7 things to know about the pandemic

Published 2:47 pm Friday, May 8, 2020

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Question: Hi Dr. Kim,
I’m writing today to ask for your view as a health professional on the coronavirus pandemic. The media seems to be full of conflicting views on the seriousness of it. What are the basic facts we should know? Thanks in advance. —Mike from Elizabethton
Answer: Hi Mike,
You’re right that the media reporting on this pandemic has been conflicting and confusing. The main problem I see in it is that they report on what they think people should do, and how they think we should behave, instead of simply giving us the facts. In answer to your question I will present 7 things that we know for sure about the coronavirus. When informed with solid facts, people can protect themselves and each other. Just like any other topic, if you want answers, it requires digging for solid evidence under the surface of conflicting opinions. That is what I have done here, and I hope you will gain something from it.
  1. Origin: The coronavirus (COVID-19) began in Wuhan, China in December 2019 as a group of serious pneumonia cases. These cases were severe and seemed to be contagious, which set physicians to questioning whether this was no ordinary pneumonia, but a “novel virus.” There are many viruses in the coronavirus family, of which only a few affect humans via the respiratory system. The exact origin of this particular virus is unclear.
  2. Symptoms: Fever, dry cough, fatigue, nasal congestion, runny nose, and possible gastrointestinal symptoms including abdominal discomfort, pain, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Severe cases can develop: dyspnea (breathing difficulty), respiratory distress (acute inability to breathe), sepsis, or acidosis. A CT scan of the chest may show plaques and changes in the periphery of the lungs. The most severe cases are fatal due to breathing difficulties, sepsis, and complications of the resulting pneumonia or previously existing medical conditions. Some severe cases have shown organ failure.
  3. Differentiation: It is easy to confuse the symptoms of this virus with the flu. Testing is the most reliable form of differentiation. The symptoms are similar, but it is possible to see some differences. Coronavirus’ most common symptoms are: Fever, cough (usually a dry cough), difficulty breathing, shortness of breath, and a time window of symptoms appearing 2-14 days after exposure. The flu symptoms also are fever and cough, but the flu usually has symptoms appearing abruptly (coming on all of a sudden), plus body aches, possible headache, sore throat, chills and sweating.
  4. Susceptibility: The elderly, children, and people with underlying medical conditions are especially susceptible to this virus, but it is important to remember that anyone could catch it and that people can have it without displaying symptoms. People who are prone to respiratory illnesses or have problems with the lungs are highly susceptible. People with autoimmune conditions are also highly susceptible.
  5. Symptoms Timing: The “incubation period” of the coronavirus describes how long it takes from the day of exposure to the day symptoms develop. This incubation period is 2-14 days. In most cases, symptoms manifested within 3-7 days.
  6. Infection Timing: People infected with the coronavirus are contagious immediately (1-3 days before symptoms develop). According to the first round of research, they are contagious until 10 days from the date the first symptoms appeared. In China, infected people must complete a 14 day quarantine (isolated) period in which they are free of symptoms before they are cleared. There is ongoing concern and research about this, because a more recent study said people can test positive for the virus 20 days after their first symptoms. This long period is one of the many reasons why coronavirus is so contagious. It is one of the reasons why we were encouraged to stay home.
  7. Transmission route: Preventing the spread of the virus is top priority. We do that by blocking the transmission route. The transmission route is the way it spreads. The main transmission route of coronavirus is through the air from person to person. After that, it spreads from surfaces and touching one’s eyes, nose, or mouth. Poorly ventilated areas have a risk that the virus will remain in the air for longer periods. It is possible to avoid people but still be infected from residual viral particles on the air or on surfaces of objects (fomites).
So these are the 7 facts that describe the nature of the coronavirus. One of the first preventative measures is to wear a mask or cover one’s mouth and nose in populated places. N95 masks or the labels within numbers N95-N100 seem to be the best, and the UT Southwestern Medical study found that is a simple surgical mask (the basic medical mask) is far better than nothing. Besides that, avoid crowded areas. Stay home as much as possible to reduce the spreading of this virus. Disinfect surfaces and avoid touching your face. If you believe that you have been exposed or seem to have symptoms of the virus, follow these three steps: 1. Stay home. 2. Call your local coronavirus health hotline. 3. Follow their instructions to receive testing and treatment. The questions they ask in the hotline will “field” whether you may be infected with coronavirus or have something else. Your hotline may be a different number depending on where you live, so write down the number of your local hotline when you find it. For Elizabethton and surrounding numbers, the Ballad Health Nurse Connect Line number is 833-822-5523.
Dr. Kimberly McMurtrey DNP, APRN, FNP-C is the Primary Provider at Tri Cities Health, located on West Elk Ave., Elizabethton. If you would like to submit a question for her to answer you can call 423-543-7000 or email your questions to tricitieshealth@outlook.com.
**Medical Disclaimer: The information contained in this column is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

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