Around the world, the newest coronavirus outbreak has millions of people concerned about their health. Despite precautionary efforts to contain the disease, the deadly virus continues to spread within China and to other areas of the world including the U.S. So far, only five cases have been confirmed in the U.S., out of about 6,000 cases confirmed globally (statistics as of 1/29/20), however, experts predict the outbreak could spread extensively before it ends.
While there’s still a lot that we don’t yet know about the disease, investigations into the virus and how it spreads are actively underway to best understand how to protect the public. Since there is no vaccine commercially available yet, one of the best things people can do is to educate themselves about the disease – what it is, what the symptoms are, how it spreads, what to do if you think you may have the virus, and more.
Here are the top 6 things to know about the current coronavirus outbreak:
What are Coronaviruses: Coronaviruses are not new – in fact, we’ve seen them before. Typically, coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that infect animals but can sometimes evolve and spread to humans. While coronaviruses usually cause mild respiratory disease in humans, at least two previously identified coronaviruses have caused severe disease — severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) coronavirus and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) coronavirus. Only time will tell, but so far health experts have largely said that the new coronavirus is seemingly “more infectious” but less severe than the SARS epidemic.
Disease Origin and Spread: The new coronavirus (2019-nCOV) was first identified in December 2019 as the cause of an outbreak of respiratory illness in the city of Wuhan, Hubei Province, China. Since that time Chinese health officials have reported hundreds of cases in the city of Wuhan, some causing severe illness or death. Cases have also been identified in travelers from Wuhan to other parts of China and the world.
Common Symptoms: The new coronavirus typically presents as a mild respiratory disease. Signs and symptoms include fever, cough, and difficulty breathing, and complications may include pneumonia. According to the World Health Organization, most of those who have died from the disease had underlying health conditions, like hypertension or diabetes.
Disease Transmission: There is clear evidence that the disease is transmitted from person to person, either through direct or indirect contact. What remains unknown about the disease is when exactly a person starts becoming contagious. For example, it’s unclear whether the disease can spread before a person develops symptoms or whether people who never become symptomatic can still spread the disease.
Prevention: Because the disease is thought to spread from person to person, the best way to avoid catching it is to be proactive with your health and practice responsible hygiene. Frequent hand washing, covering your cough and avoiding close contact with people who are sick can help prevent the spread of respiratory viruses, including coronaviruses. Travelers should consider postponing or canceling travel to highly infected areas of the world, as all confirmed cases of the virus in the U.S. have been linked to people who traveled to the Wuhan area of China.
Seeking Treatment: Currently, there is no drug available to cure the disease, but many drug developers are working on a reliable antiviral to directly target the coronavirus. While a few of these treatments show promise, all are still being studied so, for now, people with respiratory or flu-like symptoms should get checked by a doctor. In addition to understanding whether your symptoms might be caused by the coronavirus, and making sure people at high risk for the disease are referred to the right health professional for proper testing, a doctor can help you manage your symptoms to prevent some of the more severe complications like pneumonia. A telehealth visit is a great option for those who are worried they are infected as a virtual visit enables patients to seek medical attention from their home, limiting the spread of the disease.
Bottom line – if you’re sick or think that you may have come in contact with an infected person, don’t panic. Chances are it’s the flu or just the common cold. However, because symptoms of the coronavirus and the flu can be similar, it’s always best practice to see a doctor if you’re feeling ill. At the very least, it could help limit any confusion or anxiety that patients may be feeling, wondering what they have. Taking advantage of a virtual visit with a doctor can be a good first step towards getting and feeling better while limiting the spread of germs.
To get in touch with a virtual doctor, download the Amwell app or visit www.amwell.com to learn more. You can also check with your insurance company or local provider to see if they offer virtual care services.