There’s a lot of fear surrounding the coronavirus. The pathogen, which is spread through respiratory droplets, has infected people across the globe and here in the United States with the disease officially known as COVID-19.
Many doctors have been fielding questions from patients about the virus for weeks, and as more information comes out, the concerns from the general public will likely continue.
It’s totally normal to feel anxious in the face of a possible pandemic. However, the No. 1 thing most experts stress right now is there is no need to panic.
That said, information is always helpful (and can even abate some fears when there’s a lot of confusion). We asked medical workers to share some of the most common questions they’ve been getting about the coronavirus and their answers. Read on so you can feel better prepared:
What are the symptoms of a coronavirus infection?
Dr. Linda Anegawa, an internist with virtual health platform PlushCare, said the main symptoms often appear similar to the flu’s, “such as fever over 100.5, cough, malaise, and occasionally nausea, diarrhea. In more severe cases, shortness of breath, chest pain and pneumonia will be apparent.”
“If you have a cold, you can be reassured that you probably don’t have COVID-19 if you just have upper respiratory symptoms and a fever less than 100, without any shortness of breath or severe coughing,” Anegawa said.
Is it safe to travel?
Dr. Eudene Harry, a board-certified physician in emergency medicine and medical director for the Oasis Wellness & Rejuvenation Center in Orlando, Florida, recommended following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines up until the time of travel. Harry said people are advised to avoid visiting what are considered “Level 3” areas where there’s widespread transmission, like China, Italy, Korea and Iran.
As of publication, the CDC does not have a travel health notice for the United States, meaning that domestic travel is relatively low risk. That could change, but right now there’s no reason to be very alarmed about stateside travel, said Dr. Shira Doron, an infectious disease physician and hospital epidemiologist at Tufts Medical Center.
“It is impossible for us to predict what the prevalence of the virus will be in any given country or part of the U.S. at any future date,” she said. “Community transmission is now occurring in the United States, so at some point soon it may be no more risky to leave the country than to stay where you are. Some public health experts advocate restricting travel as a means to stop the global spread of the disease, but that is a public health measure not aimed at individual safety.”
Will I get sick from going on an airplane?
Planes may seem like a giant, flying petri dish at the moment, but as Harry points out, “airplanes are well ventilated and have medical-grade HEPA filters.”
The likelihood of transmission on a general flight isn’t high enough yet for experts to recommend avoiding all air travel. If you’re traveling somewhere that’s considered low risk, like in the U.S., the CDC recommends practicing good hygiene by washing your hands frequently and avoiding contact with sick people. You can also wipe down common surfaces like your seat and tray table.
Should I wear a face mask?
If you’re not sick, there is no need to wear a face mask. Yes, seriously.
Reports show there’s already a shortage of masks, which health care workers and those who are dealing with an illness do need. Plus, casual use of a face mask may not even do much, anyway.
“It may provide a false sense of protection and perhaps lead to not incorporating the measures that have been shown to be effective,” Harry said. “Face masks are recommended for people who have respiratory infection to prevent droplets from spreading from them.”
Will the flu shot prevent me from getting the coronavirus? Should I still get one?
No, the flu shot won’t shield you from the coronavirus. Yes, you absolutely should still get one if you haven’t already.
“While the flu shot won’t directly protect you ... contracting the flu can make you more susceptible to contracting other illnesses including the coronavirus infection,” Harry said.
Not only that, the flu shot will limit the number of severe flu cases that need to be treated by doctors and emergency medicine workers. That can free them up to help other sick people, including those with the coronavirus.
We’re trying to get pregnant right now. Should we hold off?
Not necessarily. Think about your timing in the same way you’d consider it with other illnesses like the flu, said Dr. Kristin Dean, a physician with Doctor on Demand.
“The COVID-19 illness, just like other viral illnesses such as influenza, may put pregnant women at higher risk of having more serious symptoms if they do get ill. However, this is not a reason to avoid pregnancy,” she said.
“Just like we do not recommend that women avoid getting pregnant each year during flu season, we are not recommending that women do not get pregnant due to the coronavirus disease,” she continued. “Women who are pregnant or trying to get pregnant should take precautions to avoid getting sick, like staying away from others who are known to be ill and washing their hands frequently.”
I am feeling sick and scared I have the coronavirus. What should I do?
If you wake up feeling sick one day, don’t automatically assume you have the coronavirus yet.
“At this time, most regions of the United States have not been identified to have local spread of COVID-19,” Dean said. “This means that those at highest risk for having the illness would be people who have had known exposure to COVID-19 or have traveled to an area of local spread.”
That said, if you have traveled to an affected area, come in contact with someone who has, or suspect you’ve been exposed to it, you should contact your doctor. This also goes for other illnesses like the flu.
“If they are displaying mild symptoms, it may be best to talk to a doctor via telemedicine to avoid exposing other people to the illness you have, whether it is the flu, a common cold or the coronavirus disease,” Dean said.
Whatever you do, try not to panic.
“Most cases of COVID-19 will be mild and resolve on their own similar to the flu,” Anegawa said. “It’s best to stay home and out of public. However, if you have any severe symptoms such as a very high fever, severe cough or shortness of breath, it would be wise to seek in-person care.”
Once you get the illness are you immune to it?
Medical experts believe that you may have temporary immunity against the coronavirus, not unlike other illnesses like the common cold.
However, viruses tend to mutate and change quickly over time as they move through populations. This could change it into a version that immune systems don’t recognize, therefore making it a possibility you could get sick if you catch it, Live Science reported.
Is there a cure for the coronavirus?
There is no cure for COVID-19. Treatment for the virus right now involves addressing the symptoms, including lots of rest and medicine like Tylenol for fever. Some doctors in hospitals are also using anti-viral drugs, Live Science reported. There is no vaccine yet.
Again, most cases of COVID-19 are mild, and experts suggest recovery will be similar to that of the flu (though some research suggests that you still may be able to spread it for a few days after you’re recovered). However, people with conditions that compromise their immune systems, those with respiratory issues, and those over the age of 65 are at a higher risk for more severe complications. That’s why, if you are not one of those individuals and you are infected, it’s vital you stay away from people for their protection.
And don’t fall for scams claiming to have a cure. Those include supplements or any other healing product that wellness “influencers” or “gurus” post on social media.
“There is currently no cure, and that includes herbs and other things you may have heard about on the internet,” Harry said. “Treatment is supportive until you recover.”
How do I protect myself from the illness?
Healthy habits go a long way in reducing your risk for any illness, including the coronavirus.
Wash your hands with warm, soapy water and scrub for at least 20 seconds. (Sick of singing happy birthday to yourself? This hilarious Twitter thread gives you some better alternatives.) Wipe down surfaces, especially your phone. Wash your hands. Try to limit how often you touch your face, especially in areas like your nose and eyes. Sneeze and cough into your elbow. Oh, did we mention you should wash your hands?
“The same basic preventive measures that you take for any other virus such as cold or flu is also effective in preventing coronavirus disease,” Dean said.