The coronavirus outbreak continues to cause worldwide alarm as new cases are diagnosed each day. The vast majority of those who contract the illness recover, yet it still poses serious risks. We asked our expert Dr. Michelle Barron, professor of medicine in the division of infectious disease at CU Anschutz and director of infection control and prevention at UCHealth University of Colorado Hospital, about the virus and how best to avoid it.
We know one way to prevent the spread of coronavirus is by washing your hands. But how do you protect yourself on a bus, in a plane or at the gym? How do you limit your exposure to in these crowded environments?
- Being conscious of what your hands touch is important when you are in public places - in the gym, on the bus, etc. Try not to touch your face (nose, eyes, mouth) unless you have used an alcohol based sanitizer (they have small ones that can easily fit in your pocket). An alternative is sanitizing wipes. These can be used on your hands and can also be used to clean common surfaces you come into contact with. These are great on airplanes and trains but may not be as practical in other settings, but they do work well. At the end of the day, your hands are still going to be the main way you come into contact with the virus.
Would a flu shot reduce the chances of getting coronavirus or limit its severity?
- Getting a flu shot in flu season is always a good idea given how many people are hospitalized and die from the flu. However, the flu is a different family than coronavirus so it is highly unlikely the flu shot would have any impact on getting the disease or the severity of it, but this has not been formally studied.
Where does coronavirus attack and who is most vulnerable?
- Coronaviruses are respiratory viruses so they affect your nose, mouth, throat/airway, and your lungs. The elderly, those with underlying lung disease like asthma or COPD, and those that are immunocompromised (cancer, transplant, etc.) are more vulnerable to having severe infections.
Are the symptoms of coronavirus different from typical flu symptoms?
- The symptoms are very similar - fever, chills, runny nose, sore throat, cough. Some people will go on to develop pneumonia and/or bronchitis.
If you think you may have the disease what should you do? Where can you get tested?
- At this point, the recommendation is to only test individuals that have a high likelihood of having the virus - someone with direct exposure to a known COVID-19 positive patient, recent travel from a country with widespread disease, etc. This may change in the future. Testing can only be done via the Colorado Dept. of Public Health and Environment or the CDC. The test is not offered at your local clinics or pharmacies at this time. Additionally, the tests that are available through your primary care doctor and in hospitals do test for community strains of coronaviruses, but these tests do not detect COVID-19.
How are those infected treated?
- Treatment is what we refer to as supportive care. For mild illness: acetaminophen for fevers or headaches, cough syrup, throat lozenges, etc. For more severe illness, administration of intravenous fluids, use of oxygen, and other treatments may be used to make sure the patient's organ systems continue to function.
What is the prognosis for those who get the virus?
- It depends on the severity of illness and whether person who has COVID-19 has other underlying medical issues like heart disease, lung disease, diabetes, smokes tobacco, etc. These other things may get worse during infection and may lead to complications not specifically related to COVID-19.