No matter which media outlet you get your news from, the world right now is focused on one topic – the coronavirus, or COVID-19.
This new type of virus made its first contact humans in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China. It has since spread to other countries and was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization on March 11. Here in Michigan, as cases tick up, it’s a major concern for parents who want to keep their children safe.
So, what do you need to know about the coronavirus? We spoke with an infectious disease specialist from Macomb and an internist from Detroit about what parents need to know about this new infectious disease.
“Coronavirus is a group of viruses that can affect your nose, sinuses and upper throat,” says Dr. Shaun Jayakar, internist from Ascension St. John in Detroit. “The 2019 novel coronavirus is a new respiratory virus, which causes respiratory infections ranging from mild to severe for humans.”
There are different types of coronavirus – including SARS and MERS.
“Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and Middle Eastern Respiratory System (MERS), both come from animals,” says Dr. Anthony Ognjan, DO, an infectious disease specialist at McLaren Macomb. “MERS is the worst one so far and second place goes to SARS – these types of viruses are found in bats, pigs and cats.”
Symptoms are very similar to the common cold and the flu, which makes it hard to distinguish if a person has the coronavirus or not, says Dr. Ognjan.
“(It) can start exactly like (the flu),” he explains. “Severe muscle ache, fevers, cough or generalized weakness.” The only difference is, “This one jumps right down deep into the lungs and cause severe pneumonia,” he says.
“There are always cold viruses circulating, which are actually part of the coronavirus group,” says Dr. Jayakar. “Everyone should take standard precautions, like washing hands, keeping ill kids home from school, coughing away from people and staying away from sick people. Remember: It’s in the same group of viruses as the common cold.”
This is why it is important to wash your hands – with soap and water, and not just hand sanitizer.
“Probably the most important thing to do is wash your hands and make sure they’re clean with soap and water, at least a couple times a day,” adds Ognjan. “Stay away from sick people and stay away from people if you are sick” to reduce the spreading of the virus.
Also, keep your “hands away from mouth and face – I don’t know how effective the masks really are,” he says. “Eat and drink well and stay in good physical shape and of course, get the flu vaccine.”
Is it a concern for parents?
As of this article’s publication, the novel coronavirus is acting similarly to the flu in terms of death rates; those who are older or have chronic health issues seem to be more at risk.
“It is very fluid right now,” Ognjan says, and numbers keep changing. “The death rate is 2%-3%, exactly like influenza.”
Also, at present, Johns Hopkins Medicine reports, “the disease seems to be much milder in babies and children.”
While there is currently no treatment for novel coronavirus, Ognjan adds, the best treatment right now is supportive care like fluids, rest and breathing treatments.
In addition, there is no vaccine for the virus yet, though experts are in the process of developing one.