It's easy to get swept up in the fearmongering that has been steadily increasing over the last few weeks with regards to the coronavirus (COVID-19). While it seems we can't go a minute without some new update on this anxiety-inducing outbreak, we have to keep a cool head, filter any incoming information and, most importantly, rely on the facts. So let's break it down.
How does the coronavirus (COVID-19) spread person-to-person?
The virus can spread from one person to another, most likely through droplets of saliva or mucus from a sneeze or cough that can be carried in the air for up to six feet or through viral particles transferred when shaking hands or sharing a drink with someone who has the virus. There have been cases where people did not feel sick but did spread the virus unknowingly.
How is the Influenza virus spread from person-to-person?
Influenza is one of the most common and highly contagious of infectious airborne diseases. It is a disease that happens in seasonal epidemics and presents with fever with symptoms, ranging from mild fatigue to respiratory failure, pneumonia, and death.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) documented that seasonal influenza was responsible for 34,400-57,300 deaths during the 2018-2019 season. Death rates are highest in infants and the elderly.
What is the incubation period for the coronavirus?
An incubation period is the time between catching the virus and showing symptoms of the illness. Current estimates suggest that symptoms of COVID-19 usually appear within five days or less in most cases, but the range could be between one and 14 days.
What is the incubation period for influenza?
The incubation period of influenza is two days long on average but may range from 1 to 4 days in length. Transmission may occur one day before the onset of symptoms, making it possible for transmission to occur via asymptomatic persons who may be unaware that they have been exposed to the disease.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) documented that seasonal influenza was responsible for 34,400-57,300 deaths during the 2018-2019 season. Death rates are highest in infants the elderly.
What are the symptoms of the new coronavirus?
Fever, dry cough, trouble breathing, and sometimes pneumonia are the common symptoms of COVID-19. Others have reported gastrointestinal symptoms (nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea) before respiratory symptoms show up. Severe symptoms are rapid heart rate, low blood pressure, high or very low temperatures, confusion, trouble breathing, or severe dehydration.
Those who have the virus may have no obvious symptoms (be asymptomatic) or symptoms ranging from mild to severe. In some cases, the virus is life-threatening or fatal. Most people recover; 85% have mild disease, 10-12% have severe (pneumonia) disease, 2-3% die of the infection. SARS had a mortality rate of around 10%, and the MERS mortality rate is closer to 30% to 40%. SARS and MERS appear to be less common than COVID-19.
People with mild symptoms may recover within a few days. People who have pneumonia may take longer to recover (days to weeks). In cases of severe, life-threatening illness, it may take months for a person to recover, or the person may die.
What are the signs and symptoms of Influenza?
The presentation of influenza virus infection varies, but it usually includes many of the following signs and symptoms:
- Sore throat
- Muscle aches
- Headache: frontal or behind the eyes
- Nasal discharge
- Weakness and severe fatigue
- Cough and other respiratory symptoms
- Fast heart rate
- Reddened and watery eyes
Can people who are asymptomatic spread coronavirus?
A person who has no symptoms may be shedding the virus and be contagious enough to make others ill. How often this is happening is unclear.
What about the influenza virus?
Yes, asymptomatic shedding of the virus can transmit the virus, and the short incubation period could make it more contagious for that reason.
Can the coronavirus live on fabric, carpet, and other soft surfaces? What about hard surfaces?
Currently, there’s no evidence that COVID-19 can be transmitted from soft surfaces like fabric or carpet to humans. It’s possible that the virus could be on frequently-touched surfaces, such as a doorknob, but it is unlikely to live beyond a few hours. That’s why preventative steps and good hygiene like frequently washing hands with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer, and wiping down surfaces with disinfectants or a household cleaning spray, are good ideas. Do not touch hands to eyes, nose, or mouth.
Should I wear a face mask to protect against coronavirus?
Currently, face masks are not recommended for the general public in the US, and the types of masks available can still allow passage of this small virus. It would be more important that those infected wear masks so that fewer fluid droplets from sneezes become airborne. This would be the case for those with influenza, too.
Can I catch the coronavirus by eating food prepared by others?
It’s not clear if this virus can be transmitted by food unless it is handled by someone who has the virus or that was poorly cooked. Influenza is not transmitted by food. When people say they have the ‘stomach flu’, they are talking about a different virus that affects the GI tract.
Is there a vaccine available for coronavirus?
No vaccine is available, but vaccines are available for influenza and should be obtained each season since the influenza virus mutates often.
Is there a treatment available for coronavirus?
Currently, there is no specific antiviral treatment for COVID-19, but there is an antiviral medication to lessen the severity and duration of the influenza virus. Supportive treatment such as giving fluids, medicine to reduce fever, and, in severe cases, supplemental oxygen, is available. People who become critically ill from COVID-19 may need a respirator to help them breathe. Bacterial infection can lead to pneumonia, which would require antibiotics. Antiviral treatments are currently being investigated.
How is this new coronavirus confirmed?
A specialized test is done to confirm that a person has COVID-19 and is performed by the CDC until states receive supplies for local testing.
What should people do if they think they or their child have coronavirus?
If you have a health care provider or pediatrician, call them first for advice or contact your local board of health. They will know the best place to go for an assessment. Only people with symptoms of severe respiratory illness should seek medical care in the ER but call in advance to tell the ER that you are coming so they can be prepared when you arrive.
Knowledge is power and now that you know what to be on the lookout for, your anxiety levels should subside. Remember, prevention is the best medicine so here are the main takeaways on how to avoid being exposed to and transmitting both influenza and the coronavirus:
Common sense can go a long way in keeping ourselves and our loved ones safe from the spread of any infectious disease. A few simple steps is all it takes for peace of mind and body.
Kimberly Langdon M.D. is a retired, board-certified obstetrician/gynecologist with 19-years of clinical experience. She graduated from The Ohio State University College of Medicine, earning Honors in many rotations. She then completed her OB/GYN residency program at The Ohio State University Medical Center, earning first-place for her senior research project and placed in the 98th percentile on the national exam for OB/GYN residents in the U.S.