Coronavirus (COVID-19), The Cough That Kills—Answers to Your Most Frequently Asked Questions

Posted by Medical Board on March 29, 2020 in Uncategorized Last updated on August 31, 2020

Fear and uncertainty over the fast moving global pandemic, COVID-19 has many feeling helpless in the face of such widespread illness.  Questions over whether the novel Coronavirus will directly affect you or someone you love hang in the air like the virus itself.  

Accurate, up-to-date information from solid national sources is key at this critical time, since you can’t protect against what you don’t know.

What is Coronavirus (COVID-19)?

COVID-19, short for “Coronavirus Disease 2019” refers to the specific virus SARS-CoV-2 that emerged from the city of Wuhan located in the Hubei province in China.  The virus, first identified late last year has spread to more than 200 countries across the globe.

Coronaviruses in general are part of a large group of viruses that cause both human and animal infections.  These viruses often lead to mild respiratory issues in individuals.  Over the last decade however, Coronavirus strains have evolved causing serious respiratory infections that lead to pneumonia.  The SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) virus and MERS (middle east respiratory syndrome) are among the Coronaviruses that have proven to be lethal in the past.

What are the symptoms of Coronavirus?

Symptoms include:

  • Fever/chills—The virus often starts with a fever.  Nearly every patient will have a high temperature, and it is by far the most common symptom.
  • Cough—A dry, nonproductive cough will accompany fever in many cases.
  • Shortness of breath—Difficulty breathing often ensues as the virus takes hold in the lungs.
  • Pneumonia—Fluid in the lungs causes serious inflammation if COVID-19 progresses.
  • Pain in the chest (persistent)—Pain in the chest indicates possible pneumonia.
  • Confusion—This may be the result of lack of oxygen due to diminished lung function.
  • Loss of taste and smell—Some individuals report a strange sense of taste and smell or loss of senses altogether.
  • Bluish lips/face—This is caused by low oxygenation and should be treated immediately.
  • Exhaustion/fatigue—This is common with many viruses.  The body fights infection, which depletes energy stores as well.

These can range from mild to severe and symptoms can escalate very quickly.  About 80% of cases will resolve on their own.  Another 20% will become serious or possibly critical.  It is important to note, not every individual will manifest all symptoms.

When should I call the doctor?

At the onset of any symptoms associated with respiratory infection including sneezing, coughing, fever, or exhaustion it is important to contact your physician or healthcare practitioner for evaluation.

How widespread is the Coronavirus?

The United States’ latest figures report roughly 80,000 confirmed cases and approximately 1200 deaths.  At this time, about 200 countries report active cases of Coronavirus.[2]

How is the virus spread?

The Coronavirus is spread among humans in one of four ways.

These include:

Direct Contact

By physical contact with an individual carrying COVID-19, the virus can be transmitted from person to person.  This includes shaking hands and kissing.

Droplet 

Droplets emitted from the respiratory tract through coughing or sneezing are briefly suspended in the air, then land on surfaces such as countertops, furniture, groceries, and clothing.  An individual can contract the virus by either inhaling droplets or touching a surface with live Coronavirus, then touching their mouth, eyes or nose.  Social distancing guidelines recommend remaining a distance of at least 6 feet from others to prevent the spread of the virus through droplets.

Aerosol

This allows for transmission of the Coronavirus at a greater distance.  The virus is delivered in microscopic particles of body fluid suspended in the air.  The aerosol like particles can live for up to 3 hours, making this form of Coronavirus especially dangerous.

Oral-fecal

Individuals may become infected with the virus through fecal matter such as diarrhea.  Contaminated surfaces are then touched and transferred to the respiratory tract through the mouth, nose or eyes.  Caregivers in hospital and senior care facilities are particularly vulnerable to this method of virus transmission. 

Who is at risk for severe illness from Coronavirus?

While anyone of any age may contract COVID-19, some individuals are at increased risk for severe illness upon exposure to the virus.

These include:

  • Persons over 65 years of age
  • Those with an underlying health condition
  • Individuals who live in nursing homes/long-term care facilities
  • Individuals with chronic lung disease including COPD/Asthma
  • Those with heart disease and complications from the disease
  • Individuals with compromised immune systems
  • Persons undergoing cancer treatment
  • Obese individuals with a BMI greater than or equal to 40
  • Those with diabetes, liver disease/failure
  • Individuals undergoing organ/bone marrow transplant
  • Persons with HIV/AIDS
  • Individuals with prolonged use of corticosteroids[7]

What is the overall timeline of the virus?

Doctors and researchers have found that Coronavirus follows a fairly predictable pattern from the time of exposure to full recovery.

Once an individual becomes infected with Coronavirus there is an incubation period before symptoms emerge.  This can last anywhere from 2 to 11 days.  For some individuals symptoms may be mild and resolve on their own with only minor discomfort.  For others however, symptoms may carry serious health consequences including pneumonia and shortness of breath.  

On the 4th day, after contracting Coronavirus, many individuals will seek medical attention as symptoms worsen and become debilitating.  By day 7, some individuals have become critically ill.  By the 11th day after exposure to Coronavirus, (if patients survive) they are usually on their way to full recovery.[4]  

If I get Coronavirus will I be immune forever?

It is not yet known whether the human body mounts a permanent immune response that protects against future infection by COVID-19.  Preliminary findings suggest that immunity from the virus may only be temporary.

How can I protect myself, and my family from contracting Coronavirus?

In order to reduce the risk of contracting Coronavirus you should:

Avoid confined travel by plane, bus or train.  

Even after an infected person has vacated the space, the virus can remain active on surfaces for up to 72 hours.

Wash your hands frequently.  

This is extremely important at this time.  Hand washing with soap for at least 20 seconds or applying hand sanitizer when soap and water are not available kills the Coronavirus almost immediately.  This should be done upon returning from any public place or after handling goods that have been touched by another individual.

Disinfect all surfaces.

By disinfecting household surfaces including laminates, plastics, stainless steel and tile, you can reduce the chance of contracting or spreading Coronavirus.  Bleach, hydrogen peroxide or rubbing alcohol can kill the virus within 1 minute.

Practice social distancing.

The Centers for Disease Control recommends distancing yourself from other individuals by remaining at least 6 feet apart at all times.  Places where large groups assemble or gather should be avoided at this time to stop the spread of COVID-19.

Build a stronger immunity.

While the body’s immune system was designed to fight viruses of all types, the novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) is particularly potent.  At this time, diet and lifestyle will play a critical role in immune function and the ability to fight off possible infection. 

Eating nutrient-dense foods such as citrus fruits, garlic, broccoli, and spinach will help boost the body’s immune system naturally.  It is also very important to get plenty of rest at this time.  Sleep helps the body rebuild cells and tissue, and supports healthy immune function.  

Regular exercise can lower stress levels and actually boost immunities by changing antibodies and white blood cells.[3]

Immune Boosting Supplements

There are a number of natural health solutions for the support of a strong immune system and lung health in general. 

These include:

Zinc—Zinc, while primarily known for it’s antioxidant protection, also helps modulate the production of immune cells and supports leukocyte activity. The recommended daily dosage for adults is 8 mg per day for women and 11mg per day for men.[9]

Garlic—Garlic contains compounds that help support a healthy immune system and the inflammation mechanism by which pathogens are killed.   For best results take an aged garlic supplement, 600 to 1,200 mg per day.[7]

Vitamin C—Vitamin C may help reduce the severity of respiratory illness, as well as reduce the duration.  Men need roughly 90 mg daily and women should get 75 mg.[5]   

Vitamin D—Vitamin D deficiency has been linked to a decrease in healthy lung function.  The body’s ability to fight possible lung infection may be supported through vitamin D supplementation.  A recommended daily dosage of 5,000 IU’s is advised to maintain optimal health.  An increased dosage up to 50,000 IU’s for a brief period of 2-3 days while ill may help individuals with upper respiratory infections.

N-acetylcysteine (NAC)—N-acetylcysteine (NAC) is an amino acid that may help those with respiratory infections or illnesses by shortening the length of time for recovery.  The recommended daily dosage for adults is 600-1800 mg.  NAC may be taken orally as an aerosol spray, liquid, or powder.

Lactoferrin—Lactoferrin is a glycoprotein that may help the body’s immune response to viruses and bacteria by inhibiting viral entry into host cells.  This may reduce the incidence and severity of some respiratory tract viral infections.  A daily dosage of 200-400 mg is advised.[1]

Selenium—This mineral is a potent antioxidant with anti-inflammatory and antiviral properties.  Adults should take 55 mcg daily.

Probiotics—Gut bacteria may actually help boost the immune system.   Supplements that contain Bifidobacteriumand Lactobacillus can help reduce the length of time and severity of a viral upper respiratory infection.  The recommended dosage is 5 billion to 10 billion colony-forming units per day.

Epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG)—This is a polyphenol found in green tea that contains antiviral properties.  It may help to prevent or support healing from viral infections such as SARS and MERS and can be taken daily up to 800 mg.

Melatonin: 3‒50 mg of melatonin at bedtime can help promote sound sleep, which facilitates the restoration of cells and tissue.

How can I get tested for Coronavirus?

You may be able to get tested at your state or local health department facility.  Some doctors are offering testing through commercial test kits or through partner laboratories.  Major medical institutions may offer drive-up testing as well.  Currently most healthcare providers and municipalities will only test patients under specific guidelines.[8]

Who should get tested?

The CDC recommends testing for any individual who has been in close contact with another person who has tested positive for coronavirus.  The CDC defines close contact as coming within 6 feet of another individual for a prolonged period.

Individuals who have coronavirus symptoms and need to be hospitalized for any reason should also get tested.

What is the treatment for Coronavirus?

At present, there is no known treatment for COVID-19, though several drug trials are underway.  These include trials for various antiviral medications including ribavirin (Ribasphere), lopinavir-ritonavir (Kaletra), and interferon beta-1b chloroquine Hydroxychloroquine, Remdesivir.  

While symptoms for those in low risk groups can vary in severity, most will resolve over the course of 10-15 days without medical intervention.  Some individuals with the Coronavirus will require hospitalization and possible oxygen therapy.  

Where can I get the most accurate, up-to-date information on COVID-19?

The CDC regularly updates the COVID-19 information portal online, as does the WHO (World Health Organization).

How to cope with the threat of Coronavirus?

It is normal to feel a range of emotions at this time including:

  • Fear
  • Helplessness
  • Isolation
  • Anger
  • Depression
  • Sadness

Some individuals may have difficulty sleeping or trouble concentrating as well.

To help manage your feelings about Coronavirus in a healthy way it is important to get accurate information about the virus, limit media coverage to avoid oversaturation, and stay connected with friends and family members virtually.

Seek mental health support if you feel overwhelmed, depressed, or anxious for a prolonged period of time.

Whether or not you or someone you know is infected with COVID-19, we are all affected deeply by the rapidly unfolding recent events.  Understanding the risks, progression of the virus and how to protect yourself and the ones you love can offer some measure of control in this very uncertain time.  

References

1Berlutti, Francesca, et al. “Antiviral Properties of Lactoferrin–a Natural Immunity Molecule.” Molecules (Basel, Switzerland), MDPI, 16 Aug. 2011, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6264778/.

2“Cases in U.S.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 25 Mar. 2020, www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/cases-updates/cases-in-us.html.

3“Exercise and Immunity: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia.” MedlinePlus, U.S. National Library of Medicine, medlineplus.gov/ency/article/007165.htm.

4“How the New Coronavirus Spreads and Progresses – And Why One Test May Not Be Enough.” How the New Coronavirus Spreads and Progresses – And Why One Test May Not Be Enough | UC San Francisco, 25 Mar. 2020, www.ucsf.edu/news/2020/02/416671/how-new-coronavirus-spreads-and-progresses-and-why-one-test-may-not-be-enough.

5“Office of Dietary Supplements – Vitamin C.” NIH Office of Dietary Supplements, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminC-Consumer/.

6“People Who Are at Higher Risk for Severe Illness.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 22 Mar. 2020, www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/specific-groups/people-at-higher-risk.html.

7Percival, Susan S. “Aged Garlic Extract Modifies Human Immunity.” The Journal of Nutrition, U.S. National Library of Medicine, Feb. 2016, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26764332.

8“Testing for COVID-19.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 21 Mar. 2020, www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/symptoms-testing/testing.html.

9Veverka, Donald V, et al. “Use of Zinc Supplements to Reduce Upper Respiratory Infections in United States Air Force Academy Cadets.” Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice, U.S. National Library of Medicine, May 2009, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19341987.

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