What basic information is important to understand COVID-19?

By: James W. Castillo, M.D.

On February 11, 2020 the World Health Organization announced an official name for the disease that is causing the 2019 novel coronavirus outbreak.  The new name of this disease is “Coronavirus Disease 2019,” abbreviated as COVID-19.  In COVID-19, ‘CO’ stands for ‘corona,’ ‘VI’ for ‘virus,’ and ‘D’ for disease.

The first infections were linked to a live animal market in Wuhan City, Hubei Province, China, but the virus is now spreading from person-to-person worldwide. As of today, Wednesday, April 1, 2020, the United States reports more than 200,000 cases of COVID-19 and more than 4,000 related deaths. Local officials report that there are 79 COVID-19 cases in the Rio Grande Valley as of Wednesday, April 1, 2020.  The number of cases of COVID-19 being reported in the United States is rising due to increased testing and spread of the disease.

Some people infected with the virus have no symptoms but can still be contagious. Infected patients usually have symptoms that appear between 2 to 14 days after the virus enters a person’s body. The most common mild symptoms reported include a dry cough, fatigue, fever, body aches, nasal congestion, loss of smell and sore throat. Some patients may experience more severe symptoms such as a high fever and shortness of breath. Some patients may develop severe pneumonia and require hospitalization.

The “Shelter in Place” guidelines put in place by local authorities are meant to prevent as many people as possible from getting COVID-19. There is no health care system in the world able to manage this disease if too many people become sick all at the same time.

There is currently no vaccine or proven treatment for COVID-19.  The best way to prevent illness is to avoid being exposed to this virus.  The virus is thought to spread mainly from person-to-person through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person talks, coughs or sneezes.  These droplets can land in the eyes, mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs. These droplets can also land on surfaces or be placed on surfaces if a person has contaminated hands.

Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands. It is very important to wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds especially after touching frequently touched surfaces like door handles or after blowing your nose. If soap and water are not readily available, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.  Cover all surfaces of your hands and rub them together until they feel dry.

Avoiding close contact will also protect you.  Put a safe distance between you and other people in every situation, and avoid contact with people who are sick.  A six-foot distance is recommended to protect you and others from spreading the virus.

If you develop emergency warning signs for COVID-19 get medical attention immediately.  Emergency warning signs may include but are not limited to the following:  trouble breathing, persistent pain or pressure in the chest, new confusion or inability to arouse, and bluish lips or face.

If you have questions or need more information on COVID-19, speak to your primary care physician, contact your county health department or check the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website at www.cdc.gov

Is there a topic you would like our healthcare experts to address?  Send an e-mail to askdhr@dhr-rgv.com and you may see it addressed here in future Ask the Expert columns.

This article was written with information obtained from The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.