But what is the COVID-19 coronavirus, and what do health experts know about the signs and how to prevent the spread of illness?
What Is A Coronavirus?
While news reports talk about "the coronavirus," this new virus is one of many coronaviruses, part of a large family of viruses that are known to cause respiratory illness in people and animals.
"Coronaviruses are something that have been around for a very long time," Erik Mikaitis, MD, Franciscan Health vice president for medical affairs at Franciscan Health Crown Point, told Lakeshore Public Radio. "Typically, the normal strains we're exposed to will cause upper respiratory infections, coughs, sniffles. We have had new viruses that come about that are part of that same coronavirus family."
Signs and symptoms of illness from the novel coronavirus include fever, cough and difficulty breathing.Early symptoms of exposure to the coronavirus are similar to that of the flu. They include:
Nauseau or vomiting
These symptoms may appear in a person who had been in close contact with a person who has contracted the virus. If you have had close contact with someone who was confirmed to have, or is being evaluated for, a COVID-19 infection and develop a fever or any of the symptoms, the CDC recommends you call your healthcare provider immediately.
Common signs of infection from other coronaviruses can include respiratory symptoms, fever, cough, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties. In more severe cases, infection from those viruses can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and even death.
Can Coronaviruses Be Transmitted Between People?
Yes, some coronaviruses, including COVID-19, can be transmitted between people, usually after close contact with an infected patient. As with cold or flu viruses, the COVID-19 coronavirus can be spread through coughing and sneezing, close personal contact and touching surfaces that have the virus on them.
How Can I Protect Myself From Coronaviruses?
The best way to protect yourself from the spread of coronaviruses is by avoiding close contact with people who are sick, washing hands frequently and avoiding touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands. Additionally, health experts are recommending safe food practices and avoiding animals and uncooked meat if traveling in affected areas.
"Anyone who’s sick, if you’re sneezing those droplets, it’s about a 6 feet radius of those droplets traveling out. If it lands on surfaces, those surfaces can be contaminated several hours," Dr. Mikatis said. "If you think of someone sneezing and then touching a door knob, that’s contaminated, and if you touch that and then you touch your mouth or your nose, you’ve basically infected yourself. Be very mindful of not touching face when you’re in public without first washing your hands."
Are Face Masks Recommended To Protect Myself From The COVID-19 Coronavirus?
The CDC does not currently recommend the use of face masks among the general public. Face masks should be worn by people who show symptoms of COVID-19 or their caregivers.
"If you look online, we're seeing a lot of runs on masks and availability and price increases even," Dr. Mikatis told Lakeshore Public Radio. "The general recommendation from the CDC is that it isn't very helpful for just walking around in public. These masks are really good for about 20 or 30 minutes. Once they get moist they don't really work as a great barrier anymore. And without proper training, removing them, there's a risk of contaminating yourself if you are exposed. The general recommendation is not to be wearing them in public or buying them up just in case."
How Should I Stay Safe While Traveling?
Older travelers and those with underlying health issues may be at risk for more severe disease and should discuss travel to affected areas with their healthcare provider.
Separate yourself from other people in your home when possible.
Wear a facemask when around others.
Avoid sharing household items.
Clean surfaces including counters, door knobs, light switches, toilets, phones and tablets.
Monitor your symptoms - and get medical care quickly if your illness worsens or you have trouble breathing.
If I Think I Was Exposed To The COVID-19 Coronavirus But Am Not Sick, What Should I Do?
The CDC recommends that if you have had close contact with someone who is confirmed to have, or being evaluated for, COVID-19 infection, you should monitor your health beginning when you had close contact with that person and continuing for 14 days after the last contact. Call your health care provider if you develop a fever or any of these symptoms:
Fever - The CDC recommends checking your temperature twice daily during this period.
Shortness of breath or problems breathing
Nauseau or vomiting
As long as you do not have any symptoms, the CDC says you can continue with daily activities including work, school and other activities.
How Can I Learn More About The Threat Of COVID-19 Coronavirus In Illinois?
The Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) in coordination with the Illinois Poison Control Center have launched the Illinois Novel Coronavirus Hotline and email address to answer questions local health departments, clinicians, and the general public may have regarding the COVID-19. See the IDPH FAQs.
How Is Franciscan Health Preparing For The Coronavirus?
As COVID-19 is an evolving situation, Franciscan Health will continue to work with local and state public health agencies should additional measures need to be taken. Patient safety is always paramount in the protection of our patients, visitors and staff. Learn more about how we're preparing.