It’s a little risky writing about an illness that is still so much in the forefront of the news because we don’t know how the story ends. By the time this article is published, things will have either stayed the same, gotten worse, or this whole thing will be over with Coronavirus/COVID-19. We’ve had coronaviruses in our world before – remember SARS and MERS? No? Probably not, because they came and went without affecting most of us. Scientists from Harvard have noted that there are fewer deaths from COVID-19 so far than there were with SARS and MERS, but what happens with this novel coronavirus remains to be seen.
HOW DO YOU GET COVID-19? This virus seems to have originated in animals and passed to humans. As far as scientists know, COVID-19 is spread mainly through droplets in the air but can also spread from picking it up when you touch hard surfaces. Droplets are the saliva that leave your mouth every time you talk, sneeze, cough, kiss or share glasses, silverware and plates. It seems that soft surfaces like towels and carpets don’t harbor the virus. When you have it on your hands and then touch something you leave some coronavirus (or flu or common cold) for the next person to pick up and then move it to their respiratory system when they touch their face. The virus can live on surfaces from a few hours to a few days. It is believed that people without symptoms might be able to spread it, but this remains unclear as of yet.
WHAT DOES COVID-19 DO TO YOU? The most common symptoms are fever, dry cough and shortness of breath. The most dangerous part is its effect on the lungs. Coronavirus can cause severe pneumonia, which seems to be affecting mostly the elderly and people who might be younger but who have an underlying disease or whose immune system doesn’t work well. Those who smoke and vape are also at greater risk. The most worrisome symptom will be shortness of breath, an indication that the virus is sticking to your lungs and causing respiratory distress.
HOW CAN I LOWER MY RISK OF GETTING COVID-19? Local health departments are establishing protocols for dealing with this situation, taking their cues from the CDC, to determine how to contain the illness. But, as a trucker, what do you do to keep yourself safe since you are driving long distances in places where there might be more COVID-19 than in others? Well, you’re going to use common sense like you would for any other time when there is a virus going around. Health departments are pretty much on the same page when it comes to defeating communicable diseases; the steps to take are essentially the same no matter where you are.
FIRST, hand washing is the most important thing you can do. Soap and water will do. Spend 20 seconds cleaning the tops of your hands, palms and in between your fingers. How will you know it’s 20 seconds? Sing “Happy Birthday to You” twice and you’ll be in good shape. As you’ve probably heard, alcohol-based hand sanitizers have flown off the shelves. If you can still get some, it’s handy to have when you don’t have access to soap and water. In case you’re wondering, the heat from the air dryer in the bathroom will not kill the coronavirus – in fact, it may just blow it around the room, so stick to paper towels when you can.
SECOND, if you’re a Facebook fan or watch a lot of news, you’ve probably seen some of the videos showing an authoritative public official telling you not to touch your nose, mouth or eyes and as soon as they’ve said it, the person licks their finger in order to turn the page. It’s just such a natural part of our everyday existence that we scratch our nose or eye or use our finger to get food out of our teeth. However, the less we do of those things, the less likely we will be to contaminate ourselves with any of the viruses out there. By the way, the regular “flu” has killed 12,000 people in the US since October 2019 and the number may get as high as 30,000. COVID-19 has only killed 28 people at the time of this writing (March 10, 2020). When talking to people, try to keep about six feet away from the person so that droplets can’t get to them from you (or to you from them).
LASTLY, President Franklin D. Roosevelt said, “There is nothing to fear but Fear itself” at his inauguration during the Great Depression. Panic is unnecessary in this situation – in fact, it just makes things worse. Most of the people who have tested positive for the coronavirus have not died. Many have only mild illness. The truth is that a person who has not had flu vaccine is at greater risk of dying from the flu than the average person is of dying from COVID-19. Buying paper face masks in bulk or 50-gallon drums of hand sanitizer is not necessary. Leave those items for the health care personnel who really are in harm’s way when attending to sick people arriving at hospitals and health care offices.
HOW IS COVID-19 TREATED? There are a few antiviral medications in development as we speak but none are ready to be marketed yet. There is a vaccine in the works, but, again, not ready for roll out just yet. Treatment, therefore, is supportive, e.g. giving fluids, medicine to help breathing, using ventilators for the person who cannot breathe on their own. Important to note here is that antibiotics will not help – they only treat bacteria and COVID-19 is most definitely a virus. Using any antibiotics when they are not necessary just increases resistance in disease-causing organisms so that no medicines can kill them, and we are left with an even bigger mess on our hands later.
SCARE TACTICS. Please be careful when you get the emails telling you about National Guard survival techniques and snake oil for saving yourselves and your families. While it’s true that we must protect ourselves and do everything we can to prevent spreading the virus, don’t get scammed by the fear mongers who want you to spend your hard-earned money on their product.
IS THERE ANY GOOD NEWS? Yes! The countries where this virus was first discovered are now reporting fewer new cases, which seems to indicate that the virus is waning. While no one can predict the future, it’s reasonable to think that this same pattern will be seen around the world, just as it was with H1N1 (Swine Flu), SARS and MERS a few years back. There are things we can do to take control of the spread of COVID-19 – now just do it!
MORE READING. For all those questions I can’t answer in this column, here are some websites where you can find out more from reputable sources. If you are going to Google information, I recommend your state health department, the CDC (www.cdc.gov) and the World Health Organization (www.who.int). Don’t buy into the myths. Don’t panic. Don’t go out unless necessary. Wash your hands. Don’t touch your face. Do these things for the next few weeks and you will probably not only avoid getting the virus, but you will avoid spreading it to others. Stay safe.
~ Norma Stephens Hannigan is a Doctor of Nursing Practice who recently retired after a 43-year career providing direct care and teaching future nurses and nurse practitioners. Dr. Norma has treated many truck drivers at the various clinics she has worked. She currently writes for 10-4 from her home in Newburgh, NY.