Just like aerosols people are so worried about these days, there is a lot of information floating around concerning the coronavirus. Much of it is proven and accurate. Yet, a lot of information is not proven and remains either unknown or is simply wishful thinking. The aim of this column is to sift through the noise and pull out proven, currently known facts surrounding the coronavirus pandemic from high level scientific and medical sources and to present them in a concise, orderly fashion for the benefit of all who read.
First of all, what is the name of this virus? It would seem that every few weeks it has picked up a new name. Initially, it was simply referred to as a new kind of coronavirus. Thus, people called it a “novel coronavirus.” Coronaviruses, however, are nothing new. They seem to have been around for as long as could possibly be known, and it would be unsurprising if the reader has had a coronavirus coursing through his or her body at one point or another. They are typically found in animals such as pigs, bats, camels and cats but spillover to people as well. When people catch a coronavirus they would typically only have mild to moderate symptoms resembling a common cold. This particular coronavirus is different. It can lead to very severe and acute respiratory problems (newly developed difficulties in breathing). Thus, like another coronavirus you may remember making the news, this one has also been named SARS. The full name of the virus behind this pandemic is SARS-CoV-2, meaning “Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome associated Coronavirus 2.” Once the virus has entered a person, the infection is called COVID-19, meaning “coronavirus disease 2019.”
Secondly, what are the symptoms associated with the COVID-19 infection? By now, it is likely that most people have heard the three most commonly discussed symptoms: fever, cough, and difficulty breathing. These symptoms are important to recognize, but they do not tell the whole story. This is a viral infection, so the symptoms it presents are unsurprisingly common to many viral infections. Initial symptoms can include fever (this is the initial symptom in about 50% of cases), cough (experienced by two-thirds of those infected), fatigue, shortness of breath, malaise, muscle pain, headache (uncommon), gastrointestinal symptoms such as diarrhea (uncommon) and a lack of appetite. Other less-than-severe symptoms include loss of taste and smell as well as mild conjunctivitis (pink eye). If the disease becomes severe, it can lead to acute respiratory distress (difficulty breathing), pneumonia, cardiac injury, secondary infections, kidney failure, heart arrhythmia, sepsis, shock and even death. Most deaths associated with this virus are caused by respiratory failure with or without myocardial (heart) damage. While none of this sounds great, the encouraging news is that 81% of individuals who are infected experience only mild symptoms and do not require hospitalization.
Lastly, there has been much discussion surrounding people without symptoms being able to spread the disease. How much of that claim is true? Sadly, this is fact. While the average person infected doesn’t experience any symptoms until Day 5, it is possible for an infected individual to go up to 2 weeks before experiencing any symptoms. Individuals have tested positive for the disease without showing any symptoms. These asymptomatic individuals are able to have just as much infectious virus particles in their nose and throat as symptomatic individuals. All that to say: Keep your distance! Saliva and mucous that is sprayed into the air when an individual coughs or sneezes may very well have the ability to spread disease to others. Properly used masks would keep a sick individual from spreading the sickness and a well individual from acquiring it. When an unknowing, COVID-19-infected person wipes his or her mouth, it is possible that infectious virus particles are now on that person’s hand and will get left on every item and surface the individual touches. So, the best advice for everyone? Simply avoid touching your face, and wash your hands more frequently throughout the day.
These questions are a sampling of the many that need to be addressed. More is to come. In the meanwhile, if you think there is a chance you may have this infection, please call your medical provider and ask them for their guidance. Until next time, stay healthy.