Coronavirus. You might have heard about it recently. It is making global headlines and many people are asking why.
I’d like to offer you some back history on coronavirus and what we currently know about the new little strain that is making big news.
What is Coronavirus?
To start, this family of viruses is not new and it has absolutely nothing to do with a popular cerveza that goes well with a lime.
Coronavirus is one of many viruses known to cause the “common cold.” Other common cold viruses include rhinovirus, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), parainfluenza, adenovirus and metapneumovirus.
Coronavirus can infect humans and animals. In humans, coronavirus can sometimes lead to infection of the lungs, such as pneumonia and bronchitis.
The CDC reports that lung infections are more common in people with chronic heart and lung diseases (such as asthma), people with weakened immune systems, infants and older adults.
What are symptoms of the common cold?
Most people who catch a cold will experience mild symptoms such as runny nose, coughing, sneezing, sore throat and sometimes fever, headache and body aches.
Most people recover within about 7 to 10 days. However, some at higher risk (asthma, weakened immune systems, younger/elderly) may experience a more complicated course that includes infection of the lungs, sinuses and ears.
Cold viruses generally hit hardest in the winter and spring seasons, but (as every parent of a preschooler knows) some viruses are around all year long.
How are cold viruses spread?
Cold viruses can spread when an infected person coughs or sneezes, sending thousands of infectious viral particles through the air and eventually settling in a healthy person’s nose or mouth.
Viruses can also be spread by coming in contact with someone’s respiratory secretions (aka snot) from a doorknob, shaking hands with a person with a cold, handling used tissues and then touching your eyes, mouth or nose.
What precautions can you take to minimize your risk or catching or spreading a cold virus?
Wash your hands often with soap and water and wash them for a full 20 seconds! A quick rinse may get a virus wet, but it may not actually wash the virus off of your hands.
Alcohol-based hand sanitizer can be used if soap and water are not available (but this should not be your first choice). Sanitizer is readily available and easy to carry with you in your pocket, purse or backpack during cold and flu season.
Avoid putting your hands in your mouth, rubbing your eyes and picking your nose (eww!).
These mucus membranes are the most susceptible areas for allowing viruses to enter your body. One reason why young children pick up so many colds is directly related to just how often they put their fingers in their mouth, nose and eyes.
Stay away from people who are sick. This sounds like a no-brainer, but just because you are feeling a little better doesn’t mean that you can’t still pass a cold virus along to a classmate or co-worker.
Going back to work or sending your child to school while they still have a lot of coughing, sneezing and nasal secretions will continue to spread virus.
Cover your coughs and sneezes. When a person has cold symptoms and coughs or sneezes, they forcefully fill the air with thousands of viral particles. By covering your cough and sneeze, you can minimize how many airborne viruses are dispersed into your surroundings.
Don’t forget to wash after covering up or blowing your nose, too – otherwise you’ll likely track virus on your doorknobs, remote controls, keyboards and touch screen devices.
Be mindful of disinfecting frequently touched surfaces. Keep sanitizing wipes handy to wipe down commonly touched surfaces. Many travelers will take sanitizing wipes with them to wipe down hotel items such as remote controls.
So what’s the deal with the new Coronavirus?
On its website, the CDC reports that it is carefully monitoring an outbreak of a new strain of coronavirus (2019-nCoV) that was first detected in Wuhan, China, several weeks ago.
Initial reporting linked spread of this virus from infected animals to humans, and in recent weeks there has been evidence of human-to-0human transmission. Symptoms range from mild cold symptoms to lung infections to even death (in a small percentage of cases).
At this time, the CDC is unsure of just how contagious this new coronavirus may be, but there are now reports of confirmed cases on multiple continents, and health agencies are doing what they can to contain the spread of this disease.
Are there cases in the United States?
Unfortunately, the answer to this is yes. The first reported case in the US was announced on Jan. 21. As of the time of that this column was being written, there were five confirmed cases being followed in the U.S., with two of those in Southern California.
So far, each of the US cases involved people who are believed to have been exposed in Wuhan, China. There have been no reported cases of human-to human spread in the U.S., but experts are preparing for the possibility of more cases being identified over time.
The CDC acknowledges that this is an emerging and evolving situation, but the good news is that they are working closely with public health agencies and health care responders.
What can/should you do now?
First, do not panic. Although this is new (and is constantly in the news), it is extremely unlikely that you will come into contact with this strain of coronavirus if you have not traveled.
You are likely, however, to come into contact with many other viruses that are currently circulating in our community (including Influenza A and B).
My best advice is to focus on preventing what we currently know is around us.
We know that there is influenza in the community and we know that the flu vaccine can help prevent the flu, so go get your flu vaccine (it’s not too late). Stay up to date on your other routine vaccines as well.
Eat well. Exercise. Get good rest. Try to reduce stress and do what you can to boost your immune system.
Practice good universal health hygiene. Review the common sense steps discussed above to minimize the spread of cold viruses, including hand washing, covering your cough and sneeze, sanitizing and staying home when you are sick.
Back to the limes. Limes contain vitamin C, and a buddy of mine likes to remind me that vitamin C has medicinal powers, like preventing scurvy. So, next time, don’t forget the lime.
Dr. Dan Brennan is a board certified Pediatrician at Sansum Clinic who wishes you a happy and healthy 2020. Please contact Dr. Dan at 805.563.6211 or visit www.sbpediatrics.com.