The COVID-19 situation is changing quickly. Now for some medical facts about the virus that has taken a prominent place in the news as it has moved from China to other countries. This is a new virus thus people do not have any immunity to it. There is no vaccine for COVID-19 although one is being developed. A usable, safe vaccine may be many months away.
COVID-19 has an incubation period of at least 14 days. Influenza has an incubation period far shorter, one to four days. This means that a person who is infected with COVID-19 will spread the virus for at least 14 days without appearing to be ill.
That is a long time in which to pass on the virus. Many, many people can be infected by one person and depending on the environments surrounding the viral shedding person, such as in a plane, prison, nursing home, etc. the amount of spreading can be ridiculously high.
With influenza, the infected person feels sick quickly and has less time in which to spread the influenza virus. Even with the shorter incubation period for influenza, the numbers of infections are very high, higher than with COVID-19.
So, what can we do to prevent getting COVID-19, novel coronavirus 2019, and quite frankly also the regular yearly influenza? There are measures you can take to help you to avoid getting ill. It is not a given that you cannot fight back against COVID-19.
The earliest data for COVID-19 viral infections is that it quickly affects older adults with pre-existing/underlying medical conditions of the heart, lungs, and kidneys. The immune system in older adults is less robust than when they were younger, so they have a decreased ability to fight off infections and diseases. This is the group that is dying from COVID-19 infections.
Since the older age group is at increased risk to be infected with COVID-19, there are certain precautions they can take to protect themselves.
- Stay at home as much as possible.
- When you have to be in public or travel, stay away from anyone who may be sick and wash, wash, wash your hands with soap and water and keep hands away from your face: nose, eyes, mouth.
- Keep enough of your medications and any medical supplies you will need for several weeks on hand.
- Avoid crowds
- Avoid plane travel due to planes being poorly ventilated
- If you rely on anyone for support, be sure you have backups if he or she becomes ill.
What about the rest of us? Let’s start with the very obvious. Do not kiss or hug people when greeting them.
Also, avoid polite handshake for now. No high fives that involve touching another person’s hand. Simply go with the “no” touching approach. 100% of not making physical contact. Viruses are passed by physical contact, but also by other measures such as droplets of virus floating in the air, even after the infected person has left the area.
Scrub and wash your hands with soap and water. Use soap and lots of water and rub between your fingers, backs of hands, wrists, tips of fingers, all over and do this for at least 20 seconds. This beats using hand sanitizers when eliminating germs that have gotten onto your skin. If you are leaving a public bathroom, use the paper towel to open the door for your exit.
If it was one of those places that only have a blow dryer, I hate these, use the sleeve of whatever you are wearing to grab the doorknob. No need to take extra germs with you. Just do not touch any doorknob, in a public place, with your bare hands.
Hand sanitizers and anti-bacterial wipes are okay if you do not have access to soap and water. They are easy to carry with you but really are not as effective as soap and water hand washings. The alcohol content in hand sanitizers varies and can be irritating to your skin. You should use a sanitizer with at least 60% or higher alcohol content, rub hand together for at least 20 seconds and let the skin air dry.
I cannot stress this important anti-virus measure enough. Refrain from touching your face, mouth, nose, and eyes. You will not believe how many times during the day you will unconsciously bring your fingers up to your face, mouth, and eyes. Just stop touching your face! “No touching face” will be something you will have to remind yourself of all day long. Wash your hands before touching your face at all times.
Do you know those plastic collars that pets have to wear to keep them from licking, chewing on an area of their body that has recently been operated on or being medicated? A plastic cone/collar placed around the neck would be perfect for keeping our hands off of our faces, but alas are probably considered inappropriate. They do come in different sizes.
For heaven’s sake, stay home if you are sick. Not only will you infect others, even if you do not have COVID-19 which is the most likely cause at this time, but you also run the risk of picking up another infection since your immune system is already being attacked. It would be helpful and ethical for employers to made adjustments for workers so they will feel free to remain home if ill.
Cover your nose and mouth with the inside elbow area of your arm when sneezing or coughing. This will prevent some of the aerosol sprayings of viral droplets from being jettisoned into the air for others to inhale but will also leave viral droplets, perhaps in the form of mucous, on your clothing which will need to be removed and laundered.
Removing your shoes which you were wearing outdoors is a good practice. You will not only avoid bringing viruses into your home but will also avoid fecal-borne bacteria that will give you diarrhea which is not a symptom of COVID-19 viral infection but should be avoided none the less.
Only wear a face mask, there is already a shortage of these in some areas if you are sick. But then again, how about the stay at home rule if you are ill? Healthcare professionals will be wearing the masks to keep them from contracting the virus from the ill patients they are treating. Plus wearing a mask may give you a false sense that you can 100% protect yourself.
Go ahead and get that flu shot, the one for influenza that is not COVID-19, but is making far more people sick and causing far more deaths than we are currently seeing with COVID-19. Vaccines are being developed for COVID-19 but none are available at this time. When the vaccine becomes available, it is a good idea to get one if you are considering traveling on planes.
Points to take away are;
- COVID-19 is currently killing the elderly with underlying medical issues prior to viral infection. If possible, the elderly with coexisting medical problems should not go into public areas.
- COVID-19 does not seem to be harming children. Children had not died from COVID-19 and the only children infected with the virus have received it from a family member. Children are dying from regular influenza.
- Practice aggressive handwashing for at least 20 seconds with soap and water, many times a day and certainly before eating and when being out in public.
- Do Not Touch Your Face without first completing the above handwashing.
- As of today, March 06, influenza is making far more of an impact on Americans than COVID-19. Novel coronavirus 2019 is now called severe acute respiratory syndrome or SARS CoV- 2.
- Tiny droplets of COVID-19 virus can remain in the air after the infected person has left the area.
- COVID-19: Approximately 101,781 cases worldwide; 260 cases in the U.S. as of Mar. 6, 2020.
- Flu: Estimated 1 billion cases worldwide; 9.3 million to 45 million cases in the U.S. per year.
- COVID-19: Approximately 3,460 deaths reported worldwide; 14 deaths in the U.S., as of Mar. 6, 2020.
- Flu: 291,000 to 646,000 deaths worldwide; 12,000 to 61,000 deaths in the U.S. per year.