The good news is that we were warned and it’s Spring, not Winter. (And we don’t routinely greet acquaintances with real kisses in the US.)
The really good news is that you aren’t helpless.
Chances are, most of the people who get sick picked the germs up with their hands and put them in their mouth, nose or eyes. (Gross, I know, but, trust me, I’m a doctor and a mother. I can be more gross than that when I want to get your attention.)
I tend to be a skeptic about panics, and so much of the news coverage about coronavirus is political hyperbole, but … I’m reading some worrisome stories from doctors dealing with the outbreak of COVID-19 in Italy.
Don’t panic, and don’t share! The coronavirus is spread by particles, droplets that have to enter your body by way of your nose, mouth or eyes. While it’s possible that someone might infect you by sneezing or coughing in your face, most viral infections are spread because of poor personal hygiene.
Virtually no one is immune to this coronavirus and we won’t have a vaccine for months, so people are panicking. I’m not, and here are some reasons why:
The US isn’t Italy. For one thing, we have a younger population. And, although the Lombardy region in Italy is modern and advanced, we have a higher intensive care capacity.
After all, we easily absorb the burden of influenza: up to 49 million infections, half a million hospitalizations, and 50,000 deaths every year due to influenza and hardly anyone even notices.
And we’ve had more warning than they did.
Here’s how fast influenza spreads each year in the US. If we don’t practice excellent self- protection, it’s a preview of how fast COVID-19 could spread.
Confirmed hospitalization history for Influenza in the US. Red = 2019-20, Orange =2017-2018
What’s the rate of spread of influenza in the US each year? This year? The graph above shows the historic rates of confirmed hospitalizations in the US. The red line is this year and reflects just over 16,000 patients, so far. The bright orange at the top is 2017, when we had a poorly matched vaccine.
There have been 200,000+ positive influenza tests reported to the CDC this year, 16,000 hospitalizations, and 136 pediatric flu deaths – not elderly patients with chronic diseases – this year.
We call it “seasonal” influenza for a reason. People tend to share the virus more in winter because of Thanksgiving and Christmas gatherings (and travel) and because children are in school. Sharing germs.
The coronavirus cases in the US sometimes have unknown “patient 1,” but the bulk have all involved clusters of patients with known physical and/or close contact with someone who was sick. The deaths have mainly been patients in one nursing home and a (different) hospital. In these sites, sick people were exposed to the droplets much more than you or I might be, because medical treatment accidentally aerosolized secretions.
COVID-19 symptoms are a fever over 100.5, a dry cough, and, for some, rapid onset of trouble breathing. Ther might be a runny nose or diarrhea, but there isn’t vomiting.
Use common sense and easy-to-achieve precautions. Wash your hands, don’t touch your face (eyes, nose, mouth), stay out of crowds, kindly and gently use what influence you have to encourage others to do the same.
If you get a fever, don’t go to the ER unless you are having trouble breathing. Call your doctor, and “self-quarantine.”
Most of all, Don’t share your germs and don’t pick up others’ viruses and put them in your body.
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I admit to being an advocate for ethically produced vaccines. I’m also against involuntary vaccination and very much an advocate for parental rights. However, I believe in education and (strong) encouragement to take advantage of vaccines, which are a fantastic tool to prevent disease.
The most recent data that I found shows that a requirement for health care workers (HCW) to choose to either wear a mask or be vaccinated reduces infection in those workers by 74%-88%.