The Coronavirus. What People with Lung Conditions Need to Know.
Updated: Jan 31, 2020
The latest on the coronavirus in China was last night’s top news story. I have to say that it has many people (including my pulmonary rehab patients) on edge about what might happen if this virus spreads like it has in Wuhan. I can even admit that I am a little worried about the public health crisis it could cause if it spreads throughout the United States. One thing that I try not to do is incite fear. I think it is very important to learn as much about the facts so that I can calm my own worries and think about things in an objective and logical way. One of the best resources for objective and helpful data is the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). They do their best to keep everyone up to date with press releases and other information that you would find helpful. Between the CDC and some other trustworthy websites, I have done some research for you so that you can know what the coronavirus is, why there is worry if it spreads on a large scale, and what you can do to protect yourself.
So, let’s get to it…
What is the coronavirus?
Coronaviruses are generally viruses that can be spread amongst animals as well as animals to humans. Examples of coronaviruses that have been identified in the past are SARS and MERS. The novel or “new Coronavirus” that everyone is talking about is actually named 2019-nCoV which is a “betacoronavirus.” It has the capability to spread from an animal to a human. In China they have live markets where they not only sell fruits, vegetables, and butchered meats, but they also have live animals for sale like fish, turtles, and snakes (often near the food products). This is where the Chinese government thinks the transmission from an animal to a human occurred. Since then this virus, which is respiratory in nature, has been transferred from human to human thus infecting thousands of people in China.
Why are so many people so worried about this virus?
One of the things that I have learned from researching for this week’s blog post is that a virus’s harmfulness is determined by the combination of how fast it can be spread and the rate in which people can die from it. So, the thing that has the media’s attention is that the transmission rate of the novel coronavirus (how many people are getting the virus for every 1 person that is infected) is 2-3 versus influenza which is 1.3. The reason for this is because the incubation period (time it takes for someone to show symptoms) is 2-14 days. So basically, it may be possible that someone can have the coronavirus AND be spreading it for up to 2 weeks before they even know they have it. Crazy right? The CDC does say that more research needs to be done to find out if this is true. The other thing that has the media’s attention (and let’s be honest, the rest of the world too) is the fatality rate of the people in the province of Hubei (where Wuhan is located). That fatality rate is currently at 3% whereas influenza is 0.1%. HOWEVER, the fatality rate from the novel coronavirus for China as a whole is currently 0.3%. Not great. But definitely not as bad as the province of origin.
Who is getting infected and what symptoms do they have?
People of all ages are getting infected with the coronavirus in China. The young, elderly, those with weakened immune systems and those with other chronic health conditions are the most at risk. Symptoms are varied from mild (like runny nose, headache, sore throat, and generally not feeling well) to those that can be more severe like fever, cough, and shortness of breath. These “more severe” symptoms can possibly lead to a worsening condition like pneumonia, bronchitis, and even worse respiratory distress. As you can imagine, if you have a chronic lung condition your risk with worsening symptoms can be a real threat to your survival. HOWEVER, if you live in the U.S. your chance right now of getting the coronavirus is extremely low.
How is the coronavirus spread?
The coronavirus can be spread from an infected person to others by coughing and sneezing. The virus can also be spread by close personal contact like shaking hands. You can get the coronavirus by touching a surface after someone that has been infected has touched leaving the virus on it and then you touch your mouth, eyes, or nose before washing your hands. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services have stated that there is still a lot that they don’t know about transmission. Whether or not someone can spread the virus when they aren’t showing symptoms (during the incubation period) remains an “unknown” right now.
Tips on what you can do to prevent yourself from getting infected if the virus should spread to more people in your area…
I would recommend using the same techniques that you employ on a daily basis to stay well.
1. Wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds frequently throughout your day or you can use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.
2. Don’t touch your eyes, nose, or mouth in public
3. Avoid being around family and friends that are sick
4. When in large crowds or confined spaces consider wearing a mask. In the healthcare world, the CDC is recommending workers treat the coronavirus like an airborne disease. That means that healthcare workers are to wear a respirator mask, like an N95, that fits snuggly around the mouth and nose. As healthcare workers, we get “fit tested” and “checked off” so that we know how to put them on properly. These masks are not super comfortable to breathe in, yet they provide good protection for those that are using them. Surgical or procedure masks are a cheaper option, are considered just a physical barrier, and don’t give you airborne protection. However, the Chinese government is suggesting that anyone in China that goes out in public wear at least a surgical mask to help prevent the spread of the virus. At this time the CDC only recommends wearing a mask if you have the virus, believe you might be infected, or if you live with someone who might have the virus. Personally, I have always maintained the position that if you have a chronic lung condition and you are going to be in a crowd or confined place, it is a good idea to wear a light weight surgical or procedure mask as added protection against viruses (of any type).
5. Keep it clean – periodically clean surfaces in your home and at work that get touched often. Some examples of this are doorknobs, keyboards, and phones. Bacteria and viruses can live on these surfaces for extended periods of time.
What you should and shouldn’t do…
You SHOULD NOT: worry, stress, or panic. We are so fortunate in the United States to have amazing resources like the CDC and the funds to employ people who really know what they are doing and how to prevent the spread of viruses. You SHOULD definitely stay alert, wash your hands, and be educated on what symptoms to look for. At this time, Americans are at an extremely low risk of getting the coronavirus.
If you want to do your own research, I suggest that you start with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Their website is very user friendly and they seem to be updating the information daily. I learned a ton about the new coronavirus just by visiting their site. Another reputable site is the World Health Organization. They go into great detail for the public, healthcare providers, and government agencies.
Stay well everyone and thanks for reading!
If you enjoyed this blog, I invite you to check out some of the topics I have covered in the past
Remember: We are in this TOGETHER!
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Resources: U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, World Health Organization, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
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