“What should we do?” The two faces on the other side of my desk looked stricken. “Our grandmother is having her 90th birthday celebration. She lives overseas and has invited us to the party, but with all the news about this Chinese virus . . . we’re concerned.”
“First of all, this is not a Chinese virus or even an Asian virus,” I explained. “Yes, it appears first to have been identified in Wuhan, China, but viruses do not target individuals of a specific racial or ethnic background or gender or even religious or political affiliation.”
“Well, should we go or not?”
“That is a personal decision,” I replied. “Travel can increase your risk of exposure. There is also the potential of quarantine upon your return depending on the viral exposure pattern. I decided to cancel one of my upcoming trips abroad primarily due to the risk of quarantine.”
“What is COVID-19 anyway?” asked one face.
“Here is one description,” I said. “COVI stands for the acronym of coronavirus, D is for the word disease, and 19 identifies the year of the outbreak.”
Coronaviruses have been around for a long time and typically cause illnesses similar to the common cold. They tend to be more commonplace during colder weather but can occur any time of the year. This virus⎯named COVID-19⎯appears to be a new disease. Exactly what it is, where it came from, how it spreads, and how severe the illness maybe is under study. It could turn out to be a mutation of a common coronavirus—or something else.”
I explained that according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or CDC, COVID-19 may spread in the same way as other coronaviruses. That is, most likely by person-to-person contact between individuals who are within about 6 feet (or 2 meters) from each other and through droplets exiting the body of an infected person by means of coughs or sneezes. These droplets may either land in the mouths or noses of others nearby or are inhaled into the lungs. Also, COVID-19 may spread when a person touches a virus-contaminated object or surface and then touches his or her own mouth, nose, or eyes.
COVID-19 appears to be a virus that can spread quite easily in homes, schools, communities, residential care facilities, even hospitals, and so on. News items have COVID-19, reported its spread on cruise ships, airline flights, and potentially wherever there are huge crowds of people, which could include popular sports events.
Some countries are reporting large numbers of illnesses. Because of this, the CDC is posting travel recommendations.
“How long would it take to get sick after you are exposed?” asked the other face.
Symptoms of illness seem to appear 2-14 days after exposure to the virus and include fever, cough, and shortness of breath. There seems to be an increased risk for those with an already underlying chronic condition. Also, for the very young and the elderly.
Another question followed: “Well, is there a vaccine we can take?”
I explained that currently, no vaccine is available. “Remember, it is a new disease. No specific treatment has been identified either. Treatment is based on symptoms. Naturally, the most effective way to evade COVID-19 is to avoid being exposed to the virus.”
That prompted yet another question. “What can we do to avoid being exposed?”
There are prevention strategies you can take to lower your risk of exposure and infection, including these:
- If at all possible, avoid close contact with people who are sick. Send a text or email or chat by phone. If someone is sick in your own home, try to have them stay in their own room as much as possible, away from other family members.
- Keep your hands away from your eyes, nose, and mouth.
- Use gentle hand pumps or elbow bumps instead of traditional handshakes.
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom, before eating, and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing.
- Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue; then throw the tissue in the trash immediately. Sneeze into the crook of your elbow if no tissue is easily available.
- Disinfect frequently-touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol to disinfect objects or surfaces that you touch frequently.
- If you do get symptoms of illness, take precautions to avoid sharing your germs with other people and pets. Call your medical practitioner, describe your symptoms, and follow the instructions you receive.
“I guess we could wait until summer to visit grandmother,” said one face.
“She’d probably be happier anyway if we visited in the summer,” said the other face. “I know I would not want to be quarantined for two or more weeks.”
Feeling “concerned” about COVID-19?
There are times to be very prudent in taking care of yourself. It is unhelpful to become terrified of COVID-19, however. In some cases that can lead to stigmatizing others, which can increase their stress levels. Fear, worry, anxiety, and stigma can suppress immune system function, too.
Whether you get sick depends on several things:
- Your current level of health, which involves your typical lifestyle
- The type and amount of exposure you receive
- The strength of your immune system
Bottom line: These three factors—often involving lifestyle and choices—are at least partially, if not completely, within your control.
Any place. Any time. Any birthday. It matters!
#coronavirus #covid19 #virusprevention #pandemic #howtopreventcoronavirus #sars #influenza #fluvaccine
©Arlene R. Taylor, PhD