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What you need to know about COVID-19 Coronavirus

What we know

There was a new type of coronavirus that caused pneumonia was first identified in patients in Wuhan, China in the end of 2019 that became widespread in China and now has spread to countries like Japan, Korea, Iran, and Italy, currently which are the hardest hit.

What is COVID-19?

COVID-19 is the more severe illness caused by this novel coronavirus which is pneumonia. Patients who have COVID-19 almost always have fever, cough and shortness of breath. The actual coronavirus that causes COVID-19 has been named severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2).

Although the majority of patients who test positive for the virus have either no symptoms or very mild symptoms (81%).. The remainder (14%) had more serious infection and had symptoms of shortness of breath, over 50 percent of lung involvement on imaging tests within 24 to 48 hours, and the last group (5%) were in serious medical condition (multiorgan failure, respiratory failure, or shock) which can result in death.

Patients with mild symptoms typically recover in 2 weeks and no medical care is needed. For those with more serious illness recovery can take 3 to 6 weeks and does require medical care and support.

Patients felt to be at risk for COVID-19 are typically older and/or have other medical condition that put them at increased risk of serious infection. These are patients who have diabetes, cancer, or suppressed immune systems to due medications or chemotherapy.

A study in Wuhan found that of 138 patients with COVID-19 pneumonia, average age was 56 years old, 99% had fever, 59% had dry cough, 35% had muscle aches. About 30 percent of patients developed shortness of breath on average at about 5 days of illness. Over 10 percent of patients needed artificial or mechanical ventilation.

How do I know I have coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2)? How do I know I have COVID-19 pneumonia?

At this time, the number of test kits able to detect coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) are limited but the availability is increasing. The test will be a swab in the upper respiratory area (nose and throat) and typically done in a hospital or medical setting.

Since most people will have mild or no symptoms, testing won’t typically be medically necessary except to help public health officials to understand how widespread the illness is and to reinforce the importance of self-quarantine, staying home, rest, protecting others by wearing a surgical face mask, until fully recovered.

Testing is more helpful in patients who have a more serious illness that can look like pneumonia, influenza (flu), or even COVID-19, as the treatment varies. 

Patients with COVID-19 typically have the following symptoms: fever, shortness of breath, and cough. Patients with COVID-19 often have had travel to the following countries China, South Korea, Italy, Iran, Japan or exposure to someone with COVID-19. There are now cases in the US who have had no travel and nationally cases are reported in California, Washington, and New York and we expect more people to be diagnosed with COVID-19 in the weeks and months ahead.

When should I see a doctor in person?

If you have significant symptoms of fever and shortness of breath you should see a doctor in person and particularly if you are older and have other medical problems.

Having a cold, which usually has symptoms of runny or stuffy nose, sore throat, and cough that does NOT have fever, does NOT have shortness of breath, typically gets better on its own in 7 to 10 days. If you have a cold, you should exercise the same precautions in preventing spread. That is self-quarantine, staying home, protecting others by wearing a surgical face mask, until fully recovered.

If you have sudden onset of high fever, severe muscle aches and dry cough, and does NOT have shortness of breath, this could be influenza or the flu and unless you are older and have other medical problems, self care at home and rest is all that is needed. There is a medicine for flu that can decrease the illness by about 1 day and that needs to be taken within 24 to 48 hours of symptoms. A test can be done to test for flu but it is not medically necessary.

If you have onset of fever, shortness of breath and cough (dry or with phelgm), it is the shortness of breath or wheezing in the chest that can be concerning for bronchitis (inflammation of the bronchial tubes) or pneumonia (inflammation of the lung tissue). If you have difficulty moving around and doing your normal activities because of your shortness of breath OR you are older and have other medical problems, you should see a doctor in person for further evaluation. Pneumonia which requires antibiotics, viral pneumonia, or COVID-19 pneumonia needs imaging like a chest xray or CT scan depending on the situation.

If you feel you are at risk for COVID-19, call ahead to the doctor’s office, emergency department, or hospital to see if any special precautions should be taken. Wear a surgical mask when going out.

Where else can I find more information about COVID-19?

We will update this blog post as more information becomes available.

Trusted websites include that of the  –

What are good practices to stay healthy?

This applies to all viral illnesses.

  • Wash your hands with soap and water, ideally 20 seconds or more. Singing Happy Birthday is a good way to get the right amount of time. 
  • Use of hand sanitizer of at least 60% or more alcohol can help disinfect viruses (more effective against bacteria) and reasonable option of soap and water not available.
  • Keep your hands away from your face, eyes, nose, and mouth. For viruses to enter the body, they need to make contact with the mucus membranes of the eyes, nose, and mouth. By washing your hands regularly and ensuring they do not touch these areas the risk is much lower of getting sick.
  • Face masks (surgical masks) are best used on patients who are ill and coughing. This decreases spread to others. Healthy patients wearing masks is not as helpful as viral particles are too small to be filtered about.If you are sick, stay home.
  • If you cough, cough into your elbow or tissue rather than into the air which can cause spread of illness.

References UpToDate and

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