How different is it from the common cold or flu?
Coronavirus infections, in general, are virtually indistinguishable from other respiratory infections. In mild cases, they cause a runny nose, cough, sore throat, fatigue and fever. With the new coronavirus, patients tend to have a fever, dry cough and shortness of breath. But from a physician’s perspective, if a patient comes in with respiratory symptoms, a doctor can’t tell just from examining them what they have, said Dr. Schaffner.
As a precaution, many medical centers across the country are now asking patients with respiratory symptoms or a fever to call first before showing up. If you do need to be seen, you may be asked to wear a mask and to be put in isolation as a precaution to avoid spreading disease.
Do I need to stockpile face masks?
No. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have been recommending that only infected patients and their health care providers wear N95 respirator masks, which are a special type of mask intended to filter out 95 percent of airborne particles. But there’s limited evidence of their utility even among these groups, said Dr. Mark J. Mulligan, M.D., division director of the infectious diseases and vaccine center at NYU Langone Medical Center. When physicians treat a person infected with the disease caused by the virus, they wear “a face shield, gown and gloves,” he said. “There’s no good research to suggest that wearing a N95 mask when you’re out in public, even if there’s an outbreak in your area, will shield you against the disease.”
Standard surgical masks also can’t fully protect you from contracting the virus.
Should parents be worried?
It’s understandable that parents might feel panicked during these uncertain times, but the most important thing you can do is be cautious. Children seem to be largely spared from developing severe symptoms resulting from Covid-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus. When they do get it, they tend to have much milder symptoms, said Dr. Meissner.
According to a report published in JAMA in February, the majority of patients with Covid-19 in China were between 49 and 56 years old. The bigger concern for parents is that your child could pass it on to someone else. “Even if children are mildly ill, they serve as reservoirs of infection and can spread disease to adults, especially the elderly,” said Dr. Bessey E. Geevarghese, D.O., a pediatric infectious diseases specialist at Lurie Children’s at Northwestern Medicine Central DuPage Hospital.
What steps should parents take at this point?
You should take the same precautions you would take to protect your child from the common cold or flu. “We know for sure that it spreads readily from person to person, akin to influenza,” Dr. Schaffner said of the new coronavirus. “We also now think it can spread from people who are infected with the virus, but not yet showing symptoms. We don’t know if this is a frequent occurrence, but it can happen.”
For these reasons, it’s important to practice what’s known as social distancing. This means staying at home and binging on TV, rather than socializing in groups. Schools are closing, at least temporarily, and people who can work from home are encouraged to do so. On March 16, the Trump Administration announced new guidelines aimed at stopping the spread of the new coronavirus, including closing schools and avoiding bars, food courts, restaurants and groups of more than 10 people.
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