As COVID-19 continues to spread around the world, doctors at the Medical University of South Carolina have spent much of the past few weeks reminding people to use common sense, and not to panic.
“If you think you are sick, the best thing to do is to stay home,” says Dr. Amanda Parks, an infectious disease specialist at MUSC. “For something like a respiratory virus, generally, what we’re going to do in the office or the ER is the same thing you’re going to do at home which is supportive care.”
The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control says it is investigating six “presumptive positive” cases in South Carolina as of Sunday afternoon. Officials confirmed COVID-19 cases in North Carolina and Georgia last week.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says illness due to COVID-19 infections is generally mild. Symptoms include fever, cough, and shortness of breath. The elderly and people with underlying medical problems like high blood pressure, heart problems or diabetes, are more likely to develop a serious illness.
The best thing you can do to protect yourself, experts say, is the same thing you’d do during flu season.
“It’s hand-washing, staying home if you’re sick, sneeze or cough into your elbow or a tissue,” Dr. Parks said.
Infectious disease specialists use a number to gauge how contagious a virus is – R0 (pronounced R-naught). It is used to populate a mathematical model that can predict how many people can be infected by one sick person. The R0 for influenza is between one and two. For COVID-19, that number is projected to be between two and four.
The majority of patients will have mild or no respiratory symptoms, Dr. Parks says, which is why it will spread rapidly by people who don’t know they’re sick.
If you do experience symptoms that aren’t strong enough to warrant a trip to the hospital, Dr. Parks recommends using an online telehealth platform to get care.
“Telehealth is an extremely logical solution to a public health concern like this. We’re talking about a highly communicable disease, it’s highly transmissible,” Dr. Parks said. “The beauty of telehealth … is that we can remove that element of transmissibility through close contact by seeing to patients remotely.”
In the meantime, Dr. Parks says the most important thing is to use common sense, and wash your hands.