening many regulations in the healthcare field to help slow the spread of the virus. Visit your state's public health department website, or call your local public health department for information on efforts in your community.

Testing to diagnose COVID-19 continues to be a hot-button issue. More people want to be tested than there are tests available. One reason for this gap is that the main type of COVID-19 test relies on detecting the virus's genetic material in a patient's sample, and only certain laboratories had the equipment necessary to perform the test. But this is changing. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the CDC, private sector biomedical companies, and universities are working furiously to get more test kits in the hands of more laboratories. Testing more people with symptoms and 'spot testing' in communities without confirmed cases will help healthcare officials know the full extent of COVID-19 and where to concentrate their mitigation efforts.

5. Social distancing may help slow the spread of infection.

Since January and early February, the CDC has been warning the country to prepare for a pandemic, but to not panic. Now that we are in a pandemic, people are very unsettled. Keep in mind the term “pandemic” speaks to the geographical reach of the virus, and not the severity of the disease. The reason why the CDC shared that information early on was so people (healthcare professionals and the general public) could prepare ahead of time, and not panic. Do your part to slow the spread of COVID-19 by 'social distancing,' which is avoiding large public gatherings and keeping a distance of 6 feet from other people, even if they aren't showing any COVID-19 symptoms. More and more states are instituting 'shelter at home' policies, essentially a lockdown to help slow the spread of the novel coronavirus. Slowing the spread of coronavirus will give healthcare providers and hospitals more time to treat people who are sick. If we, as a country, do not slow the spread of coronavirus, hospitals and providers will be overwhelmed and unable to care for everyone who is sick. 

As the United States continues to close down, everyone should have a contingency plan. Be prepared with enough food, water, medicine and other supplies for at least 14 days. Ask your doctor to prescribe a 90-day supply of all medicines you take, if possible.

6. COVID-19 symptoms range from mild to severe, and it can be fatal.

The common cold is also spread by a coronavirus (as well as other types of viruses). For some patients, coronavirus symptoms mimic those of a cold or flu, while others experience the same symptoms that accompany a severe respiratory infection. COVID-19 symptoms include fever, cough, body aches, sore throat, fatigue, phlegm/sputum production, and shortness of breath. In some cases, the virus attacks the lungs and symptoms are severe enough the patient requires hospital care with supplemental oxygen and fluids. Approximately 2 to 4% of patients die from COVID-19. The first U.S. death due to COVID-19 was reported in February 2020; 216 deaths have since been reported. The risk of dying from COVID-19 is greater in people who have underlying chronic health conditions, such as heart, lung or liver disease. Infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci suggests the COVID-19 mortality rate may be less than 1% when one considers the potential number of undiagnosed cases.

COVID-19 symptoms can appear within 2 to 14 days after exposure.

7. Treatment options are limited to addressing the symptoms.

As research into the virus and COVID-19 continues, there is no specific antiviral treatment available or recommended to fight the virus at this time. Instead, patients should receive appropriate treatment for serious respiratory symptoms. If a person with COVID-19 does not require medical care, they should stay home as well as restrict any activity outside the home and avoid crowded areas in order to prevent transmission. Scientists around the world are researching potential COVID-19 treatments and some are in clinical trials.

8. There is no vaccine for 2019-nCoV (SARS-CoV-2) infection.

Because there currently is no vaccine to protect against the novel coronavirus, the best prevention against the virus is to avoid exposure. To help prevent and slow the spread of this and other viruses, wash your hands often using soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Alcohol-based hand sanitizer can be used when soap and water are not available. If you are sick, stay home. Do not touch your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands. Avoid close contact with anyone else who is sick, and keep washing your hands.

While stores are selling out of protective face masks (common surgical masks), the CDC does not recommend them for coronavirus prevention. (In a healthcare setting, an NIOSH-certified disposable N95 filtering facepiece respirator is necessary for anyone caring for a patient who has COVD-19 or has been exposed to it.) Officials emphasize handwashing as more effective protection from this and any other virus. Scientists are currently testing potential vaccines against the novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2).

9. The source of the 2019 novel coronavirus is linked to animals.

Because many patients in the Wuhan, China, outbreak were linked to a large seafood and animal market, it was thought the virus spread directly from animals to humans. However, person-to-person spread of the novel coronavirus is now confirmed. This is similar to the spread of two other coronaviruses that originated from animals: SARS-CoV (civet cats) and MERS-CoV (camels). There are many different coronaviruses. They mainly infect animals, but some of the viruses can spread from animals to humans. This is the case with SARS-CoV, MERS-CoV, and the new coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2): All three viruses came from bats originally.

10. Speak to your doctor if you recently traveled to an affected area.

If you returned from any country or area with sustained transmission of COVID-19, follow CDC guidelines, which will likely include self- or mandatory quarantine. With a self-quarantine, or isolation you have to stay home from school or work and avoid in-person social contact for 14 days, while monitoring yourself for signs and symptoms of COVID-19. If you develop symptoms, call your healthcare provider, and he or she will coordinate with your local public health department to see if you should be tested. Currently, the CDC advises to avoid all nonessential travel to China, South Korea, Iran, and Europe. Foreign nationals are restricted from entering the United States from China, Iran and Europe. The CDC also recommends older adults and people with chronic or ongoing medical conditions reconsider travel to any destination with outbreaks of COVID-19. Keep in mind there is an increased risk of infectious disease spread on cruise ships. Coronavirus high-risk groups should postpone all cruise ship travel. 

If you have signs of coronavirus and you have been in close contact with someone who has diagnosed with COVID-19 or you live in or have traveled to an area with community spread of the illness, call your primary care doctor or your local or state public health department. Personnel will give you instructions on what to do, which may include taking extra precautions if you’re a candidate for in-person coronavirus testing. The CDC has provided instructions to state health offices on how to handle potential coronavirus patients and perform testing, although it is largely up to state and local health professionals to determine who should be tested. Do not go to your doctor's office for coronavirus testing because doctors' offices do not have the coronavirus test kits. 

If you do not have COVID-19 symptoms, but you have either been in close contact with someone who has COVID-19 or you or a close contact has been in an area with documented community transmission, call your public health department. You may be a candidate for testing if you are in a high-risk group or you are a healthcare professional. COVID-19 testing criteria will become less stringent as more tests are available.  

If you do not meet the testing criteria but you have mild cold symptoms, such as a cough or sore throat, stay home. Avoid calling your healthcare provider, urgent care, or emergency department unless you have serious symptoms, such as trouble breathing. If you have a cough and fever, call your doctor in case it is the flu. As always, if you require emergency medical attention, call 911. Tell the dispatcher of any possible exposure to coronavirus and all symptoms you are experiencing. If your health insurance plan offers telemedicine, consider using it.

For the most recent information about COVID-19, check the CDC website for updates, including the number of confirmed cases and advice for travelers. Call your state's public health department for local information. Some states have set up phone hotlines.

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