With Oklahoma reporting its first coronavirus case on Friday, state health experts are preparing for more infections. But, they emphasize, that’s no reason to panic.
“Most of those infected to date have shown only mild symptoms,” said Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation President Stephen Prescott, M.D. “In many cases, it appears to be virtually indistinguishable from the seasonal flu.”
The virus causes an upper respiratory infection, resulting in symptoms like a dry cough, shortness of breath, fatigue and fever. Patients may also exhibit gastrointestinal distress or diarrhea.
At this time, there is no known effective treatment for the underlying virus. “So, that means treating symptoms by resting, staying hydrated and using over-the-counter medications and pain relievers as needed,” said Prescott, a physician and medical researcher.
In mild cases, treatment won’t require hospitalization or, for some, even a trip to the doctor.
“Unless they’re tested, some people will get infected and won’t even realize it,” Prescott said. “They’ll just come down with what seems like a mild case of the flu, recover, and go on with their lives.”
However, in others, the virus can cause pneumonia and acute respiratory distress.
“Those most at risk for severe symptoms appear to be the elderly and people already facing other health challenges,” said Judith James, M.D., Ph.D., an immunologist and OMRF’s Vice President of Clinical Affairs. “Those with underlying heart or lung disease also seem prone.”
These cases often require hospitalization, with oxygen therapy to help breathing. “In the most serious cases, doctors will place patients on ventilators. Experimental therapies as part of clinical trials are also becoming available in the U.S.,” James said.
Those who exhibit symptoms should stay at home and avoid contact with other people. If you have reason to believe those symptoms are a product of being exposed to someone else carrying the virus, seek medical care.
“Be sure to call your healthcare provider before you go,” said James. “That will help them prepare for your visit and prevent others from being infected.”
At the doctor’s office, she said, be sure to cover your mouth; you may be given a face mask or isolated in a special room. “The goal is to ensure droplets in saliva or mucus don’t infect others.”
Although experts don’t fully understand the new coronavirus, it appears to spread relatively easily and survive for some time on surfaces. But disinfectant or bleach seems to destroy it with relative ease.
“The best things we can do are very common-sensical,” said James. “Wash our hands with soap and water often, and keep surfaces clean and disinfected.”