Coronavirus—What are the facts?

Coronavirus—What are the facts?

Teresa Esterle, MD

Everywhere you look right now you find scary news about coronavirus, and it is no surprise that many people feel nervous about it. But while there may be cause for concern and caution, there is no need to panic. Let’s debunk a few myths and put coronavirus in perspective.

Myth: This is a brand-new virus. Coronavirus has been around for decades, but what we are seeing now is a new STRAIN of the virus. This means that no one has had a chance to develop immunity. This is similar to what happened in 2009 when a novel strain of H1N1 circulated. The coronavirus is spread from person to person in a fashion similar to flu, and it causes an illness similar to that of flu. Some patients have mild illness, but most develop some fever and cough like that seen with influenza. A small percentage have more serious complications such as pneumonia and sepsis.

Myth: This virus is a lot more dangerous than others. So far this does not appear to be the case, although it is a concern because of the lack of immunity to the virus. The death rate from coronavirus is currently estimated at 1-2% of patients that are affected, compared to 0.5-1% of patients who develop the flu. Keep in mind that the death rate from flu is relatively low because it is not a novel strain—many of us have some immunity, either from a flu shot or from a prior illness. Despite this, the CDC reports that influenza has killed over 18,000 people in the United States so far this year. And the number of new cases do not appear to be decreasing yet.

Myth: Everyone is at risk of severe illness from coronavirus. Not necessarily. So far, this coronavirus strain seems to seriously affect mostly older people and those with poor immune systems, similar to the flu. But unlike the flu, which is very dangerous for infants, coronavirus seems to be an especially mild illness in young children, so far causing very few deaths in this population. In contrast, this year’s influenza strain has been especially severe for young children, and the CDC is reporting more infant deaths than in previous years. So far 125 children have died in the United States from the flu. Children’s Hospital is reporting that 300-400 Cincinnati children per week are currently testing positive for flu, and this does not account for the children testing positive at their pediatrician’s offices.

Myth: Everyone needs to wear a mask in public. No!! The only masks that actually protect people are specific respirator-style masks that are now hard to buy. Typical masks (like the ones shown on all the people you see on TV) only keep you from spreading the virus to others.

The surgeon general recently tweeted: “Seriously people- STOP BUYING MASKS! They are NOT effective in preventing general public from catching #Coronavirus, but if healthcare providers can’t get them to care for sick patients, it puts them and our communities at risk!”

Myth: I should go to the doctor (or AIM) if I think I have coronavirus. The CDC and health departments are the only agencies that can test people for this virus, and sitting in the waiting room of your doctor’s office will only potentially spread illness. Call the Health Department if you think you have been exposed and want to be tested.

Myth: There is nothing I can do to keep from getting the virus. The best way to protect yourself and your family is to use common-sense strategies. Keep healthy by eating a clean whole-food diet with lots of fruits and veggies and minimal processed foods and sugars. Get plenty of sleep, and go outside and get some exercise. Wash your hands and avoid touching your face. Washing your hands frequently and thoroughly may be one of the most important ways to prevent getting all illnesses, including influenza, which right now you are much more likely to get than coronavirus. Talk with your doctor about supplements that might help boost your immune system. Consider getting a flu shot—–No, it’s not too late. Most of all, don’t panic.

Remember—Keep calm, and wash your hands.


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