The novel coronavirus is very similar in symptomatology to other viral respiratory infections. Cases vary from mild forms to severe ones that can lead to serious medical conditions or even death.
1. Symptoms of Coronavirus Disease
The tell-tale symptoms of the novel coronavirus are:
- Shortness of breath
- Sore throat
Right now, it is believed that symptoms may appear in 2 to 14 days, as the incubation period for the novel coronavirus has not yet been confirmed. There has been speculation about the virus spreading while the carrier (infected person) is not showing any symptoms, but that has not been confirmed as a scientific fact.
Out of all the cases that have been confirmed, up to 20% have been deemed to be severe. Complications that may arise as a result of being infected are pneumonia, sepsis (a life-threatening immune chain reaction triggered by the infection), septic shock (low blood pressure and abnormal cellular changes caused by sepsis), and acute respiratory distress syndrome (a severe lung condition characterized by fluid accumulation in the air sacs of the lungs). Due to the severity of the symptoms, a patient may require mechanical ventilation (aided breathing) until the infection is cleared. In a few instances (about 2% of the cases), the novel coronavirus led to the demise of the patient.
2. What to do If you have symptoms of Coronavirus Disease
As I mentioned before, having symptoms is not enough to start worrying about a potential coronavirus infection. But, if you suspect exposure to sick people or areas of contamination, then you are eligible for testing. Call your healthcare provider immediately and tell them about your symptoms, recent travels, and suspicions. It is very important to call beforehand, to let your doctor know that you might have a highly contagious disease. This allows your health provider to follow proper protocols to protect others and prevent the spread of the virus.
Once you get to your doctor’s office, you will be asked a couple of questions to assess if you meet the testing criteria. If you do, your doctor will collect a sample that will be sent to the CDC headquarters for PCR testing. In 24-48 hours, you will know if your samples came out positive for coronavirus. During this waiting period, you will be kept in isolation, possibly in a negative pressure room that prevents virus particles from escaping. If the test turns out positive, you will receive supportive care (if needed). Milder cases often don’t require special care.
If you get the coronavirus, here are a couple of advice to minimize the risk of infecting others:
- Don’t leave your house unless you are in need of medical care. If you do have to go to the hospital or your doctor’s office, don’t use taxis, Uber, or any other type of public transportation.
- Always call beforehand if you need medical care.
- Avoid any public areas such as schools, your workplace, restaurants, etc.
- Wear a face mask whenever you need to be around other people (at home or when visiting your healthcare provider). For some extra precaution, have your family members wear a face mask when they are around you.
- Cover your coughs and sneezes with a tissue or your sleeve. Be sure to throw the used tissue in a closed bin, and to wash your hands afterward with soap and water. Avoid sneezing or coughing directly in your hands.
- Maintain proper hygiene by frequently washing and disinfecting your hands and by avoiding touching your face.
- Try to isolate yourself from family members that live in the same house as you. Maintain a safe distance of about 6 feet when interacting with them and use a different bathroom if possible.
- Don’t share household items with other people in your home. This includes dishes, eating utensils, cups, drinking glasses, towels, beddings, clothes, self-care items. Wash everything you use with soap and water or disinfect them if possible. Also, keep an eye on your phone or smart devices, especially if you have kids that have the habit of borrowing them.
- Avoid contact with your family pets or other animals. As of now, there has been no recorded case of the novel coronavirus infecting a cat or dog, but there are coronaviruses that can cause illness in animals. So, it’s better to be on the safe side. Wear a facemask if you are around a pet or if you care for a family pet, at least until it is scientifically proven that humans can’t pass on the virus to cats and dogs.
- Keep an eye on your symptoms. The novel coronavirus can cause serious health conditions, so it’s important to monitor your situation and ring the alarm if anything feels odd. If your symptoms suddenly get worse (increased breathing issues, strong fever, or anything unusual), call your healthcare provider and let them know your situation.
If a child, senior person, or someone with a compromised immune system gets the novel coronavirus, they might require special care and medical observation even if the symptoms are mild. If you are taking care of a child patient, try to follow along with him/her the list of recommendations presented above. There’s a better chance of a child having good hygiene and prevention measures if they have an example to follow.
3. Diagnosis to Coronavirus Disease
The infection with the novel coronavirus via a special laboratory test. It requires samples such as swabs from the throat or fluid from the lungs, and the testing can be done in public health laboratories. The process is called PCR testing, and it takes from 24 to 48 hours to get a definitive result.
People eligible for PCR testing need to fit specific criteria:
- Individuals that have a sudden onset of fever, sore throat, cough or shortness of breath.
- Individuals who have been exposed to the virus, 14 days before the onset of symptoms, by:
- traveling to China or regions in which the novel coronavirus is known to be transmitted from person to person (Hong Kong, Thailand, Japan, Singapore, etc.)
- being in contact with a person that has returned from China or a region with ongoing community transmission of the novel coronavirus
- having close contact with a person that has the coronavirus either in a public place or at work or home
- attending or working in a healthcare facility that has/had patients with the novel coronavirus
People that are living in or frequently travel to the Hubei Province have a high risk of infection. Also, health workers and health officials that are exposed to novel coronavirus patients have high chances of catching the virus, despite taking the right prevention measures. Up until now, there are 16 cases of health care workers becoming infected with the novel coronavirus. Health care officials getting sick is one of the early signs of human-to-human transmission of disease.
4. Treatment of Coronavirus
As of now, there is no cure, no vaccine, and no specific medication for the virus. However, health care professionals have multiple ways in which they can help patients. First of all, early diagnosis helps stop the spread of the disease, making the community a safer place for everyone.
Secondly, there are supporting care options that seem to do wonders with novel coronavirus sufferers. Supporting care refers to means of treating the symptoms of the patient to help his/her organism fight off the infection. Some examples of that are: IV fluids to treat dehydration, antipyretics to manage fevers, oxygen therapy, antivirals, and ventilation to facilitate breathing.
Novel coronavirus cases vary from mild to moderate and severe. For the majority of the mild cases, the symptoms will disappear on their own without medical intervention. Supportive care is usually required for moderate or severe cases. It may also be required for people with pre-existing medical conditions (cardiovascular issues, diabetes, kidney and liver problems, and chronic respiratory issues), older people, and children.
Last but not least, medication and vaccines are on their way, but it will take a couple of weeks if not months for them to be developed and clinically trialed. The National Institute of Health is currently working on a vaccine that could allegedly be up for early human testing in three months.