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Coronavirus is actually the name of a number of strains of mostly minor respiratory infections we would typically refer to as colds or flu. At the time of this writing, however, the attention of governments and mass media around the world is focused on the outbreak of a new strain of coronavirus: COVID-19 which is believed to have originated in the provenance of Hubei, China. Dr. Michael Farzam and House Call Doctor Los Angeles have been monitoring this situation, looking at information released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other sources.

What is COVID-19 and what are its symptoms?

COVID-19 is a newly discovered type of human coronavirus that is believed to have originated in wild meat markets in Wuhan, China in late 2019. The disease’s primary symptoms include mild to severe respiratory illness including coughing, difficulty breathing, and fever. This strain is responsible for the outbreak that has spread through parts of Asia, Europe, and here in North America. It is also sometimes referred to by experts as Novel Corona Virus (to distinguish it from the older endemic strains), and Wuhan Coronavirus. While the virus is often mentioned in the same breath as SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) which emerged in China in 2002, it and COVID-19 are only distantly related.

Reporters often refer to COVID-19 as “deadly.” How worried should I be?

This strain is still very new so epidemiologists are being cautious when discussing mortality rates associated with the COVID-19 virus. We can say, however, that at this point the disease is not extremely lethal, though the death rate may be somewhat higher than some of the stronger seasonal flu viruses such as H1N1 “swine flu” virus, also sometimes referred to as “deadly” by the media. As usual with viruses, the vast majority of deaths have occurred in elderly and infirm patients who are more vulnerable to often serious complications such as pneumonia. Fortunately, so far children are involved in few cases and very few of the deaths have been in people younger than 40.

Why has there been so much concern and worry?

COVID-19 is very highly contagious and is believed to have the ability to survive on surfaces for up to nine days. This has made the strain extremely difficult to contain for hospitals with infected patients and is the likeliest factor in the disease’s rapid spread. Ironically, the low level of mortality and the number of very mild cases may also be causing the disease to spread more quickly. Indeed, many people who have COVID-19 likely assume they have an ordinary cold or may not feel sick at all and may be innocently spreading the illness as they go about their days.

Currently, public health officials are working hard to contain the virus to avoid a situation in which public health systems could become overwhelmed by an enormous number of complications arising at the same time. This is a very serious matter which could become deadly to many but not for the reasons you might think. Media voices forecasting extremely frightening scenarios as well as those who are minimizing the issue should both be viewed skeptically.

Where has COVID-19 spread? What about the United States and California?

As of this writing, COVID-19 has infected over 80,000 people, mostly in China, with smaller outbreaks also occurring in South Korea, Japan, Iran, Italy, and some here in the United States. The disease has also spread to at least two dozen other countries where only a handful of people have become ill.

While there have been several cases in California, including Orange County, the CDC currently lists the immediate risk of infection among members of the general public as low. The exception, however, is those who have recently visited China or been exposed to someone who has recently been there. While the risk of any given Californian becoming ill with COVID-19 is low, the CDC notes that there is a significant risk of widespread transmission in the United States. As of this writing, the first possible instance of community transmission, i.e., someone becoming infected with no known contact with anyone from China, has been reported in Northern California.

How can I protect myself against COVID-19 now?

At present, the best course is to do all of the things you should ordinarily do to stay healthy during cold and flu season. While it may be some time before a vaccine appears, getting a flu shot is nearly always a good idea if you haven’t done so and may lessen the severity of a virus. Frequent handwashing can lower the risk of contracting or spreading viruses. Also, maintaining a healthy lifestyle with plenty of rest and good nutrition will always lower your risk of contracting a virus.

What should I do if COVID-19 becomes widespread in California?

Stay in touch with reliable media sources such as major newspapers and television networks both local and national. In the event of a serious situation, public health officials will be issuing advisories which should provide reliable guidance on how to stay safe and limit the spread of the illness. Remember that panicking is never helpful and the odds of actually becoming seriously ill due to COVID-19 are small. If you should come down with symptoms of a respiratory virus, rest, relax and avoid contact with others. In most cases, that should be sufficient.

When should I contact a doctor?

If a viral illness persists or if symptoms worsen quickly, then it is time to contact a doctor. Using a house call doctor may provide added peace of mind as well as convenience. In the event of a serious epidemic or pandemic, avoiding crowded emergency rooms may be especially advisable.

If you are concerned about a viral illness or any other health issues, contact House Call Doctor Los Angele by calling the number on your screen or visiting our contact page.