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Coronavirus: What You Need to Know

COVID-19 is the name of a new viral infection that emerged in China in late winter and is spreading across many parts of the globe, including the U.S. Caused by a coronavirus, it is very contagious and is a serious threat to public health. Fortunately there are many ways that you can protect yourself and your loved ones. At The Guide to Good Health, we believe that one of the best ways to do this is by educating yourself about the virus, the illness it causes and the ways to reduce your risk of contracting it.

What is the coronavirus?
Coronaviruses are a family of viruses that are common in many species of animals; some strains of corona viruses can infect human beings although this is rare. The virus has a crown-like shape that gives it its name, corona, meaning crown.

The coronavirus that we are concerned with is SARS-CoV-2; the disease it causes is COVID-19.

What are the symptoms?
Coronaviruses cause flu-like symptoms: fever, cough, headache and sometimes shortness of breath. These symptoms can be mild to severe, and can progress to more serious illness and complications, including pneumonia, bronchitis and respiratory failure. Most people will have mild symptoms, but older adults, persons with underlying medical conditions and persons who are immunosuppressed (due to cancer treatment, anti-rejection drugs and other factors) are at greater risk.

What is the treatment?
At the present time, there is no anti-viral medication specific for COVID-19. Treatment consists of managing the symptoms. Medical science is working diligently to develop both an antiviral and a vaccine for COVID-19. This will take time, as the safety and effectiveness must be assured before use.

How contagious is COVID-19, and when is it MOST contagious?
Public health officials believe that people are most contagious when they are most ill. However, it may be possible for an infected person to spread the virus before exhibiting symptoms. Coronavirus is transmitted in the form of droplets which are released from the respiratory tract of infected persons when they cough, exhale or sneeze; these droplets can land on nearby people or can be inhaled by them, directly into the lungs. They may also land on surfaces and objects; when a person touches the contaminated surface, and then touches their mouth or nose, they may acquire the virus.

How can I protect myself?
Commonsense measures come first.

The best way to protect yourself and prevent the spread of COVID-19 is by limiting your exposure to it. Avoid sick people who have symptoms and stay away from crowds and public gatherings; consider working from home if that is an option. Avoid handshaking and hugging. These things are known as “social distancing” and are one of the strategies recommended by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly with soap and water for at least 20-30 seconds; if soap is not available, use hand sanitizer and keep a container of it close at hand. Avoid touching your face, even with clean hands; cover your nose and mouth when you cough or sneeze.

Keep your environment as clean as possible. Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces such as doorknobs, sinks, phones and counters.

In general, take good care of yourself by getting enough sleep, eating healthy food and managing stress.

Should I stock up on food and supplies?
In the event of a community outbreak, it will be helpful to have a stockpile of food, paper products, medications, pet food and other essentials. You might want to consider helping others such as elderly neighbors who may have difficulty getting extra supplies. Go to www.cdc.gov for more information.

Should I get a flu shot?
A flu shot will help keep you from getting the flu but not COVID-19. However, by getting the flu shot and staying healthy, you will reduce the potential burden on the healthcare system so that more resources can go toward those with COVID-19. It is not too late to get a flu shot.

What is community spread?
Community spread means that a number of people in a specific area have been infected. They may not know how they were infected.

What should I do if I think I may have COVID-19?
Don’t panic. Call your primary care physician. Tell them your symptoms and ask them for guidance as to the next steps. You will need to be tested to confirm the diagnosis.

If you feel very ill, go to the Emergency Room. If possible, call ahead to let them know you’re coming.
If you are having difficulty breathing, call 911.

Whether you go to the doctor’s office or to the Emergency Room, this is when you DO wear a face mask, if you have access to one. If not, cover your mouth and nose with a scarf.

What is the best source for information?
Allegheny County Health Department has a Coronavirus Resource Center on the web site; the information there is updated frequently. Go to: www.alleghenycounty.us/Health-Department/Resources/COVID-19/COVID-19.aspx

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: www.cdc.gov/coronavirus

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