We are dealing with a disease new to all of us and it is affecting not just us but the world’s population. The following is an attempt to explain what we are experiencing and what we are being asked to do.
COVID-19 is a new virus. It is dangerous because it can be deadly, has a worldwide reach and is affecting a population that has no natural immunity. We are protected against many infections, including childhood diseases with immunity, or can cope because we survived a mild infection or were vaccinated earlier.
Moreover most infectious diseases can be managed effectively with readily
available medicines. In the case of COVID-19 our population has neither immunity to fight off the disease nor proven medicines to treat it. We depend now on professionals including those in public health, clinical research, pharmaceuticals and clinicians on the front line.
How then do we deal with COVID-19?
• Social distancing of healthy at risk people (that is everybody!)
• Quarantine healthy people who have been exposed and can inadvertently
spread the virus (14 days is the incubation period)
• Isolate those who are infected until they are no longer a danger to others
OK, that sounds like good defense but how do you fight back? Leave that to the experts. Their job is to develop or uncover medicines effective in controlling the disease and develop a vaccine that provides immunity. How long will that take? Some partial remedies may be readily available, but for definitive results it will take months to years.
What to do? You guessed it. Go on the defense and buy time. Continue what we are already doing, a slow but effective process. It can be done. On the widest scale we practice social distancing which means avoiding congested areas and maintaining a distance of six feet from others. Practice personal hygiene such as frequent effective handwashing and avoiding touching your eyes, nose or mouth.
Social distancing, including quarantine and isolation when necessary, is likely to reduce the number of people infected and keep the number of patients below the threshold of hospital capacity.
Currently there are two main reasons someone should be tested for the
coronavirus: having symptoms ( fever, tiredness, dry cough, loss of taste and smell, and in severe cases difficulty breathing) or exposure to an infected person.
Most people (about 80%) recover without needing special treatment. The sickest patients suffer severe breathing difficulties requiring aggressive oxygen therapy. Seriously ill patients who survive can credit the body’s own systems that eventually fight off the disease. Age, underlying medical conditions and immune deficiency are the leading factors resulting in death. This occurs in under 2% of the affected people of all ages in the U. S. Mortality risks are significantly higher in older age groups and those with underlying medical conditions including immune deficiency.
When it comes to fighting this disease we can heed the words of Winston
Churchill. In 1940, when citizens he met on the street asked the prime minister how they should cope with the incessant bombing, he told them to heed the directions of the civil authorities and “leave Hitler up to me.” In our case we should use common sense, follow the best advice, and trust the medical team.
By Gene Helveston, M.D. and Rick Dexter, M.D.
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