No matter where you get your information from, it’s hard to ignore the novel coronavirus, COVID-19. It is front and center of the world’s health news. But what is COVID-19 and how is it related to sepsis?
Coronaviruses themselves are not new and for the most part, they aren’t usually serious. The common cold is a coronavirus, for example. But so are more serious infections, like SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) and MERS (Middle East respiratory syndrome). What these infections all have in common is their symptoms: coughing, shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, and fever. When a new coronavirus is identified, it’s called a novel coronavirus until it’s given an official name.
What Makes This Coronavirus Special?
COVID-19, which was first discovered in China in December 2019, is a new virus with no previous history. Scientists are scrambling to find the virus origins, how it behaves, and what might kill it or prevent it. Although it has similar symptoms to seasonal influenza, SARS, MERS, and other illnesses, it’s not the same. And because it’s a new virus, scientists don’t know how it is spreading and how long it will last.
How serious is COVID-19?
This is an interesting question because of how the news is sharing COVID-19 information. The numbers coming from the World Health Organization (WHO) and government sources are high and can be frightening. However, it seems that most people who contract the virus experience mild to moderate symptoms of coughing, shortness of breath, and fever. But as with most infections, this coronavirus is hitting some people harder than others, causing severe cases of pneumonia, which could trigger sepsis.
Accurate statistics may be hard to obtain, as different countries have varying ways of reporting illnesses, or even identifying them. It’s possible that many people have COVID-19 but don’t know it, chalking down their symptoms to a bad cold. So far, it seems those at highest risk of complications, including sepsis, are older people and people with chronic illnesses, such as diabetes and heart disease.
Are sepsis survivors at higher risk of COVID-19 infection?
Overall, sepsis survivors are at risk of contracting infections within a few months of their recovery. This would include any infection, including COVID-19. However, there is no scientific literature that shows a connection between surviving sepsis and developing the new coronavirus.
Testing for COVID-19
If you have any signs of COVID-19 (cough, fever, shortness of breath) and you have reason to believe you were in contact with someone who was recently in an infected area or is showing signs of illness too, speak with your doctor. Doctors in the United States are working with their state’s public health office and the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to determine who should be tested for the coronavirus.
Preventing Coronavirus Infections
The news of the fast-spreading COVID-19 has many people worried. However, this coronavirus spreads just like other respiratory viruses, like the flu. Therefore, the best way to reduce your risk of infection is by thorough and complete hand washing with soap and water, using a hand sanitizer when you’re not near a sink, and avoiding touching your face (including your eyes) when you are outside.
You may have seen people wearing masks and hear news of masks sold out at local stores. Masks are not a good protection against COVID-19 though. First, the commercially available masks are not dense enough to prevent the virus from passing through if it is in the air, if someone coughs in your face, for example. Second, most people don’t use masks properly. Masks are not meant to be reused or handled excessively. But the basic reason is really because masks are not for you to prevent catching an infection. Masks are used to prevent you from spreading one. This is why in many facilities, there are signs asking you to wear a mask if you show any signs of illness.
edited April 9: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has now said that wearing masks in public is recommended. However, this is not to prevent the mask wearer from contracting the infection. In many cases, asymptomatic people – those who have the virus but do not show any symptoms – are unknowingly spreading the infection. If everyone wears a mask, regardless of symptoms, this lessens the chance of spreading it to others.
You are much more likely to contract a virus like influenza or COVID-19 through touch. As you go outside, you may touch a door knob, an ATM, a grocery cart – all which may have the virus on them. You then touch your face and the virus is spread. This is why hand washing is your best defense against infections of this type.
If you have any type of infection, including a respiratory virus like COVID-19, isolate yourself from others to prevent spreading the virus. Rest as much as you can and monitor your progress. If you get worse or show any signs of sepsis, go to your local emergency room or call 911.
To learn more information on the novel coronavirus COVID-19, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which is monitoring the situation closely.
March 20, 2020.