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Knowing more on Covid-19 symptoms

Don Paul

Now that I’m old enough to be a card-carrying fuddy duddy, I can reveal I was one of presumably numerous people who began publicly lobbying against going ahead with the parades this weekend, on social media Wednesday night.

Owing to the nature of public behavior at these parades, I was concerned the risk of contagion would be higher than in some other public gatherings, what with the displays of affection often aided and abetted by alcoholic beverages. It has since occurred to me such behavior may go on under more confined circumstances in many crowded bars this weekend … lots of laughter, lots of good cheer, but some potential real danger.

I use the word “potential” because we simply don’t know what’s out there in Western New York.

The government’s failure to provide timely testing leaves health officials, doctors, health workers and the general public in the dark for the time being.

It is a virtual certainty there are some undiagnosed cases already in the region, and those numbers will multiply. It is already confirmed this is a highly contagious virus, and it’s spreading. The risk is greatest for people over 60, increasing with age, and for those with chronic heart and lung disease, compromised immune systems or diabetes.

For the majority of you who are not fuddy duddies, the infection would be milder, as most of you now know. But you can still be carriers to those at greater risk.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of allergies and infectious diseases at the National Institutes of Health, has testified this week the mortality rate for COVID-19 is 10 times greater than for that of the flu, largely due to a very large older population at greater risk. So, those uninformed posters on social media who are still blathering about the flu being worse, and "this is media hype" simply don’t know what they’re talking about. Please ignore them.

In addition to the test kit shortage, one of the other problems with COVID-19 is some confusion over its symptoms. Since I’ve had a lingering head cold for 10 days, following a February bout with influenza type A, I got very curious about actual symptoms. (Yes, I got the shot, but this season’s vaccine was not the best fit for this season’s virus. The vaccine is still recommended, and you would not want to contract COVID-19 when you’re already impacted by the flu.)

How do you know what you have? What’s the difference between symptoms caused by allergies, the common cold, the flu and COVID-19? The differences should be known by the general adult public, so we know when it’s time to make inquiries to our doctors. Here are basic differences based on World Health Organization information, as they appeared in Thursday’s Mercury News.

It can be easy to confuse some symptoms between influenza and COVID-19. Both produce a fever, cough and shortness of breath as the infection progresses. Both tend to be whole body illnesses. Allergies and the common cold usually produce runny or stuffy noses, which can also occur with the coronavirus or flu, along with a sore throat. Fever is common with most COVID-19 cases and all flu cases. The common cold usually doesn’t cause a fever. If you have itchy eyes, that’s strictly an allergy matter. Shortness of breath can also be allergy related for asthmatics, but not for most allergies in otherwise healthy people. Muscular aches may be worse with the flu.

A new study in the medical journal the Lancet reports only 5% or fewer of coronavirus patients report a runny or stuffy nose. By the way, for the TP-crazed crowd, only 1-2% report gastrointestinal symptoms in the study.

Pneumonia is more common with coronavirus, even in some less severe cases, which is one of the primary risk factors for older people. Shortness of breath is a key symptom, even more so than with the flu.

Unfortunately, the differences between common cold symptoms and mild COVID-19 infections are not easy to decipher. In fact, many common colds are caused by long-identified coronaviruses. COVID-19 is a brand new coronavirus, which is why it’s been referred to as the novel coronavirus. In other words, this can be a very tough call to make even for doctors, without the badly overdue testing which is required for an actual diagnosis. If you've recently traveled abroad, make sure you volunteer that to your doctor.

The bottom line here is self-diagnosis is all but impossible, and confusion is easy. Any older person suffering fever, a cough and shortness of breath should call (not just show up) the doctor. Eventually we’re going to see more readily available testing, even though the infections are spreading now. COVID-19 is easily transmissible from person to person. From Harvard Medical School:

“The coronavirus is thought to spread mainly from person to person. This can happen between people who are in close contact with one another. Droplets that are produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes may land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby, or possibly be inhaled into their lungs.

Coronavirus can also spread from contact with infected surfaces or objects. For example, a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes.”

The Harvard Health Letter reports transmission is thought to occur most often when symptoms are more apparent. Unfortunately, transmission can also occur from infected people with few or no symptoms, unwittingly acting as carriers.

CDC recommends frequent disinfection in the home, with surfaces being cleaned before applying the disinfectant. Homes, when possible, should be well ventilated. If a vulnerable senior is living in a home, other residents should conduct themselves as if they were a significant risk to the vulnerable resident, with a protected space for that person if possible. Frequent hand-washing becomes even more important. Cleaning of utensils must be done thoroughly and more often.

If such a senior is already ill, he should only be visited by one household member in an enclosed room, and you should consider more intensive care if symptoms worsen. Medical consultation is a must.

Schools, if they remain open, have already been advised by state and county health authorities on what must be done to provide a safer environment.

As of this writing, the testing process is nowhere near what we need, although New York State appears to be trying to move more aggressively than we’ve thus far seen from the federal government. Yes, for the majority of middle aged and younger people, COVID-19 is a lesser threat. But for older and elderly citizens, we will need to take extraordinary measures to protect them due to the high mortality rate already observed.

For those you intent on partying this weekend, remember the wise words of the "Hill Street Blues" sergeant.

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