Dr. Manny Alvarez: Coronavirus – How to prepare and protect yourself as US gears up to fight it

President Trump has the right approach when it comes to dealing with the new coronavirus. We should all stay calm and informed.

I understand, of course, that the latest news on the coronavirus could make anyone scared. There are daily reports of new infections and deaths in locations around the world. The most recent nation in the Americas to confirm coronavirus cases is Brazil.

This is clearly a virus that does not respect borders. It is now spreading with alacrity across the Middle East, the Korean peninsula, Europe, Latin America and, of course, many parts of China.

CORONAVIRUS CONCERNS ON NEW YORK'S LONG ISLAND SEE 83 BEING MONITORED

Globally at least 81,000 people have been diagnosed with the illness. It is true, as officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have stated, that we will see more cases here in the United States. But it is also true that while our government will not institute the draconian measures that have been put in place in China, we are still well prepared to minimize the potential spread of coronavirus in the United States.

Let’s start with facts. What do we know so far about this virus?

  1. It is a very contagious virus -- just like any flu virus -- and appears to transmit itself very similarly through direct contact with infected patients.
  2. In otherwise healthy individuals the viral infection is tolerated and most patients recover without any significant effects.
  3. For about 20 percent of patients who do require medical attention (such as hospitalization) with good medical treatment and support they will ultimately recover from the virus.
  4. About two percent of patients infected with the virus will die from upper respiratory complications.

Based on the facts above, until there is a vaccine, the war to protect ourselves will need to be waged by individuals and the government. We’ll need to keep informed about what areas of the United States are reporting cases of coronavirus. And, everyone should always consider practicing good hygiene. That includes doing the following:

  1. Avoid those people who are sick with the virus
  2. Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth
  3. Practice good hand hygiene -- wash your hands with soap and warm water for at least 2 minutes
  4. Disinfect surfaces

Finally, how will you know if you get the coronavirus? Short answer: You won’t.

We can only differentiate the illness from other viruses through specific laboratory testing. The good news? A test is now readily available in many labs throughout the United States.

Coronavirus symptoms are very similar to other flu symptoms such as a runny nose, cough, sore throat and fever. Of course, those with a weakened immune system or who are elderly may end up with respiratory complications from the virus.

Every time we get one of these viral pandemics we tend to forget all the lessons we have learned from previous outbreaks. I still believe that we are well-prepared here in the United States to deal with the uncertainties of this viral spread.

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We have the best monitoring systems to statistically, in real-time, evaluate the number of cases of coronavirus that might develop in the United States.

We also have comprehensive health screenings focusing on air, land and sea passengers coming into our country who might be sick. But, more importantly, we also know what areas of the world they are coming from.

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Our health care system, including doctors, nurses, labs and infrastructure, is well-suited to isolate and treat cases of the coronavirus.

You may ask, “How do you know that?”

Well, let’s look at the facts. Around 16,000 Americans have died of the regular flu during the 2019 – 2020 flu season according to preliminary estimates from the CDC.

Between October 1, 2019 and December 7, 2019 there were 3.7 million cases of the regular flu identified in this country according to the CDC. Approximately 41,000 hospitalizations occurred due to the flu and our health system did not miss a beat.

On a side note, this is why we tell the American public to get a flu shot.

Our government is also supporting a strong effort to very aggressively develop a new vaccine for the coronavirus.

Finally, as I have said many times before, this country continues to have the best scientific talent and governmental commitment to keep health emergencies at bay.

In conclusion here are the questions I am getting asked frequently about coronavirus and my thoughts as a physician:

Am I concerned? Yes.

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Is the world going to learn from this experience? I hope so.

How can I keep myself safe? Try to take the same precautions that you would for the regular flu. -- More importantly, if you have underlying health conditions, please take extra precautions and always consider getting the regular vaccines that are recommended for individuals in your age group such as the pneumococcal or whooping cough vaccines.

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