Update on COVID-19 — the Novel Coronavirus
Betty Chaffee, PharmD, is owner and sole proprietor of BetterMyMeds, a Medication Management service devoted to helping people get the maximum benefit from their medications.
News is changing quickly when it comes to the novel coronavirus that was identified late last year. As a matter of fact, just three days after our first article on this subject was published, a public health emergency was declared in the United States to help deal with COVID-19. At that time, there had been 14 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the US, and a total of about 10,000 confirmed cases in China with just over 200 deaths. As of yesterday, there have been nearly 91,000 cases globally, with about 3,100 resulting in death. Here in the US, there were 80 cases confirmed as of yesterday, with 9 deaths. The map below shows the countries that have been affected as of March 4, 2020. A big change from six weeks ago.
There's a fair amount of concern and anxiety over this new virus and the disease it causes. And there are good reasons for that. We've seen cruise ships quarantined, businesses closed down, people forced to stay indoors for days on end. Most of this has been overseas, yes, but some of it has happened here in the US. So a lot of people are nervous. You can't even get face masks any more, and some stores are out of hand sanitizer and even toilet paper! Let's talk first about what kind of infection this is, then look at what the experts are recommending for us.
What is COVID-19?
COVID-19 is the name given to the disease caused by the novel coronavirus that was identified late last year. The virus itself has been given the name SARS-CoV-2. So you might see either of those names when reading articles. You may also see 2019 n-COV. There may be other terms that are used as well, so don't be surprised. Here we'll use COVID-19 to refer to the disease, and SARS-CoV-2 to refer to the virus.
Where did SARS-CoV-2 come from, and how is it spread?
This new coronavirus is believed to have come from bats, and transmitted from bats to humans in a market in China. From there it began to spread between humans, and that's what is continuing to happen worldwide. The virus is thought to spread in the same way that colds and flu spread. When an infected person sneezes or coughs, droplets remain in the air and can infect people nearby. Those droplets can also land on things people touch, like doorknobs and computer keyboards. The next person(s) to touch that surface can then become infected with the virus when they touch their mouth, nose, or eyes.
It's not clear yet whether this virus will become less active as the weather warms, like cold and flu viruses. So experts are giving advice on what to do if it continues to spread and starts affecting more communities in the US and worldwide.
My colleague Dr. Alan Tanabe described the symptoms to watch for in our previous article, and also listed the best methods of prevention of infection. (Experts are NOT recommending routine use of facemasks for prevention of infection, which is good since they're in very short supply.) Here are some updated recommendations from the experts.
Prepare your household in case someone becomes ill. Think about those with whom you live. Is anyone unable to care for him/herself? Does a family member have chronic health problems that would make them more likely to become severely ill? How might you limit contact with someone in your household that becomes ill? By answering these questions and others, each household can come up with a plan to put into action if needed.
Then there are recommendations for what to do if you do become ill. These include limiting contact with others in your household, cleaning surfaces regularly, and calling ahead before visiting your doctor, among other things.
What if you had plans to travel? Expert, up-to-date information about travel concerns regarding COVID-19 can be found here. Advice to these and other coronavirus-related questions can be found at the CDC's Coronavirus-19 information page.
An important thought I'd like to leave you with:
The flu -- the seasonal flu -- is still circulating in the US. At this point, the flu virus is causing many more infections (29 million), and many more deaths (16,000), than SARS-CoV-2. The symptoms are similar, and there's a substantial risk of severe illness with both infections. Thus far (and this could change) flu is way more likely to cause severe illness in babies and young children than COVID-19. So if you, or anyone you love, hasn't had a flu shot yet this season, please do it right away. You're more likely to get the flu at this point than COVID-19, and vaccination is the best way to prevent it.
As always we welcome your comments and questions directly below this article, or contact us at BetterMyMeds directly!