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Published on March 09, 2020

Coronavirus (COVID-19): Symptoms, Prevention and Protecting Our Communities

In this week’s 2 Your Well-Being conversation with WFMY News 2, Cynthia Snider, MD, shares the latest information on coronavirus (COVID-19) symptoms and prevention and explains how we're working to protect our communities.

What kinds of coronavirus cases are we seeing in the United States?

“Predominantly in the US, we are seeing a lot of folks who have travelled from endemic areas and now back to their homes and are probably being placed in what's considered a self-quarantine, [which is] just staying at home and watching for symptoms. Unfortunately, a lot of areas popular for travel have been hit pretty hard... a lot of places in Europe. We're seeing it in Italy, Spain, even France and Germany being involved. This came out of Asia, so [it’s affecting] folks in China, Japan and South Korea, as well as in the middle east, including Iran. At least in the US, we're seeing quite a bit of folks [who are affected] who have been coming from areas affected by COVID-19 as well as potential spread among from close contact.”

What are the symptoms of coronavirus, and how do they differ from the flu? 

“I think what's challenging is both the flu and the virus that causes COVID-19 are both respiratory types of infections and they’re both caused by viruses. Generally with flu, folks will probably show their symptoms very quickly. [When] we're thinking about the incubation for flu, [it’s] just 4 days, but people start having symptoms at 2 days usually. When it comes to SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, we notice that the incubation period is up to 14 days. Some people show symptoms as early as the second day, but probably around the 5th or 6th day.” 

“The symptoms are kind of similar [between COVID-19 and the flu], so that’s the hard part, right? We know that people get fever, they get cough and shortness of breath, and sometimes with flu you also have body aches. The thought process is with COVID-19 diseases, [these] probably last a bit longer. It affects people who are much older, who seem to have the most severe disease as we're seeing with the outbreak that's happening in the skilled nursing facility out of Washington, which [also] happens with flu.”

Would the coronavirus make your feel very sick like the flu often does?

“There's a description of people [who have been affected by COVID-19] having very mild disease. About 80% of people have very mild disease - it even feels like they have a cold. However, we really focus on the folks that are having pretty big symptoms, such as fever and shortness of breath. They're having signs of pneumonia and lower respiratory infection, so you would feel more poorly. That's also the time when the thought [is] that you’re probably a little bit more contagious.”

If someone thinks they might have the coronavirus, what should they do?

“There are plenty of resources for the community. The state department has created a helpline for questions from the community about coronavirus. A lot of institutions like different health care communities have had postings on their hospital websites, and also they’ve disseminated a lot of information to their primary care doctors to help them ask those questions.”

“If somebody has travelled from a community that has had coronavirus in terms of multiple cases, I think that [information] is a good thing to bring up to their primary care doctor. If you’re having fever and shortness of breath or cough, it’s worth calling to let them know ahead of time that you would like to be assessed [for COVID-19], and then you also probably can talk to the person on-call for that clinic to find out if you should be going to the health department and whether you should be going to the clinic versus the emergency room.”

How are hospitals across the US and in the Triad prepared for the coronavirus?

A lot of institutions are working very hard - including Cone Health - in getting prepared for the estimated cases in the community. We're trying not only to increase provider education, but patient education. I think common sense needs to prevail. Hand-washing, as we were mentioning before, is so important. Cough hygiene [is important] as well. If you’re sick, try to stay at home. Also, avoid traveling to areas that are being affected by coronavirus.”

About the Expert

Cynthia Snider, MD

Cynthia Snider, MD, is an infectious disease and internal medicine specialist with the Regional Center for Infectious Disease.

Cynthia Snider, MD