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What families and caregivers need to know about COVID-19

As we are currently facing a novel coronavirus that’s rapidly spreading across the U.S. and a growing number of countries. As of Friday, March 20, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reported the number of U.S. cases at 15,219, including 201 deaths.

What is coronavirus and COVID-19?

According to the CDC, coronaviruses are a large family of viruses common to many species of animals, such as camels, cattle, cats and bats. In rare cases, these viruses can jump to and spread among humans, such as with MERS and SARS. The current coronavirus — also referred to as a novel (new) coronavirus, or SARS-CoV-2 — was first detected in 2019, in Wuhan City in the Hubei Province of China. It has since been detected in travelers, as well as confirmed in people without known exposure to the region or other known patients. The name of the illness caused by SARS-CoV-2 is called COVID-19, short for “coronavirus disease 2019.”

How is coronavirus transmitted?

In short, it’s transmitted via the respiratory route like a cold or flu. If you’re pregnant or breastfeeding: The CDC states that it’s still unknown whether a pregnant woman with COVID-19 can transmit coronavirus to her fetus or newborn. However, in the limited recent case series of infants born to mothers with COVID-19 published in the peer-reviewed literature, none of the infants have tested positive for the virus that causes COVID-19.

What are the symptoms?

While we’re still learning specifics about how the disease will present, reports from positive cases, the main symptoms include:

  • Fever.
  • Cough.
  • Shortness of breath.

By comparison, the flu is more likely to cause fever/a feverish feeling, headache, muscle and body aches, fatigue, cough, sore throat and a runny or stuffy nose. Cases can range from mild to severe, and shortness of breath may indicate a more serious form of the illness.
Symptoms may present anywhere from 2-14 days following exposure, according to the CDC.

What are the symptoms in kids specifically?

Limited reports of children with COVID-19 in China have described mild, cold-like symptoms, such as fever, runny nose and cough, the CDC notes.

Who is most at risk?

The CDC says that while infections in children, including very young children, have been reported, there is no evidence that they are more susceptible, and most confirmed cases of COVID-19 reported from China have occurred in adults.

According to the CDC’s most current risk assessment, the immediate health risk for the general American public is considered low. The risks, however, are growing/higher in the following communities:

  • People in communities where ongoing community spread with the virus that causes COVID-19 has been reported are at elevated — though still relatively low — risk of exposure.
  • Health care workers caring for patients with COVID-19 are at elevated risk of exposure.
  • People who are close contacts of someone who has been diagnosed with COVID-19 are at elevated risk.
  • Travelers returning from affected countries where community spread is occurring. The US government has also instituted travel restrictions to a number of countries with confirmed cases of COVID-19, including China, South Korea, Japan, Italy and Iran, but the level of risk in each country will vary day to day while more information is gathered. For an updated list of risk assessments and travel restrictions, visit the CDC website.
  • The immunocompromised — like nursing homes, elderly, cancer or COPD patients, etc. — have a higher risk, adds Rohde. “The risk can go up in elderly people with diabetes, high blood pressure and COPD,” he says.

What precautions should I take?

Although alcohol-based hand sanitizers are flying off the shelves, and the CDC advises using them when soap and water aren’t readily available, it’s best to wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom, before eating and after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing.

Avoid “high-touch” surfaces — other people (handshaking), handrails, etc. — when possible, as well as contact with those who are ill (or appear ill) with respiratory illness, travel to high infection areas abroad or domestic, nursing homes or other health care areas where high risk may be found unless you need to obtain assistance.

Additional precautions:

  • Stay home when you are sick with respiratory disease symptoms. At the present time, these symptoms are more likely due to influenza or other respiratory viruses than to COVID-19-related virus.
  • Cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue, then throw it in the trash can.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with 60-95% alcohol.
  • Routinely clean frequently touched surfaces and objects.

 Additional recommendations from the CDC for when you are sick:

  • Restrict activities except for getting medical care. Don’t go to work or school. Don’t spend time in public areas or use public transportation.
  • As much as possible, stay away from people even in your own home, including using a separate bathroom. Try and avoid contact with pets or other animals, as well.
  • Wear a face mask, and cover your coughs and sneezes. Throw used tissues or face masks into lined trash cans. Wash hands vigorously and often for at least 20 seconds, using soap and water or use hand sanitizer containing 60-95% alcohol.
  • Avoid sharing personal household items, monitor your symptoms and clean surfaces daily.