Coronavirus: What are the symptoms and should I see a doctor?

Here are answers to some of the most frequent coronavirus questions

Lindsey Peterson
March 13, 2020 - 8:45 am
Urgent Care, Hospital

(Getty Images / phillyskater)

As the spread of coronavirus continues to dominate our lives, many are asking a couple of simple questions.  What are the symptoms, and what to do I do if I am sick?  

Let's answer those and some of the other questions so you can be better prepared to deal with a potential infection.  

RELATED: See all of WCCO's coronavirus coverage here.

What is coronavirus?
According to the Centers for Disease Control, the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) is a previously unidentified strain that is not the same as coronaviruses that commonly circulate among humans, and cause mild illness, such as the common cold.  If you have COVID-19, you will be cared for differently than patients with common coronavirus diagnosis.  

What are the symptoms?
Those who have fallen ill are reported to suffer coughs, fever and breathing difficulties (shortness of breath).  According to the CDC, sypmtoms appear between 2-14 days after exposure.  

In severe cases there can be organ failure. The virus can cause pneumonia.  As this is viral pneumonia, antibiotics are of no use. The antiviral drugs we have against flu will not work. Recovery depends on the strength of the immune system. Many of those who have died were already in poor health.

What if I get sick? 
Speaking to the CBS Evening News on Thursday, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, Dr. Anthony Fauci said, "They should stay home, call their healthcare provider, call their physician, or even call the ER and say, 'These are symptoms that I have had. I'm staying home. What can I do to get a test?'"

So, the short answer is do not go straight to the hospital.  The key to containing the spread is to avoid people as much as possible if you're sick.  Health professionals are advising you to NOT go to urgent care, the emergency room, or to your family physician if you have any symptons similar to a cold or the flu.  

Instead, as Dr. Fauci said, stay home.  Quarantine yourself.  Do not go to work if you're sick and avoid contact with others.  Call your healthcare provider and request a test.  The only time someone should seek immediate medical care is if they have trouble breathing. Hospitals are not equipped to deal with an influx of patients, and many already operate at max capacity.  

Are there enought tests?
Right now, there are nowhere near enough tests.  But, thanks to Mayo Clinic and a few others who have worked around the clock the last two weeks to develop more, tests should be more widely available soon.  

Speaking to Jordana Green Friday morning on the WCCO Morning News, Dr. Matthew Binnicker, a clinical microbiologist and director of the Clinical Virology Laboratory at Mayo Clinic talked about the new test developed over the last three weeks by Mayo.  

"This test is similar to the one the Center for Disease Control and the State Health Labs are running", said Binnicker.  "It is a test that picks up the virus RNA, part of the genome of the virus, in samples that are collected from a patient's nose or lungs.  So, it's not a blood test.  The physician is actually taking a swab, putting that swab in the nose, and then sending that swab to the lab to determine if the virus is in that sample."

They can get results of the test back to the physician the same day.  

Tests will begin in Southeast Minnesota as part of the Mayo Clinic Health System, but equipment is "on the way" according to Binnicker, so that tests can start to begin across Minnesota and eventually assist in tests nationwide.  Mayo's Northwest campus is also offering a drive-through test so that patients do not have to enter the hospital or clinic, and can avoid potential exposure to other patients.  

What happens if I get coronavirus?
Right now, there is no vaccine.  Dr. Binnicker told Jordana, "I do know that from discussions both within Mayo Clinic and around the country, there's a lot of activity going on in terms of developing theraputics and vaccines, but that's going to take some time."

Typically, it can take a decade or more to make a new vaccine.  New tests and technologies have been created that can shorten that significantly.  Researchers are optimistic they will have a tool by this fall that could at least slow the spread of infection, but there is no timetable for a vaccine yet.

Should you contract COVID-19, expect to be quarantined for up to two weeks, which is the length of time it would take a normally healthy person to shed the virus.

Do I need to change my lifestyle now?
No, not in a dramatic fashion so long as you are healthy. 

As Dr. Binnicker says, "We want to flatten the pandemic curve.  Meaning, we want to keep that peak of cases as low as possible. So, if you're sick, stay home.  If you're healthy, go about your daily lives, but wash your hands, don't touch your eyes, nose or mouth, unless you've washed your hands.  Those are the best steps we can take."

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