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 for?
Common symptoms of this infection include fever, a dry cough, fatigue and difficulty breathing or shortness of breath. The illness causes lung lesions and pneumonia. Some of these symptoms overlap with those of the flu, making detection difficult, but runny noses and stuffy sinuses are less common.
Patients may also exhibit gastrointestinal problems or diarrhea, and Dr. Neill said we are learning about different symptoms as we go. Most people fall ill five to seven days after exposure, but symptoms may appear in as few as two days or as many as 14 days.
In some cases, people who had appeared stable rapidly deteriorated in the second week; anyone infected needs careful monitoring.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the following symptoms — if you are otherwise healthy — should prompt you to seek emergency treatment.
Persistent pain or pressure in the chest
Confusion or inability to arouse
Bluish lips or face
Any other symptom that is severe or concerning
What should I do if I feel sick?
If you think you’re sick as a result of the novel coronavirus, you can first help safeguard your loved ones and your community by staying home, except to get medical care.
The current C.D.C. guidance 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
Have had close contact with someone who has traveled to an area with an outbreak
Have had close contact with anyone infected.
Don’t rush to the emergency room — it is most likely packed with very sick people and overworked employees and doctors.
When you call your doctor, he or she will advise whether you should come in. If you do, calling ahead of time will help the doctor 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. If you cannot find a mask, you can create a makeshift one from a scarf or a T-shirt.
The C.D.C. 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. That means not letting anyone enter your room and, ideally, not sharing bathrooms. Others should stay more than three feet away from you and avoid any surface you might have coughed on or touched, including doorknobs, plates, cups and towels. Disinfect the environment as much as possible.
Many state health departments have set up hotlines for people who want more information, but long wait times have been reported. Eventually, specific coronavirus testing centers may be set up.
It’s very possible that even if you have the virus, you will never be tested for it. This is frustrating to people who have symptoms and want to know if they should isolate themselves and warn their friends about exposure.
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. Children infected with the new coronavirus tend to have mild or no symptoms, and it is unclear how easily they transmit the disease to other people.
Patients at high risk should check in with their doctors as soon as they have symptoms. A doctor who knows your situation can help you navigate the system and advise you how and when to seek treatment. High-risk patients include older adults as well as people with asthma or lung disease or a history of pneumonia, heart disease, kidney disease, diabetes, a compromised immune system due to illness or a drug therapy, or a person who has recently been treated for cancer.
How does this compare with the flu?
The coronavirus seems to be more deadly than seasonal flu and quite contagious. Early estimates of the coronavirus death rate from Wuhan, China, where the outbreak originated, have been about 2 percent, while the seasonal flu, on average, kills about 0.1 percent of people who become infected. But children appear to be more affected by the flu.
By contrast, the 1918 flu had an unusually high fatality rate, greater than 2 percent. 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 confined spaces like homes, hospitals, churches and cruise ships. It appears to spread through droplets in the air and on surfaces from a cough or a sneeze.
Whether a surface looks dirty or clean is irrelevant. If an infected person coughs and a droplet lands on a surface, a person who then touches that surface can become ill.
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 any simple disinfectant or bleach.
Droplets can sit on the surfaces of latex gloves. Some experts suggest wearing cloth or leather gloves that absorb droplets and are bulky enough to discourage you from touching your face.
Will the virus disappear in the summer?
Flu transmission decreases in hot weather every year, and the SARS coronavirus emerged in winter and was eliminated by the following June. But SARS was beaten by aggressive containment measures, not by the weather. The four mild coronaviruses that cause common colds still circulate in warm weather and cause “summer colds.”
In the 1918 and 2009 flu pandemics, there was a second wave in the fall.
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. Some patients who appear to be doing well have a “crash” in the second week of illness.
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 take much longer, at least a year, 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. There’s a reason government officials and medical experts across the world are issuing strong warnings.
About 80 percent of victims will recover without any need for hospitalization. Still, the cases categorized as “mild” by the Chinese C.D.C. included those with “mild pneumonia,” meaning there is fluid in the lungs but not enough to require supplemental oxygen or intensive care. The other categories are “severe,” which means oxygen or ventilation is required, and “critical,” which means lung or organ failure.
It is important to keep these distinctions in mind, both to avoid unnecessary panic and to get a clear picture of the likelihood of transmission.
OK. Then why are experts so concerned?
Unlike other, more mild coronaviruses, this one causes many deaths.
It is unclear how many completely symptom-free cases there are, because some people test positive a day or two before developing symptoms. The World Health Organization believes that only about 1 percent of people with the virus never develop a fever or any other symptoms.
I have many more questions.
We understand. The coronavirus has drastically shifted so much about our lives this year. Take a look at The Times’s special section on frequently asked questions and advice. We have answers to common questions on health, money, daily life, politics, science and travel.