I thought I’d take this opportunity to provide you with a synopsis of the currently available information regarding the coronavirus outbreak.
- We should expect the prevalence of the virus to increase sharply in our region (and elsewhere) over the coming weeks. Read this emergency physician’s interesting perspective.
- We know that it is transmitted via respiratory droplets (from coughing and sneezing). We do not yet know with certainty whether or not it can be transmitted via oral secretions or other means. At this time, we have no evidence that infected women who are pregnant will transmit the illness to their unborn children.
- Wearing surgical masks is of little benefit, as they are designed primarily to prevent people who are sick from transmitting respiratory droplets to others; for those who are not sick, they provide little to no protection. Unfortunately, due to public perception that these masks are protective, supplies have dwindled to critical levels, and they are not easily available to those who most need them, i.e., hospitals, practices, those who are already sick, etc. Please stop buying surgical masks!
- The best means of protection is via behavior modification: wash hands very frequently (best with very warm water and soap with vigorous scrubbing of the fingers for at least 20 seconds, or hand sanitizers when soap and water are not available), avoid coughing or sneezing into your hands (best to do so into the crook of your elbow or into a tissue followed by handwashing), avoid touching your face, stay home when ill, minimize exposure to others who are ill, avoid high-risk travel and densely crowded environments when possible. Also, use only your knuckles to touch light switches, elevator buttons, etc. Use gloves or paper towels (or a closed fist) when flushing toilets, using door handles, turning water faucets, or lifting gasoline dispensers. Clean surfaces with disinfectant wipes whenever possible (as these can harbor respiratory secretions).
- Please remember that for most healthy people, the illness is self-limited and poses little threat. In fact, it is likely that many cases (both domestically and abroad) have gone unreported. Therefore, the true prevalence of COVID-19 remains unknown. That said, we must do all we can to protect those among us who are most vulnerable to complications (i.e., the frail and elderly, those with diabetes, cancer, pulmonary disease and heart disease) via the mechanisms discussed herein. This article is worth checking out.
- Schools and businesses should begin implementing contingency plans in the event that temporary closures are necessary.
- It is unlikely that medications to treat the virus- or a vaccine to prevent it- will be available in the foreseeable future. For now, treatment is primarily symptomatic and avoidance measures remain paramount.
- If you are concerned that you may have COVID-19 illness, stay home and call your doctor for advice before leaving the house and going anywhere. Those who are considered to be at high risk for exposure to the virus are those with cough and fever who (1) have traveled to high-risk countries (i.e., China, Iran, Italy, Japan, South Korea) or (2) have been in close contact with someone with laboratory-confirmed COVID-19.
- Lastly, as a means of providing some perspective, please remember that influenza is here now, has affected millions of people, and can also lead to death. All of the above rules apply.
I hope this is helpful. I’ll do my best to keep you updated as more information becomes available.