By Dr. Patrick Jean-Pierre MD
Updated March 13, 2020.
The Coronavirus fits two criteria for a pandemic. As of March 13, 2020, there have been 132,567 cases worldwide, and 4,947 deaths affecting 123 countries worldwide. This is up 44% from the March 4, 2020 count of 92,000 cases worldwide, and up 55% over the 3,200 deaths in 70 countries worldwide. Reported cases in the US are up to 1,264 with 36 deaths, versus the 103 reported cases reported on March 4 (mostly of patient’s infected internationally) and nine deaths. How concerned should you be, and how can you minimize your risks for infection? First, don’t panic. The reality is that the mortality rate from the Coronavirus is 3.4% as of March 5th. This is higher than the rate of death from the flu, but in absolute numbers, mortality is currently way lower. To put this into perspective, there are 291,000 to 646,000 influenza deaths worldwide, of which 12,000 to 61,000 deaths occur in the US per year. In other words, 50–100 times as many people have died from the flu. In addition, COVID-19 deaths are mostly among much older people with existing conditions. But, keep reading to learn more about the growing concern centered on the Coronavirus and how you can stay healthy.
The Coronavirus is a large family of viruses that cause illness ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as SARS (Severe acute respiratory syndrome a virus prevalent in 2003) to the new coronavirus strain in the news named “SARS-CoV-2” also referred to as “coronavirus disease 2019” (abbreviated “COVID-19”). The new COVID -19 is getting a lot of publicity as a new strain that was first diagnosed in the Wuhan province of China December 2019.
The original transmission of the COV-19 was thought of as an exposure of a person who acquired the disease through contact with a seafood and live animal market, suggesting an animal source of the outbreak. The current transmission of the COVID- 19 Coronavirus appears to be person-to-person through respiratory transmission.
The virus is thought to spread between people who are in close contact with one another (within about 6 feet). The virus spreads through respiratory droplets produced when one person coughs or sneezes and spreads the disease to others. It is possible to get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching your own mouth, nose, or possibly your eyes, although this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads.
Since this virus is very new, health authorities continue to carefully watch how this virus spreads. How easily the virus is transmitted between persons is currently unclear.
Until now, there was no reported new onset of COVID-19 in the US that was not from international travel (people who traveled and got exposed outside the US then returned to the US with the disease). There are now reported cases across the country, including in Washington State, and New York City. There have since been nine known deaths related to COVID-19 in the US, with eight of those nine occurring in Washington State.
There is currently no vaccine to prevent coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). The best way to prevent illness is to avoid being exposed to this virus. There are many things that can be done everyday to help prevent the spread of respiratory diseases:
FACEMASKS: There is NO recommendation from the CDC for healthy people to wear a facemask to protect themselves from respiratory diseases, including COVID-19.
The most common symptoms of COVID-19 are fever, cough and shortness of breath 2-14 days after exposure. Some patients can get body aches and pains, nasal congestion, runny nose, sore throat or diarrhea. These symptoms are usually mild and begin gradually. Some people become infected but don’t develop any symptoms and don’t feel unwell.
Most people (about 80%) recover from the disease without needing special treatment. Around 1 out of every 6 people who gets COVID-19 becomes seriously ill and develops difficulty breathing. Older people, and those with underlying medical problems like high blood pressure, heart problems or diabetes, are more likely to develop serious illness. About 2% of people with the disease have died. People with fever, cough and difficulty breathing should seek medical attention. (WHO)
If you develop fever, symptoms or respiratory illness that you believe is a true exposure, then call ahead to and contact a health professional. That health care professional can work with the state’s public health department and CDC to determine if you need to be tested for COVID – 19.
To date there is no specific medication recommended to prevent or treat COVID -19. Anyone infected with the virus should immediately contact a health care professional for evaluation and discuss possible symptomatic treatment. Those with severe illness should receive optimized supportive care.
This disease is still new and we are learning more about it every day. But, the present data suggest it’s best to take the same precautions that one might take to avoid the flu. The people most harmed by this disease already have underlying health problems. Consider this your fitness motivation for the day. It is a reminder to take steps to improve your overall health through diet and exercise to reduce your risks now and in the future.