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Coronavirus (COVID-19): What to Know

Coronavirus (COVID-19): What to Know

Coronavirus (COVID-19)––it’s the disease making headlines and sounding public health alarms. But what is this illness, how concerned should you be and is there anything you can do to prevent it?

Rachel Ellens, Holland Hospital Infection Control Coordinator, offers answers to these common questions and more:

Q: What’s the difference between coronavirus and COVID-19?

A: According to the World Health Organization (WHO), COVID-19 is the name of the illness caused by the coronavirus. The coronavirus mentioned in the recent world outbreak also has a specific name: severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (abbreviated as SARS-CoV-2).

A new strain of a virus that has never been seen before is also referred to as “novel.” That’s why you might see references to the “novel coronavirus” as well. In general terms, coronaviruses are relatively common and are responsible for the common cold.

Q: How serious is COVID-19?

A: COVID-19, or novel coronavirus, has claimed the lives of more than 3,000 people, the vast majority in China. There are currently more than 88,000 global cases. In the US (as of March 2, 2020), more than 80 cases and six deaths have been reported. For the latest statistics, visit the CDC website.

Q: What are the symptoms?

A: A study of 99 coronavirus patients in Wuhan City, China (where the outbreak originated) found that most symptomatic people presented with fever and dry cough, with shortness of breath experienced by nearly a third of patients. Other symptoms included headache, sore throat and diarrhea. The study revealed the average age of patients was 55.5-years-old; few cases were reported in children.

Q: How concerned should you be about COVID-19?

A: The spread of the virus outside China is worrying, but not unexpected. The WHO has declared the outbreak to be a public health emergency of international concern versus a pandemic. Experts don’t fully know how dangerous the new coronavirus is yet. That said, the current mortality rate in the epicenter of the outbreak is about 2%. For comparison, seasonal flu generally has a mortality rate below 1%, and is believed to cause about 400,000 deaths annually worldwide.

Unlike the flu, COVID-19 does not have a vaccine. That means it can be particularly hard on vulnerable members of the population, including older adults, people with chronic disease and those with compromised immunity or respiratory problems.

Q: How does the virus spread?

A: According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the virus is thought to spread mainly from person-to-person through respiratory droplets. It’s possible a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes, but this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads.

Q: Are you at risk for COVID-19?

A: There are no known cases of COVID-19 in Michigan. Nearly all cases outside of our state and elsewhere involve travelers to China or other affected countries. You are considered to be at greater risk if you’ve traveled to China, South Korea, Iran, Italy or Japan, or have been in contact with somebody who has traveled to one of these areas and has been sick.

Q: Is there anything you can do to prevent getting the virus?

A: You should do the same things you would do to avoid catching the flu, especially practicing good hand hygiene. Wash your hands a lot with soap and water for at least 20 seconds (about the time it takes to sing “happy birthday” twice).

Q: Should you wear a mask when traveling?

A: Evidence hasn’t shown that masks are very effective as a preventive measure. The best way to protect yourself from COVID-19 is frequent hand washing.

Q: What should you do if you think you have the disease?

A: If you are sick or have respiratory symptoms, stay home, cover your coughs and sneezes, wash your hands often with soap and water, avoid sharing personal household items, and clean all high-touch surfaces daily. If you develop a fever, cough or shortness of breath within 14 days after international travel to an affected country, or have had close contact with someone showing these symptoms, call your health care provider. Your provider will work with the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services and CDC to determine if you need to be tested.

Please note: Holland Hospital does not have testing kits for COVID-19. The CDC must first authorize the release of a test kit based on a number of factors. Currently there is no treatment or cure for COVID-19, only symptom support measures, and people with mild forms of the illness are able and encouraged to recover at home.

Q: What is Holland Hospital doing in response to the outbreak?

A: We recognize the importance of and need to prepare for the potential threat of COVID-19 spreading across the country. Holland Hospital is ready and equipped to handle potential COVID-19 patients.

Q: How can you learn more?

A: If you have additional questions or concerns, talk to your primary care doctor. Trusted information about the coronavirus or COVID-19 can also be found by visiting the CDC.

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