Surely the COVID-19 pandemic is on a lot of minds lately. The news from places like Northern Italy and Washington State are worrisome but there are examples of other communities that have stood up to it. If we all do the little things that matter, I believe we can help make our respective communities one of those with low mortalities and great outcomes.
Now, to the matter at hand:
A few things that make COVID-19 special:
It is a novel virus so there is no immunity against it out there. Even a few of those who got infected and recovered, are getting re-infections in Japan and China.
It is an RNA virus so it mutates often. This makes it very adaptable and difficult but not impossible to make vaccines for. A trial started today in Seattle.
It is more contagious than the flu.
Droplets can hang in the air for 3 hours and survive on surfaces for 3 days.
It takes 10-14 days for symptoms to show. In that period, an infected person is already shedding the virus and infecting others.
It has a mortality of about 3-4% versus 0.1% for the flu.
There are no meds for it. The most promising so far is a drug Gilead was developing for ebola called Remdesivir. Chloroquine is also being tried. Most measures are supportive.
However, Looking at data from 72,000 patients from China:
Close to 80% of those who get it will not even feel it.
20% though will get ill and need hospital care. Out of that 20%, a third will get critically ill and need ICU care. Out of that third, half will die.
Even though only 20% get sick, the rate at which they get sick and show up at the hospital matters. If 500 to 1000 people get sick in one day, they will choke up any health system. If that continues unabated for a week, that will be catastrophic.
What is worse, the number that progresses to critical illness and as a result death also increases. That is what is going on in Seattle, Italy and Iran. That is why the mortality there is close to 7% or more.
If however, the rate of rise is slowed down through social distancing, good hygiene, and testing to tease out the infected ones, you get scenarios like in Japan, South Korea and Germany.
What must one do?
So stay home, wash your hands, stop touching your face and avoid crowds.
Please look out for each other and the vulnerable in our communities, then we are in this together!
Get care if you get sick. You may want to call ahead!
Note that it also presents a bit differently than the flu. The 3 main symptoms are fever, a dry cough and body aches or fatigue.
If you think you came into contact with someone who is infected, call your doctor and self-quarantine.
You may need to be tested.
Those who are over 65 and with co-existing conditions like cancer, COPD, diabetes, CHF, kidney failure, those taking immunsuppresants…. will need to be really careful. They are the ones who primarily constitute the 20% who get severe disease even though 20-year-olds are also dying in Seattle and Northern Italy.
Lastly, my fellow healthcare workers out there, be safe!
Dr. Nana Dadzie Ghansah, is an anesthesiologist, writer, and poet who lives and works in Lexington, Kentucky.