On March 12, 2020, I published a list of conditions that increase the risk of a bad outcome from pandemic Coronavirus infection. I told you to be extra careful around Coronavirus if you had risk factors for serious illness. What I failed to do is tell you how to take precautions if you have risk factors. I rectify that today, although this may be well-known to you already.
By the way, physicians are calling the disease caused by Coronavirus, “COVID-19.”
Like the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, I mentioned that age 60–65 or higher is a risk factor.
Is Age Really Important?
Yes. Here’s a chart from the report of UK’s Imperial College COVID-19 Response Team dated March 16, 2020:
TL;DR version: The need for hospitalization and ICU (intensive care unit) admission starts to rise dramatically for patients aged 50-59 and shoots up from there. If you make it into the ICU with COVID-19, you’ll quite likely have a tube down your throat and be on a ventilator (a mechanical “breathing machine”), or getting ECMO.
BTW, the Response Team figures you have only a 50:50 chance of surviving if you end up on a ventilator.
If You Have One or More of the Listed Conditions, What Does “Being Extra Careful Around Coronavirus” Mean?
Avoid the virus if at all possible. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and state governments have been issuing guidelines. One major issue is that the virus incubates in the body without symptoms for 5–7 days, and the affected individual may be infectious—shedding the virus that could get into you if you’re nearby—for 24 hours or so before the virus carrier even knows they’re sick. For folks that get sick with the virus, symptoms last for 1–2 weeks, and their oral or respiratory secretions (and feces? tears?) could infect you if the they enter your body via the mouth, nose, or eyes (or gastrointestinal tract?). Even after recovery, infected individuals can shed infectious virus for about a week. Further complicating the situation is that infected individuals may just have mild symptoms like a cough (or runny nose or sneezing?), and won’t be quarantining themselves or avoiding other people. They won’t know they have the virus. Other people can harbor the virus in their bodies and never feel sick—we don’t know how infectious these folks are. So what specifically can you do if you have risk factors for serious disease?
- Monitor your local news reports to know how common is the virus in your community. If there’s an outbreak there or where you’re going…
- Avoid crowds (0f 10 people? 50?)
- Stay home as much as possible.
- Don’t be around people with symptoms of possible COVID-19: c0ugh, shortness of breath, fever, ?sneezing, ?runny nose. Sure, they could just have common illnesses like bronchitis, pneumonia, hay fever, allergies, the common cold, or a sinus infection. You just don’t know. The virus won’t get into your residence unless you allow an infected person in.
- Avoid touching high-touch surfaces in public places, like hand rails, elevator buttons, door handles, handshakes, etc. If you must touch, cover the surface with a tissue or disinfect it first.
- Wash your hands frequently with soap and water. Particularly after touching high-touch surfaces in public places.
- Avoid cruises, mass transit, air travel. Again: crowds.
- If you can’t avoid someone who’s coughing or sneezing, offer them a surgical mask.
- Don’t touch your mouth, nose, or eyes. That’s how germs on your hands can enter you.
Steve Parker, M.D.
PS: It’s still very early in this pandemic and there’s much we don’t know. Some of the above information is probably wrong. Stay tuned.
Steve Parker, M.D.