• Dr. Young Lee

Coronavirus - everything you need to know in 5 minutes

Toilet paper being hoarded. Face masks stolen from hospital. Is the zombie apocalypse coming? Well - not really, but being educated about coronavirus will help you protect yourself and ameliorate your anxiety. I thought it would be good to have a quick run down of the coronavirus infection in the form of an FAQ. Here it is. I will be updating this every week with new updates and my thoughts on it from a medical perspective.

What is the coronavirus?

The novel coronavirus, called COVID-19 is a new type of virus that causes cold like symptoms. Humans have never encountered this before, so it is quite easy to get sick from this. It is believed to have originated from animals, possibly bat virus mixing with human virus and producing a hybrid. The infections are believed to have started in Wuhan, China in late December 2019.

What are the symptoms of coronavirus?

Cough, sore throat, fever and shortness of breath.

Am I at risk?

You are at risk of having this illness if you fulfill the following 2 criteria:

1. you have symptoms of cough, sore throat, fever and shortness of breath

2. up to 2 weeks prior to the start of your symptoms, you have traveled to high risk areas (China, Italy, Iran, Korea) or have been in contact with people who had traveled to those areas.

What do I do if I think I am sick with the coronavirus?

Call Healthline or your doctor. Tell us your symptoms. All patients are now being screened at the phone call level. If we believe you are at risk and need to be seen - we will ask you to wait in your car when you come over. Give us a ring from the car, and we will see you in your car with our Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) on. This will typically be masks, gowns, gloves +/- goggles.

What is the situation in New Zealand now?

New Zealand has 5 cases - and there has been local transmission. This means that some people came back with the disease from overseas and a few people caught it from them in New Zealand, typically family members.

Should I hoard things - i.e. should I get lots of toilet paper, 6 months worth of medications etc?

No - there are no shortages in New Zealand and we don't expect any shortages of toilet paper or medications. Hoarding medications will create a shortage. Please keep calm and carry on.

How sick do people get with COVID-19?

Most people are fine. 80% have mild to no symptoms. 14% have more severe symptoms but can stay at home. ~ 6% need medical attention. Fatality rates are lowish ~ 3.4% mostly in the elderly and immune compromised.

How does COVID-19 compare with the flu?

Flu is much more common but we have a vaccine against it that works 60-80% of the time and needs to be given yearly. Flu infects about 1 billion people annually, ~3-5 million get really sick and about 650 000 per year die. The fatality rate is <0.2%. However the severity of flu tends to fluctuate. COVID-19 has a significant chance of becoming like the flu where it just hangs around and comes around every winter. Fatalities in China were higher in some cases because people got sick with both the flu and COVID-19.

Remember to get your flu vaccines every year.

How does COVID-19 spread?

It spreads by droplets. So keeping about 1m away from people is usually quite a good idea. Wash your hands after touching surfaces. Touching surfaces then touching your face can cause the virus to transfer to your body.

Do masks work?

Masks are designed with an absorbent layer on the inside. So it's much better at keeping droplets from going out rather than coming in. Therefore it's useful if you slap it on the person who's coughing. However wearing masks will not protect you from catching COVID-19.

Should I stop traveling on planes?

In general, the risks of infections for domestic flights should be quite low. International flight risks will still be relatively low unless you are going to high risk areas like Italy, China, Iran or Korea. The bigger problem will be that insurance will not cover anything COVID-19 related. My advice is to avoid non essential travel for now.

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