‘What are the symptoms?’ ‘Is there a cure?’ and other coronavirus questions

Answers to frequently asked questions about the coronavirus.

A CVS store lets customers know that face masks and gloves may be in short supply, in New York, Tuesday, March 3, 2020.

A commuter wears a face mask on a Manhattan bound L train in New York on Tuesday, March 3, 2020. Experts urge people not to panic over the coronavirus. “The mantra is, ‘keep calm and carry on,’” said Dr. Marguerite Neill, an infectious disease expert at Brown University. (Brittainy Newman/The New York Times)

BRITTAINY NEWMAN

A photo provided by Elizabeth R. Fischer/National Institute of Allergy and Infection Diseases’ Rocky Mountain Laboratories, a coronavirus sample collected from one of the first cases in the United States. Because this coronavirus is so new, experts’ understaing of how it spreads is limited. (Elizabeth R. Fischer/National Institute of Allergy and Infection Diseases’ Rocky Mountain Laboratories via The New York Times) — FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. —

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ELIZABETH R. FISCHER/NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTION DISEASESÕ ROCKY MOUNTAIN LABORATORIES

As the coronavirus continues to spread across the globe, the news is coming at a fast and furious pace. But don’t let the volume send you into a panic about your health and that of your loved ones.

“The mantra is, ‘keep calm and carry on,’” said Dr. Marguerite Neill, an infectious disease expert at Brown University.

Here’s a list of frequently asked questions about the coronavirus outbreak and its symptoms.

What symptoms should I look out for?

Symptoms of this infection include fever, cough and difficulty breathing or shortness of breath. The illness causes lung lesions and pneumonia. But milder cases may resemble the flu or a bad cold, making detection difficult.

Patients also may exhibit other symptoms, such as gastrointestinal problems or diarrhea. Current estimates suggest that symptoms may appear in as few as two days or as many as 14 days after exposure to the virus.

What should I do if I feel sick?

If you think you’re sick as a result of the novel coronavirus, you can help safeguard your loved ones and community by staying at home, except to get medical care.

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The current guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that you call a medical professional if you notice symptoms and

— Live in or have traveled to an area with a known coronavirus outbreak

or

— Have had close contact with someone else who lives in or has traveled to an area with a known coronavirus outbreak

or

— Have had close contact with another person who has been infected.

Calling your doctor or health professional will help them prepare for your visit and prevent the spread of the virus to other people in the office. Be sure to wear a mask when you go to the doctor’s office and when you’re around other people.

The CDC also suggests that you avoid public transportation, ride-sharing services and taxis, and that you separate yourself from other people and animals in your home as soon as possible.

For more information, many state health departments have set up hotlines, but long wait times have been reported.

What if someone in my family gets sick?

Follow the same steps listed above if you think your children, or anyone else in your household, may be infected. Both the coronavirus and influenza are most dangerous to people who are over 65 or have chronic illnesses or a weak immune system. However, the flu appears far more dangerous to children, particularly very young ones. Children infected with the new coronavirus tend to have mild or no symptoms.

How does this compare to the flu?

While the symptoms are similar, the coronavirus seems to be more deadly than the flu — so far — and more contagious. Early estimates of the coronavirus death rate from Wuhan, China, the epicenter of the outbreak, have been around 2%, while the seasonal flu, on average, kills about 0.1% of people who become infected.

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To compare, the 1918 flu had an unusually high fatality rate, around 2%. Because it was so contagious, that flu killed tens of millions of people.

How does the virus spread?

The new coronavirus seems to spread very easily, especially in homes, hospitals, churches, cruise ships and other confined spaces. It appears to spread through droplets in the air from a cough or sneeze.

Whether a surface looks dirty or clean is irrelevant. If an infected person sneezes and a droplet lands on a surface, a person who then touches that surface could pick it up.

A study of other coronaviruses found that they remained on metal, glass and plastic for two hours to nine days. But there is good news: The virus is relatively easy to destroy using a simple disinfectant.

Is there a cure? What about a vaccine?

There is no approved antiviral drug for the coronavirus, though several are being tested. For now, doctors can recommend only the usual remedies for any viral illness: rest, medicine to reduce pain and fever, and fluids to avoid dehydration.

Coronavirus patients with pneumonia may also need oxygen, and a ventilator if breathing trouble worsens.

An experimental vaccine for the coronavirus may be ready for testing in humans within a few months. But even if it is approved, it will be much longer, at least a year or two, before it is available for widespread use. In the meantime, experts are urging people and their children to get a flu shot.

My partner/friend/parent/child is very worried. How serious is this?

This virus can be deadly, clearly; there’s a reason government officials and medical experts across the world are issuing strong warnings. But the vast majority of those infected so far have only mild symptoms and make a full recovery.

It is important to keep this in mind, both to avoid an unnecessary global panic and to get a clear picture of the likelihood of transmission.

“Many people are now panicking, and some actually are exaggerating the risks,” said Dr. Jin Dong-yan, a virology expert at the University of Hong Kong. “For governments, for public health professionals — they also have to deal with these, because these will also be harmful.”

OK. Then why are experts so concerned?

Unlike other, more mild coronaviruses, this one is causing many deaths.

Experts still don’t know much about it, including how contagious it is or how it spreads.

But, the coronavirus death rate may be even lower if — as most experts suspect — there are many mild or symptom-free cases that have not been detected. Still, even a disease with a relatively low death rate can take a huge toll if large numbers of people catch it.

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