The news has been dominated recently by the Coronavirus epidemic known as COVID-19. As many you have likely heard, the first case in North Carolina has been identified in Wake County. There is little known about that case other than the person had been to the nursing home in Washington State where the majority of US cases and fatalities have occurred. There is a lot of information about there about the virus, but at the same time there are still a lot of questions. Here are some things that we think you should know:
How is the virus spread?
The best information is that the virus is spread by droplets. This is the same way that the flu and the common cold are spread. It requires that someone sneezes or coughs close by or a person touches a surface with those droplets (doorknob, countertop, etc) and touches their face (eyes, nose, mouth). This is a much less infectious type of transmission than “airborne” transmission, which is how measles is spread. For instance, measles can hang in the air for up to TWO HOURS after a person with the disease leaves and still cause an infection.
How easy is it for the disease to spread?
There is still a lot to learn about how easily the virus is spread, but current estimates say that a person with the COVID-19 virus will on average infect 1.5 - 6 people. For comparison, that number is 1.3 for the flu, 2-5 for SARS, and 12-16 for measles (remember that droplet vs. airborne thing?).
How dangerous is COVID-19?
This is expressed as the “case-fatality” rate, or percentage of people who catch the disease that die from it. At the time of this writing, there have been 3,198 deaths reported among 93,123 cases worldwide for a case-fatality rate of about 3%. This is VERY preliminary information and the actual case-fatality rate will not be known for months or even years. In fact, once testing capabilities become more widespread, we are likely to see a huge jump in the number of cases because many of them are likely going undetected because the majority of people that get it have a mild disease, if this happens the case-fatality rate will decrease (because of the greater denominator).
Speaking of that, age and other diseases play a huge role in how dangerous the COVID-19 virus is. The vast majority of deaths have occurred in people over 60 and with underlying COPD or diabetes (another reason for you to quit smoking!). The infection rates among children seem to be very low.
What can I do to avoid getting sick?
The things your mother told you all apply here and are SUPER important. First and foremost, WASH YOUR HANDS! This is the most important thing you can do (remember that thing about droplets?). Just regular soap is all you need, throw away that antibacterial soap. The next thing you can do is to stop touching your face. I get it, it’s hard. A 2015 study showed that we touch our face an average of two dozen times per hour. Every time you touch your face it is like you are licking everything you touched for the last two hours. Think about that the next time your nose itches. Wearing a mask is unnecessary for anyone without symptoms, so stop hoarding them (you know who you are)!
What should I do if I get sick?
If you come down with symptoms, you follow the standard advice: rest, take care of your symptoms, and look for red flag signs like trouble breathing. If your symptoms last a week or more, or if you have a real fever after five days or so, you should always reach out to us via phone or Spruce.
If you have traveled somewhere with known COVID-19 and have symptoms we do want you to call right away. The criteria for testing will be changing over the coming days and we will be monitoring the situation to know how to handle your specific circumstances.
We will continue to provide updates and the situation changes. As always, we are privileged to be trusted to care for you and your family.