The coronavirus: A Seattle doctor's advice for families
We still don't know how bad it's going to be in the United States. The recent cases of confirmed infection without known source (including one in Washington state) suggest that it's already infected more people than we realize and is likely to spread.
Indications from China are that it's quite contagious. Like most respiratory viruses, it can be spread by coughing right at someone, but the more likely mode of transmission is hands and surfaces. You'll get more protection from hand washing and Purell than you will from wearing a mask. Masks are mainly for people who are sick so they don't spread it to others.
Kids seem to get only mild cases, and none have died. The death rate in China is highest among older and middle-aged adults, and about twice as high in men compared to women. It's not clear if that same gender breakdown will hold true in other countries.
People with lung diseases like asthma and emphysema or chronic bronchitis are more likely to have severe diseases. They and elderly people should make sure their pneumonia vaccine is up to date.
The death rate in China has been about 2.4% of those infected. That may be an overestimate, since those with mild disease may not be reported. However, that's about four to five times as deadly as seasonal influenza, and more deadly than the Spanish Flu of 1918, which killed 20 to 50 million people worldwide and infected about a third of the world's population. If enough people are infected, the death toll will be high.
Precautions to take now? Avoid large gatherings of people. Have some food stockpiled at home, and a good supply of any prescription medications you take regularly. Wash your hands frequently. Keep your immune system strong with good nutrition, regular exercise, good sleep habits, good hydration. Avoid smoking, excessive drinking and street drugs. Seek medical care if you become sick.
Symptoms are pretty nonspecific. Fever, runny nose, sore throat, body aches. The problem is that it can progress to pneumonia, with shortness of breath and respiratory distress. That requires medical care, and may require hospitalization.
Dr. Jeff Lee is best known to Seattle's Child readers as the author of the long-running Dad Next Door column, in which he takes on all kinds of parenting issues with good humor and gentle advice. He is also a family physician in practice in Seattle's Rainier Beach neighborhood.
More Dad Next Door: