The coronavirus epidemic that started in China has been named COVID-19 by the World Health Organization (WHO). A review of 22 studies on similar human coronaviruses such as SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus), MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus) and HCoV (endemic human coronaviruses) finds that COVID-19 is not more severe than many flu viruses (J of Hosp Infect, Feb 6, 2020). However, it is incredibly contagious because no human has yet been shown to have been infected with this virus previously, so nobody is immune to it. It probably started in some animal and was transmitted to humans. It is now being transmitted from person to person.
• COVID-19 can infect anyone, but some people may not have any symptoms or have only mild symptoms. People over 60 and those with other diseases or a weakened immune system are more likely to have serious symptoms, severe disease and even death.
• It is spread by contagious respiratory droplets from person-to-person or on surfaces such as door handles, furniture, clothes and any other object that you may touch.
• It has an incubation period of about 2-10 days after exposure to an infected human or surface.
• Hard surfaces such as metal, glass or plastic can remain contagious for up to 9 days at normal room temperatures, and at near-freezing temperatures it can remain contagious for about 18 days. Packages that have taken more than two weeks to travel to you from China are unlikely to be contagious.
• Early symptoms include shortness of breath, fever, and feeling sick.
• There is no known effective treatment, but people with normal immune systems are likely to get rid of the virus and recover within a few days. We do not know if the drugs currently used to treat flu will help to treat more severe symptoms of COVID-19.
• You can reduce your likelihood of being infected by this virus by washing your hands very frequently or using alcohol-based sanitizer products on your hands and on any surfaces that may have been exposed to respiratory droplets from infected people. Face masks are almost useless, but people who are frequently exposed to sick people should wear masks.
• Where possible, people with weak immune systems may want to avoid crowds, hospitals, and any unnecessary exposure to potentially sick people.
• Try to avoid contact with sick people, but if you are exposed to someone with fever and respiratory symptoms, wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
• Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth with unwashed hands.
• Sick people should stay at home (e.g., from work or school).
• Coughs and sneezes should be covered with a tissue, followed by disposal of the tissue.
• Frequently touched objects and surfaces should be cleaned regularly with an alcohol-based disinfectant.
Dr. Gabe Mirkin is a Villager. Learn more at www.drmirkin.com