Sepsis Alliance has received many messages from concerned people about COVID-19, the novel coronavirus, especially how it relates to sepsis survivors and those who are concerned about developing sepsis. We try to answer some of those questions in this COVID-19 FAQ section.
Please keep in mind that information is fluid – we are receiving updated messages every day, throughout the day. Sepsis Alliance also cannot comment on specific situations and health issues. If you have any questions about your health or that of your loved ones, contact your doctor’s office or clinic, or call the local phone numbers manned by your city or state.
COVID-19 is a new disease caused by a coronavirus that recently spread from some animals to humans.
What is a coronavirus? Why is COVID-19 such a concern?
Coronaviruses are a large group of viruses that cause respiratory infections. Some are very common, like a cold, others less so, like severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and MERS. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), coronaviruses can be spread between animals and humans, although not all do. The common symptoms of a coronavirus include fever, coughing, and difficulty breathing. They can lead to pneumonia, which in turn could trigger sepsis.
COVID-19 is concerning because it’s a novel coronavirus, a new one that scientists had not seen before. Therefore, not a lot is known about how it spreads, who will spread it, and how to treat it. There is also no vaccine for it yet.
Another concern about COVID-19 is the length of time someone is contagious. If you have a cold or influenza, you generally start to feel symptoms within a day or two of exposure to the virus. Because you are aware you are ill, you are more likely to take steps to prevent the spread of your infection. When the cold or flu is over, usually within 7 days, you are no longer infectious. With COVID-19, people can be asymptomatic (show no symptoms) for several days or their symptoms may be so mild they aren’t aware they have the virus. During this time, they may be out and about, unknowingly sharing the germs with others. In addition, COVID-19 lasts about 14 days, making the infectious period longer.
How is COVID-19 spread?
The virus that causes COVID-19 is spread through air droplets. When someone coughs or sneezes close to you, you may inhale the infected droplets. This is why experts recommend that people keep at least 6 feet distance between each other if you are out.
The droplets from a sneeze or cough may also land on hard surfaces, where they can live for up to a week, maybe longer. This is unlike the cold or influenza viruses, which last only one day on a solid surface. Or, someone with the infection may touch their mouth or nose, then touch a common surface. The next person who comes along touches the contaminated common surface, they touch their face, and the virus is now spread to them.
Watch this short clip from 2006 episode of Scrubs. Follow the glowing green spot and see how easily and quickly it moves.
How serious is COVID-19? Is it deadly?
Most people who get COVID-19 experience mild to moderate symptoms before they recover. However, some who get the infection, develop complications like sepsis. These people may die.
Details are changing rapidly as scientists gather more information about the virus. At first, they believed that only those in high risk groups, such as the elderly, those with a weakened immune system, and those with chronic illnesses could become severely ill enough to die. However, now doctors are finding that younger, previously healthy adults are developing serious complications.
How does COVID-19 cause sepsis?
Not everyone who gets COVID-19 will develop sepsis. COVID-19 is an infection and any infection, from the flu to an infected bug bite can cause sepsis.
How can I tell the difference between sepsis and COVID-19?
The most common signs of a COVID-19 infection are fever, cough, and shortness of breath. A small number of patients also develop diarrhea at the start. Sepsis symptoms can be vague in the beginning: fever, change in mental status, signs of an infection, and a feeling of feeling the worst you’ve ever felt.
Fevers caused by COVID-19 can last for days. Most patients, 80% to 85% experience only mild symptoms. If someone has more severe symptoms such as shortness of breath that is getting worse, this would be a concern for sepsis.
Are sepsis survivors more likely to get COVID-19?
For the first few weeks, sometimes months, sepsis and septic shock survivors are at higher risk of contracting infections overall. Since COVID-19 is a rapidly spreading infection, it is possible that sepsis survivors are also at higher risk for getting it.
Others at higher risk include people who have high blood pressure, diabetes, and kidney disease. People with cancer also fall into this category. They have a 3.5 times higher risk of needing a ventilator if they get the infection. People with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) have a 2.5 times higher risk.
Why don’t doctors have the right antibiotics to treat this infection?
COVID-19 is caused by a virus. Antibiotics only work against bacterial infections. A doctor may prescribe an antibiotic to someone with a viral infection if the virus has triggered a bacterial infection, as is often the case with pneumonia. But the antibiotic is not for the original viral infection.
How can I protect myself against COVID-19?
Sepsis Alliance has long promoted infection prevention as a way to prevent sepsis. The recommendations to reduce your risk of contracting COVID-19 is not different from the usual precautions:
- Wash your hands regularly and well.
- Don’t do anything that may compromise your lungs, like smoking or vaping.
- Self-isolate in your home, minimizing contact with people from outside.
- Practice social distancing if you must go out to pick up essentials. Stay at least 6 feet apart from others so if they cough or sneeze, the droplets are too far away to contaminate you.
- Clean and disinfect any common surfaces where one person’s germs may be picked up by someone else.
Should I wear a mask if I have to go out to protect myself from the coronavirus?
The regular face masks purchased at local pharmacies is not adequate protection from this virus. These masks are recommended for people to wear if they already are ill and they are trying to protect others from catching whatever infection they have. If they are being used by people who are ill, they must be used properly for them to be effective. They must not be reused, placed on tables or shoved in pockets, and they must cover both the nose and mouth, not just the mouth.
The special masks, the n95 masks, are used in these situations but they must be individually fit for them to be effective. They should be used by healthcare providers so they lower their risk of infection and they can be available to provide care. When members of the public buy up these special masks, they become unavailable for people in the healthcare system.
Why is this a pandemic?
In short, an epidemic is a local disease outbreak while a pandemic is a world-wide outbreak. To learn more about the terms and what they mean, please read our article, COVID-19, The Corona Virus, Now a Pandemic.