Conflicting information about the coronavirus is abundant. The risks of the disease, its severity, even its origins seem to be in dispute. A renowned doctor has partnered with The Great Courses to set things straight.
Confirmed cases of coronavirus in the United States reached 4,600 on Monday, up from just 75 on March 1. With America’s businesses and restaurants closing down, misinformation is ramping up. For example, a hoax about a national quarantine led Virginia’s Department of Emergency Management to make a statement debunking it on their Facebook page. The World Health Organization’s Instagram page published several photos denouncing rumors about the disease in early February.
With conflicting information spreading faster than the illness itself, the public is calling for facts. Roy Benaroch, M.D., Adjunct Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at Emory University and the instructor for five of The Great Courses’ lecture series on medicine, helped us set the record straight in a new video.
Understanding Coronavirus Terminology
The coronavirus spreading around the globe in 2020 is named SARS-CoV-2. If “SARS” sounds familiar to you, you’re not alone.
“This has happened before, with an earlier virus that emerged in 2002 named SARS-CoV,” Dr. Benaroch said.
SARS-CoV-2 is the seventh coronavirus discovered. According to the CDC, they get the name “coronavirus” from the “crown-like spikes on their surface.” The current coronavirus is also referred to as the “novel coronavirus,” which Dr. Benaroch said simply means “new coronavirus.”
He also said that the infection itself has been named COVID-19 for short, an abbreviation of coronavirus disease 2019. People often also say the virus has caused a global “pandemic,” which means “the efficient transmission of a disease spreading widely outside of its origin.”
SARS-CoV-2 by the Symptoms
“The main symptoms caused by the new coronavirus are very similar to influenza,” Dr. Benaroch said. “After an incubation period of probably about six days—maybe as long as 14—there may be a phase of fever and aches, followed by coughing and shortness of breath. Other symptoms can include headache, sore throat, and diarrhea.”
Dr. Benaroch said that the big question is how often these symptoms occur in the infected. Initially, only the very ill would come to the hospital, but recently, patients have tested positive who had mild symptoms or no symptoms at all. However, these people are still contagious, leading to the possibility of asymptomatic transmission of the virus.
Taking Reasonable Precautions
Dr. Benaroch said that it’s no longer a question of if this virus is going to strike your community, but when. However, that’s no reason to panic.
“During a local outbreak, avoid crowds, and, of course, avoid people who are coughing or sick,” he said. “The transmission of the virus that causes COVID-19—and, actually, the transmission of influenza virus and many other respiratory viruses—almost always occurs via large droplets, coughed or sneezed, and then left on surfaces. So if you’re sick, don’t cough or sneeze on your hands and then touch things—use a tissue, or sneeze into your elbow.”
Another important consideration is the regular washing of hands. According to Dr. Benaroch, if you do touch a contaminated surface, you won’t get sick as long as it’s just on your hands. Touching your face afterwards is the problem, so it’s vital to use soap and wash your hands for at least 20 seconds before touching your face.
“Probably the single most important habit for you to learn to prevent yourself from catching any respiratory infection [is] never touch your own face with your own hands,” Dr. Benaroch said. “If you must rub your nose or eyes, wash your hands first. As an alternative to washing, alcohol-based sanitizing liquids work well.”
As for face masks, Dr. Benaroch said that for healthy people walking around in public, face masks do not help. However, they aren’t completely useless. “A mask is a good idea if you’re in a room caring for someone who’s sick, and a mask is definitely a good idea for people sick with COVID themselves to wear—that protects everyone else.”
It’s still far too soon to answer a lot of burning questions the public has: how many people will contract the novel coronavirus or die from it, when will a vaccine be available, and so on. However, acquainting yourself with its related jargon, symptoms, and which precautions to take can point you in the right direction to face what comes next.
Watch Dr. Benaroch’s full debriefing on the novel coronavirus here.
Dr. Roy Benaroch contributed to this article. Dr. Benaroch is Adjunct Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at the Emory University School of Medicine. He earned his B.S. in Engineering at Tulane University, followed by his M.D. at Emory University.