Doctor answers your most pressing coronavirus questions
With the coronavirus disease spreading fast many are looking for any valuable piece of information that could help them and their loved ones stay safe and healthy. CBS News medical contributor Indian origin Dr. Tara Narula, who is also a cardiologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, joins "CBS This Morning" to answer some of viewers' most pressing questions.
Read her insights below:
Q: If you get really sick with coronavirus, when do you know it's an emergency?
A: So for most people, it's going to be mild. The symptoms are going to be mild. You'll recover. But you do need to understand when it progresses. Those things to look for would be shortness of breath, chest pain, a change in your mental status — you're more confused, more lethargic — bluish coloration to your fingers or your lips, these things should prompt you or someone who's maybe with you to say something is getting worse, and you need seek medical attention. If you choose to go to the emergency room, you might want to try to call ahead — again, to warn them you're coming so they can prepare and decrease the risk of exposure to everyone else.
Q: It's allergy season — since it appears some have mild symptoms when infected with the virus, how do we know the difference between allergies and the virus?
A: Some of the symptoms can overlap. First, you want to think about the fact that with allergies, it tends to be more chronic — lasting weeks, months, more seasonal, maybe has changes with the environment you're in. And allergies tend to be more the sneezing, runny, stuffy nose, itchy, watery eyes. With COVID, you're really going to have fever, which you shouldn't have allergies. More of the shortness of breath, more of that dry cough. With allergies, you may have a dry cough with that post-nasal drip, but it's less common. And then more systemic symptoms with COVID, like the headache and the muscle aches and fatigue.
Q: If you don't have symptoms anymore but you think you had it or you did have it, are you still contagious?
A: So you know, what we know is that if you get exposed, usually you will mount symptoms within those two to 14 days. That's why the quarantine period is 14 days. If you test positive for COVID, and you're told to kind of isolate, then when can you reemerge? And that's really when you've been free of fever for 72 hours without fever-reducing medications, your symptoms are improving, and it's been seven days since you first had that symptom. Or you have two negative tests.
Q: Can you recover and then relapse?
A: There have been some reports out of Asia saying they got the infection and a couple of weeks later they got it again. What we know about most viruses, when you get an infection, you produce antibodies. Those antibodies do provide you protection if you see that virus again. The big question is really, how long are you immune for? Is it a year, is it a lifetime? Is the virus going to change a little like the flu does, so that you need, for example a vaccine every year? The one caveat is there are people who don't produce as big an immune reaction. They may be able to kind of get infected again.
Q: We keep hearing how older Americans are the most affected by the coronavirus. But also those with underlying conditions. Could we get more detail on those underlying conditions?
A: It's important to realize what some of these underlying conditions are. So, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, chronic lung disease, including things like asthma, diabetes, kidney disease, and individuals on dialysis, cirrhosis, cancer, and anyone who's immunosuppressed. They take medications or have a condition where the immune system is weaker. These are the big categories to know about.
Q: Can people over 60 who are in good health still go to the grocery store?
A: If you're going at an off time when there's nobody in the grocery store, that's probably fine. But the more you can stay home and keep the distance is important.
Q: What does the coronavirus mean for pregnant women?
A: You know, unfortunately this virus has only been around for a couple of months, so we really don't have the long-term data to tell us a lot. So far, it does not seem that pregnant women are more at risk or will suffer more severe disease. That being said, with viral illnesses like the flu, for example, women who are pregnant can develop more severe disease. We need a lot more data to inform us. In addition, it does not seem at this point in time that pregnant women can pass the virus on to the baby. It has not been found in the amniotic fluid or in the breast milk. But again, all of the science is really evolving.
Q: Should we be concerned about our food sources and the people dropping them off?
A: So one of the things you want to understand is that so far there's really been no evidence that COVID can be transmitted through food or through food packaging. That being said, if you want to take precautions, when you have the driver deliver or whoever's delivering, leave it outside the door. You can leave the money out there so you don't actually have that face-to-face interaction.
And then when you take the packaging in — because we know that there can be droplets on surfaces that we have to pay attention to — you want to bring it somewhere that's not in the area you're going to be eating. Discard the packaging, take the food out, and don't use the containers or utensils that came in the bag. Use your own. Clean the surface where you put that down and wash your hands.
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