Written by Sarah Thebarge, Physician Assistant
SARS-CoV2, a strain of coronavirus that causes COVID19, began making international headlines in December 2019 after a cluster of cases of pneumonia of an unknown cause was reported in Wuhan, China.
While the virus was first identified in China, it soon began to spread around the world. Currently, there are more than 1.6 million cases worldwide. The U.S. has nearly four times the number of cases of any other country, with half a million cases diagnosed by mid-April.
Here are answers to the most common questions our patients are asking about this infection.
1. How did COVID-19 get its name?
Researchers discovered that the cases of pneumonia in Wuhan were caused by a strain of the coronavirus that had not been seen before, and because of that, they called it the 2019 novel (or new) coronavirus.
Previous viruses had been named after the animals thought to have been the first carriers of the virus (i.e., bird flu and swine flu), or after the country in which they were believed to have originated (i.e., the Spanish Flu).
But when the novel coronavirus was discovered, the World Health Organization (WHO) determined to “find a name that did not refer to a geographical location, an animal, an individual, or group of people, and which is also pronounceable and related to the disease.”
On February 11, 2020, WHO announced that the official name of the virus is SARS-CoV2 which causes the more commonly known COVID-19, which stands for Coronavirus Disease 2019.
2. Why was it declared a pandemic?
In January 2020, WHO declared COVID-19 a “global health emergency.” But due to how quickly the virus was spreading, how severely it affected patients, and the alarming lack of action by many countries to prevent its spread, WHO declared COVID-19 a pandemic on March 11, 2020.
According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), an infection must go through several levels before it qualifies as a pandemic. The first level is “Sporadic,” when an infection is infrequent. The second level is “Endemic,” when there is a constant presence of an infection in a specific geographical area. The third level is “Epidemic,” when there is a sudden increase of infection among a certain population.
An infection reaches the fourth level, a “Pandemic”, when it spreads across multiple countries or continents and affects a large number of people.
3. What are the symptoms of the virus?
While the symptoms of COVID-19 range from mild to life-threatening, the most commonly reported symptoms are a dry cough, a fever (defined as a temperature of 100.4 or above), fatigue, and shortness of breath.
More serious symptoms include:
- Trouble breathing
- Persistent pain or pressure in the chest
- New confusion or inability to arouse
- Bluish lips or face
If you are experiencing any of the above serious symptoms, you should seek medical attention right away. Otherwise, continue to monitor symptoms or book a Virtual/Video visit to speak to one of our providers is available in your state. Currently, we offer telemedicine services via Virtual/Video visits in Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Springfield-Missouri, St. Louis-Missouri, New York, Oklahoma, Oregon, and Washington
4. How is COVID-19 diagnosed?
The virus can be detected via a nasal swab, a throat swab, or a sputum sample obtained from a patient’s lungs. The initial tests that were available took an average of 2-7 days to produce a result. But recently, companies, like Abbott, rolled out a rapid test that can produce a result in approximately 15 minutes. We are currently offering rapid COVID-19 tests in our California (Bay Area), Oregon, and Washington locations. Schedule a Virtual Visit for an evaluation and a referral for rapid testing if requirements are met.
5. Why is COVID-19 so concerning?
The initial data obtained from Wuhan showed that the virus was much more deadly than influenza, which causes the seasonal flu. For example, approximately 0.1% of people who contract influenza die from it each year. But in Wuhan, 5.8% of people who contracted the virus died from it.
Based on recent data collected from more than 100 countries that have been affected by the virus, WHO currently estimates that COVID-19 has an average mortality rate of 3%, making it 30 times more lethal than the seasonal flu.
COVID-19 also appears to be more contagious than influenza. A patient infected by influenza tends to infect an average of 1.3 other people, whereas a patient with COVID-19 tends to infect an average of 2.5 people.
The other reason COVID-19 is concerning is that it can take between 1-14 days to develop symptoms after being exposed to the infection, so approximately 25% of people who have the virus are contagious without having any symptoms.
6. How is COVID-19 transmitted?
Coronaviruses are commonly transmitted via respiratory droplets that linger in the air and quickly settle after an infected patient coughs or sneezes. As we learn more about the virus, it also seems that it can survive for as many as 72 hours on hard surfaces -- which means that someone who touches an infected surface and then touches their eyes, nose, or mouth could contract the infection.
New research shows that COVID-19 may also be transmitted when someone laughs, sings, or even talks. There’s also research underway to determine if the COVID-19 can be spread via fecal-oral transmission, by contact with animals, or by other means.
7. How can COVID-19 infections be prevented?
There are several steps people can take to prevent the infection. Since the virus is transmitted from person to person, the fewer contact people have with each other, the less likely the virus is to spread. So “social distancing”, which is more accurately called “physical distancing” is vital in prevention. This entails staying at least six feet apart from other people who are not part of your household, avoiding public spaces, and staying home except for essential reasons, like grocery shopping.
Frequently disinfecting hard surfaces, washing your hands with either soap and water or with hand sanitizer (if soap and water are not available), and avoiding touching your face is also important.
If you do have to leave home for an essential reason, wearing a face-covering across your mouth and nose can prevent you from transmitting the infection to other people. The CDC has guidance on how to make your own mask here.
Researchers are currently working on a COVID-19 vaccine that would offer people immunity against the virus, but it could take an estimated 18 months to two years for the vaccine to become available.
8. Is there a cure?
Currently, there is no established cure for COVID-19, but researchers are working quickly to test several potential options.
There are currently studies underway to see if certain existing medications are effective against the virus.
Also, there are promising clinical trials evaluating a method called Convalescent Plasma Therapy, which entails taking plasma from a patient who has recovered from COVID-19, extracting antibodies from the plasma, and infusing those antibodies into a patient who has severe coronavirus symptoms.
At GoHealth Urgent Care we’re open 7 days a week to care for you -- Please call your nearest center if you believe there is a possibility that you or a loved one has contracted the Novel Coronavirus.