As more and more coronavirus cases are confirmed worldwide as well as here in Michigan, I’m answering specific patient questions about COVID-19.
Question From Jane Arnett – “Why are we shutting everything down and staying in our homes when we don’t do that for the flu? Is this that much more contagious?”
In short, yes – the coronavirus is about twice as contagious as the flu. Someone with the flu on average infects 1.3 new people. Somone with the coronavirus, however, is estimated to spread it to two or three other people. And, the flu has been around for a while. We have partial immunity to it and we have a vaccine. The coronavirus, on the other hand, is new to us. We don’t have any treatments nor do we have any immunity. The number of people dying from the virus tells us that we have to take it seriously.
Question From MarieLynn Ryall – “What’s more important the mask or washing hands?”
Washing hands is by far more important than wearing a mask. Though the virus can be spread through coughing and sneezing, it’s much more likely to land on a surface and live for hours. Most people aren’t used to wearing a mask and are more likely to touch their face more often than they otherwise would have to adjust the mask. Furthermore, medical professionals are in need of these masks that are currently in short supply. But, if you touch a surface contaminated with COVID-19 you can infect yourself by touching your face or contaminate another surface – until you’ve washed your hands. So, please frequently wash with soap and water for a good 20 seconds.
Question from Mr. DeAngelo – “Is the virus itself killing people or is it coupled with the medical conditions that people already have that are killing people?”
Unfortunately, this question does not have a straightforward answer. The coronavirus itself is a respiratory virus that immediately starts attacking your body upon entry. This triggers your immune system to start fighting the infection. If your immune system works correctly – it should contain the virus. But, in some cases, the immune system can overreact and it starts killing off everything – including healthy lung cells. This can make it harder to breathe. And, a small percentage of people will need a ventilator for oxygen because they develop ARDS, or acute respiratory distress syndrome. Now, some other folks might have problems with their immune systems meaning your immune system is blocked or you’re immunosuppressed. When this happens your body can’t fight off infection very well. Also, the coronavirus targets the lungs. So people with less healthy lungs such as smokers or folks with lung diseases such as COPD can’t put up as good of a fight against coronavirus. This can cause some to end up pneumonia where the air sacs fill with pus or fluid.
The bottom line is that anyone can become infected with COVID-19. So it’s best that we all do our part through social distancing and that we stay vigilant with our hygiene.