Introduction to Coronavirus (COVID-19)

What is Coronavirus (COVID-19)?

Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is a fairly new respiratory illness that was first reported in Wuhan, China, on December 31, 2019. The unfamiliar nature of COVID-19 has lent itself to a variety of unknowns and with new information coming available on a daily basis, the situation is rapidly evolving. As the knowledge grows about the disease, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has provided insight into what the situation is like in the United States and what the current risk is for citizens, as well as, how COVID-19 compares to the flu and what people can do to protect themselves.

Situation in the United States and current risk assessment:

The CDC’s website details how outbreaks of novel virus infections are always a public health concern and the risk to the general public depends on the characteristics of the virus, including how well it spreads between people, the severity of the illness it causes and the medical or other resources available to control the virus and its impact. The CDC has broken down the risk for Americans into two different categories, “Risk of exposure and Risk of Severe Illness”.

Risk of Exposure:

  • Cases of COVID-19 have been reported in all 50 states
  • People living in places where on-going community spread of the virus has been reported, are at an elevated risk of exposure, with the level of risk being dependent on location.
  • Healthcare workers or those in close contact with COVID-19 patients are also at an elevated risk of exposure.
  • Travelers returning from affected US and international locations were community spread is occurring are at an elevated risk of exposure.

Risk of Severe Illness

With the level of knowledge we currently have on COVID-19, there are certain sections of our population that are more prone to having severe complications. The CDC reports that older adults over the age of 65 and those who live in a nursing home or long-term health facility are at increased risk. They also reported that individuals with underlying medical conditions are also at a heightened risk, in particular if the conditions are not well controlled. Here is a list of those conditions:

  • People with chronic lung disease or moderate to severe asthma
  • People who have serious heart conditions
  • People who are immunocompromised:
    • Conditions that can lead to those being immunocompromised include, smoking, cancer treatment, bone marrow or organ transplantation and poorly controlled HIV or AIDS, among others.
  • People who are severely obese or those who have a BMI of 40 or higher
  • People with diabetes
  • People with chronic kidney disease undergoing dialysis
  • People with liver disease

Symptoms and Protecting Yourself

According to the CDC, cases of Coronavirus have ranged in severity from patients showing only mild symptoms to severe illness and even death. Symptoms may appear within 2-14 days after exposure with fever, cough and shortness of breath listed as the most common. Since there is currently no vaccine to help prevent COVID-19, the best way to prevent the illness is to take some recommended actions to help reduce exposure. The CDC’s official website recommends the following preventative actions:

  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth
  • Stay home when you are sick
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom or use a hand sanitizer

COVID-19 vs. Flu

With COVID-19 and the Flu producing similar symptoms, the two have been linked together from the beginning. Both COVID-19 and the Flu are infectious respiratory illnesses but they do have additional similarities along with some distinct differences. Lisa Lockerd Maragakis, M.D. listed the following similarities and differences on hopkinsmedicine.org:

Similarities:

  • Both cause fever, cough, body aches, fatigue; sometimes vomiting and diarrhea
  • Can be mild or severe, even fatal in rare cases
  • Can result in pneumonia
  • Both can be spread from person to person through the air from an infected person coughing, sneezing or talking
  • Neither virus is treatable with antibiotics, which only work on bacterial infections
  • Both may be prevented by thorough handwashing, coughing into the crook of your elbow, staying home when sick and limiting contact with people who are infected

Differences:

  • COVID-19 is caused by one virus, the novel 2019 Coronavirus, and the flu is caused by several different types and strains of influenza viruses.
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