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Coronavirus: what you should know

As the outbreak of the novel coronavirus strain (COVID-19) continues, you're likely hearing a lot about it. Here’s what you need to know, and how you can protect yourself.

The new respiratory illness called COVID-19, first identified in Wuhan, China, has us all practicing physical distancing and staying home more often these days. With COVID-19 expanding to other countries, with many cases now confirmed across the United States, including Pennsylvania you’re likely concerned. We’re here to help keep you informed.

What is coronavirus?

Coronaviruses are a large family of common viruses that can cause illnesses ranging from a common cold to a severe lower respiratory tract infection, like pneumonia.

“As with other novel viruses identified in the past, it’s understandable that this is a public health concern,”  says Dr. Stanley Martin, director of infectious diseases at Geisinger. “COVID-19, which is caused by the novel coronavirus, is not only causing an upper respiratory tract infection, but a lower respiratory infection, which can lead to pneumonia and breathing issues.”

Symptoms of COVID-19

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), those infected with COVID-19 are showing a range of reactions, from few to no symptoms to severe respiratory illness and, in some cases, it has been fatal, but mostly in older adults or those with existing chronic health conditions like heart disease or cancer.

“Symptoms of COVID-19 include a fever, shortness of breath and cough,” adds Dr. Martin. “And they can appear as early as two days and as late as 14 days after a person is exposed.”

Since early reports of the outbreak, the CDC has been closely monitoring confirmed cases of COVID-19.

Here’s what you need to know:

Cases have been confirmed in Pennsylvania

While there is evidence of community spread in the United States, including communities across PA, COVID-19 still poses little risk to healthy individuals. In fact, many people with COVID-19 aren’t seriously ill.

“Those at greatest risk for severe complications from COVID-19 are the elderly and those who have compromised immune symptoms from other chronic medical conditions,” says Dr. Martin.

Like most respiratory viruses, it can be spread person-to-person via respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes, so it’s important to take the recommended measures to protect yourself and others.

How to protect yourself from COVID-19

The best way to protect yourself from COVID-19 is through common prevention measures. Here are some tips to keep you and your family safe:

  • Practice physical distancing
  • Wash your hands frequently (alcohol-based hand sanitizers and wipes with at least 60% alcohol work, too)
  • Cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth
  • Stay home if you’re not feeling well, rest and drink plenty of fluids
  • Wear a homemade cloth or fabric mask if you must leave your home. Here are DIY instructions from the CDC on how to make and wear cloth face coverings.

Worried you might have COVID-19?

If you’re having symptoms you think may be related to COVID-19, you should contact your primary care doctor first, who can advise on proper treatment and, if necessary, recommend further testing.

You can also call our 24/7 nurse triage line at 570-284-3657 with questions about symptoms or whether further evaluation or testing is needed.

What else can you do now?

With most of the country shut down to help slow the spread of COVID-19, you should continue to avoid unnecessary travel and practice physical distancing by avoiding crowds and staying at least 6 feet away from others. And, of course, practice common prevention measures like hand washing and stay home if you’re sick.

If you have upcoming (necessary) travel, it is recommended that you seek out CDC guidelines for travel guidance. As the COVID-19 situation evolves, the CDC will continue to update its recommendations for travel.

“The hope now is to contain the outbreak and develop a vaccine against COVID-19 in the coming months,” says Dr. Martin. “Until then, it’s important to stay informed and take precautions to protect yourself and others.”

While COVID-19 is nothing to ignore, we can all do our part in slowing its spread.

For the most up-to-date information on COVID-19, visit the CDC and Pennsylvania Department of Health (DOH) websites.

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