Turn on the television, open a newspaper, browse the internet, or turn on the radio and chances are the coronavirus outbreak is one of the first things you’ll hear or see. What started as a distant outbreak in China a few months ago has now reached our homeland, as American citizens face this pandemic head-on.
With so much information out there, we thought it would be valuable to get down to the basics and provide pertinent facts that can help you and your family stay safe and, more importantly, limit the spread of this fast-moving virus. You can follow the latest developments on The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s coronavirus page.
What is Coronavirus?
When we’re sick, we tend to associate illnesses with bacterial or viral infections. Bacteria are single-celled organisms that live on Earth and in our bodies, with many serving us in a positive manner. Not all bacteria cause disease. But when they do, doctors can treat them with antibacterial medications.
Conversely, a virus is an infectious agent with a small genome surrounded by a protein coat. They enter the body, hijack cells, and make copies of themselves to disrupt our bodies. Vaccines, not antibiotics, treat viruses. You most likely practice this each year when you receive a flu shot to prevent outbreaks of the seasonal influenza.
Coronaviruses, in certain cases, cause diseases and respiratory infections in humans. In the past two decades, we’ve seen three global coronavirus outbreaks with SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) in 2002, MERS (Middle East respiratory syndrome) in 2012, and, most recently, COVID-19, in 2019.
So while we see the constant and widespread use of coronavirus in the media, coronavirus is only a term to describe the virus (known as SARS-CoV-2), whereas COVID-19 is the disease many Americans are now suffering from.
Know the Signs, Symptoms, and When to Call a Doctor
The most recent strain of the coronavirus, which emerged in China and has been transmitted throughout the world, spreads between people who come in close contact with each other, generally defined as 6 feet. COVID-19 affects the respiratory system, and it’s easy to spread through droplets from a cough or sneeze. You can then inhale those droplets from a person nearby or they can land on a surface. The latter is what makes washing your hands so important.
While many infected people remain asymptomatic or have mild symptoms, COVID-19 tends to have the largest impact on the elderly and people who have chronic illnesses, such as heart disease, diabetes, lung disease, or are immunosuppressed.
The COVID-19 timeline is hard to pinpoint because symptoms occur anywhere from two to 14 days after exposure. It may take days, or even weeks, to realize you're infected. Meanwhile, you run the risk of infecting others during this time.
The most common symptoms associated with COVID-19 are:
- Shortness of breath
You also may experience aches and pains, nasal congestion, runny nose, sore throat, or diarrhea. Contact your doctor if you come across these issues. In certain situations, adults may develop severe emergency symptoms that are enough to warrant immediate medical attention. Contact a doctor immediately if you have difficulty breathing, pain or pressure in your chest, a bluish color in your lips or face, or you show signs of confusion.
Reach out to your healthcare provider if you have any of these symptoms. They’ll decide if you should be tested for COVID-19. About 80% of people who contract COVID-19 recover without special treatment, according to the World Health Organization. Still, 1 in 6 become ill and have trouble breathing.
If you’re experiencing mild symptoms, isolate yourself at home to avoid spreading the virus. Avoid public areas and stay home from work or school. You should wear a facemask when you’re around other people, although they aren’t recommended for healthy individuals. Staying at home away from the public is one of the best ways to combat the virus since there’s no vaccine currently available to treat COVID-19.
Protecting Yourself and Others
With coronavirus spreading by the day and more cases of COVID-19 popping up in cities across the country, it’s best that you take precautionary measures to both prevent outbreaks and prepare yourself for a worst-case scenario.
As with any potentially hazardous scenario, you should have the essentials on hand. Get extra supplies. Make a trip to the grocery store for essential items and non-perishables that you can store in your pantry. Considering stocking up your freezer with proteins, vegetables, and other foods that can come in handy. Whatever you do, please refrain from buying out of panic, as that can cause more chaos. You should only purchase what you need.
Americans rely on prescription drugs on a daily basis, as 42% of older adults take five or more prescription medications. It’s important to prepare ahead of time so you don’t run out of medications during this pandemic. As COVID-19 spreads, many lawmakers and government officials are calling for the elderly to stay isolated. You should talk to your doctor about ways in which you can obtain an advance supply of your medications or a 90-day supply.
Consider stocking up on over-the-counter medications in the event you do contact the virus. Since there’s no vaccine, you're limited to treating symptoms associated with the virus as opposed to the virus itself. In other words, you can prepare ahead of time by purchasing a cough suppressant, such as dextromethorphan (Delsym, Robitussin, etc.) to reduce cough symptoms, pain relievers, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol), to treat fever, pseudoephedrine (Sudafed) to treat congestion, or guaifenesin (Mucinex) for a productive (wet) cough. All of these medications can help manage your symptoms.
You’ve likely heard the phrase social distancing used plenty in recent days and weeks. Avoid large crowds and gatherings and keep up with the latest CDC guidelines. Large gatherings can speed up the spread of the virus. The CDC recently recommended keeping gatherings to less than 50 people, although the White House lowered that number to 10. Should you go out in public, washing your hands with regularity is one of the best ways you can protect yourself and others. Avoid touching your eyes, face, or mouth, and keep a safe distance from others — ideally 6 feet.
If you do begin to experience symptoms, you should take similar precautions. For example, you should regularly wash your hands to prevent spreading. Cover your mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze and immediately dispose of the tissue. Use a mask when you’re out in public so you don’t infect others with droplets. Wipe down surfaces and clean items you're more likely to touch in public, such as keys and your phone.
Hand Washing vs. Hand Sanitizer
Earlier, we mentioned the importance of washing your hands often. You should lather your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds if any droplets come in contact with your hands through coughing or sneezing. You should also wash your hands if you touched something in public. This includes elevator buttons, door handles, or handrails.
The CDC recommends using a hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol if you’re unable to wash your hands. You should always prioritize washing your hands and shouldn’t rely solely on hand sanitizer. Think of it this way: Use hand sanitizer as a supplement, not a replacement, to washing your hands.
When can hand sanitizer come in handy? The reality is you won’t always be near a bathroom to wash your hands, especially when you’re in public. If you come in contact with a door handle or button in a high-traffic area, it’s handy to lather up with hand sanitizer to kill any viruses.
Look for ethyl alcohol and isopropyl alcohol as the main ingredients in hand sanitizer. Ethyl alcohol helps fight viruses, while isopropyl alcohol works well against bacteria. If you’re out picking up hand sanitizer or place an order online, consider adding a moisturizer to your cart. While hand sanitizers contain glycerin to help prevent dry skin, you can take an added precaution by applying a moisturizing lotion to keep your hands feeling refreshed.
Visit the CDC for the latest coronavirus news and updates. You can also track the U.S. outbreak here. The page is updated daily.