So, let’s talk about the elephant in the room: the coronavirus.
What, exactly, is it? How worried do we all need to be? And what practical steps can we take to protect ourselves?
Dr. Prescott Prescribes
The coronavirus is a new infectious strain from a common viral family. In most cases, it causes cold- and flu-like symptoms: upper respiratory infection, and sometimes a cough, shortness of breath, sore throat, congestion, headache, fatigue, muscle aches or fever.
In a smaller number of cases (concrete figures are still hard to come by), the virus can cause pneumonia and acute respiratory distress. Those most at risk to become severely ill are the elderly, along with people already facing other health challenges like heart disease, diabetes and chronic respiratory disease.
Still, there’s no need to panic. Mortality rates are in the low single digits, and the virus appears less transmissible than measles.
How it’s spread
The virus spreads through tiny viral droplets, which pass from one person to another through mucus or saliva. Infected people, who may not yet be showing symptoms, eject these mucus and saliva droplets by coughing, sneezing, talking or breathing.
Healthy people can become infected either directly or indirectly. Direct transmission occurs if you breathe in the droplets.
A good rule of thumb is that if you can smell what someone ate for lunch, you’re probably inhaling what they’re exhaling, including droplets. If someone is exhibiting cold or flu symptoms, try to steer clear, and certainly avoid physical contact.
Whenever possible, if you can give everyone a little buffer zone — experts are recommending anywhere from three to six feet — you will be safest. But there’s no need to wear a mask, as they haven’t been shown to guard against droplet infection.
The virus also survives on surfaces for a significant period of time. That means you can infect yourself by touching that surface and then putting your hand in your nose, mouth or eyes.
Common disinfectants do seem to kill the virus, but that only keeps surfaces clear until the next droplet lands.
How to protect yourself
The best ways to protect yourself are the simple ones you hear every cold and flu season: Wash your hands as often as you can stand, and keep them out of your eyes, nose and mouth. Alcohol-based sanitizers also destroy the virus, so long as they contain at least 60% alcohol.
The virus is now spreading throughout the country, so experts recommend stocking at least a 30-day supply of any prescription medication. You might consider doing the same for household items like food staples, laundry detergent and, if you have small children, diapers.
If we’re fortunate, these measures will end up proving unnecessary. But until this viral outbreak crests, precaution is the order of the day.