All Your Coronavirus Questions Answered, Including What to Do If You Think You Have It
We all have a lot of questions about coronavirus, including how do I avoid it? And what do I do if I think I have it? So we asked Dr. Hooman Yaghoobzadeh, The Beet's medical advisor, who is a respected plant-based cardiologist and faculty member of Weill Cornell Medicine in New York City, to answer your most burning questions.
Here, we paraphrase his answers to the 13 most asked questions we have about staying healthy. And by the way, we did ask him if alcohol kills the virus, why can't we just swig Tito's or Dos Amigos and wipe it out before it takes hold? His sage response: That might kill your liver before it killed all the virus bugs. Sigh, moving on, let's get serious about the real facts, the smart science, and what to do if you start to have symptoms!
Q. 1 What if I think I have COVID-19. Should I go to my doctor's office or the ER?
Actually I tell my patients that if they can, the best thing to do is to ride it out at home. In general, doctor's offices are not equipped to contain the virus, and you'll risk infecting everyone there, including the patients in the waiting room, the nurses and doctors, which means they would have to be quarantined, further straining the health care system. Instead, call your physician, who will likely recommend that you stay home unless you are ill enough to be hospitalized, at which time they will direct you to go to the ER. I do an assessment to see if the patient needs to go to the ER and if not, the answer is to stay home.
Q 2. Is there an easy at-home test to know if you have it?
A. Try this simple test: Hold your breath for 20 seconds. If when you stop holding your breath you don't have to cough, then your lungs are in good shape. It's a decent test of lung function.
The best test is a pulse oximeter. It's that tiny little clamp that clips on your finger and measures how much oxygen your blood is carrying from the lungs to your body and if it's enough, then you are healthy enough to stay at home and ride out the virus-like you would the flue. The way someone knows they have to go to the hospital is that their pulse oxygen level is less than 92 percent at rest. Then call your doctor and make a plan before you just show up at the ER where they won't be prepared to admit you and you could infect others.
As for getting tested at a medical center, given the limited testing availability, currently, hospitals will do tests for people who are at high risk or quite sick. Otherwise, the best advice is, if you think you may have been exposed, to stay home and self-quarantine.
Q 3. What can we do to avoid the virus, other than wash our hands every 20 minutes?
A. The most important thing is to stay healthy with a healthy immune system. And the most important way to do that is to stay healthy, get a good amount of sleep and stay stress-free. Stress effects immunity through cortisol and other things that happen when you over-stress. So practice stress management through good sleep, good food and getting a good amount of exercise. You want to keep healthy lungs.
Q 4. You said that everyone is going to be exposed. So we can't hide from it?
A. I don't think there is any running away from the virus. We are all going to be exposed over the next 8 to 12 months in some way or another. All the things we are trying to do now to flatten the curve (of the growing number of cases) will help the health care system not get overwhelmed.
But if we can slow the spread, the area under the curve is going to stay the same but will reduce the burden on the health care system. so if you can push off getting it till June, say, then we'll know how to treat it better than we do now. We will have potentially some treatments, know more about it, and be in warmer months that could slow the strength of the virus.
Q 5. What do we do about the stress we're living under?
A. Try to enjoy spending time at home, with family. Get back to the basics of life.
Spend time at home and focus on family and loved ones. Spending time at home, getting back to the basics of life, try to alleviate stress by playing family games.
By summer we will be thinking about it differently. In warmer weather, it will be transmitted less because somehow the virus does not live as long in warmer weather. There may not be as many people exposed and by then it may be milder.
Q 6. If you have a patient who calls up and says I may have it, what do you say?
A. I tell them not to come in, but if they need to, to go to the ER. And tell them in advance, since you should not go into the hospital or the doctor's office with symptoms without telling your doctor because you will expose the whole office -- the waiting room and the nurses and doctors and then they have to close for 2 weeks.
Q 7. What is a sure sign someone has it?
A. We know that 90 percent will have a high fever and 80 percent will have a progressive bad cough. It is not a case of the sniffles or minor cold. It is a real fever, progressive worsening cough over days. So folks who have symptoms for days are the ones who need to quarantine themselves.
Q 8. So you think the best thing is to stay at home?
A. As long as you don't have respiratory failure -- and as long as you can keep down fluids, and as long as you can get beyond the symptoms in a few days, then you will get through it. The only reason to get tested is from a public health standpoint but if you stay at home, you will be able to avoid others and not pass it on. Right now the only way to get tested is the Emergency room. The last thing you need to do is go to the ER.
Q 9. So you are saying most people can ride it out?
A. Ultimately it will be an extraordinarily benign disease, but that's not the case for anyone over 80 or who has compromised immune system or lung function. Of most folks who do get sick, it’s a small number, but they are older or have pre-existing conditions. But if 2 to 3 percent of all 80-year-olds or older end up on a ventilator then that is a scary concept. We don't have the capacity for that.
Q 10. So What is your advice right now? How can I keep it at bay?
A. This is a critical time. If you can, take the next two weeks (at home) and really limit your exposure. Try not to go out for dinner or keep a little bit of social distance, and if you go to a crowded restaurant and they are going to make you wait in a crowded area, skip that. Don't go to movies, plays or opera, and try not to take a bus or public transportation.
We are just going to have to wait it out. The point is to not stress the health care system. We’ll soon get a sense if things are doubling every day or if things are settling down in a stable population.
Q 11. When someone sneezes near me, I hold my breath. Should everyone?
A. When somebody sneezes or coughs, the virus goes 3 feet, not more than 3 feet, it then settles within a three-foot radius. If you touch anything in the next 2 hours within that three-foot area, and then you touch your eyes or nose, it can get in.
Q 12. Should we all drink from water bottles?
A. This gives you a false sense of security. If you touch the rim of the water bottle you created a vector of hand to mouth carriage. I wash my hands before and after every patient interaction. And I also use hand sanitizer and purell. Washing your hands every 20 minutes, throughout the day, is still the best idea.
Q 13. We hear about anti-inflammatory food. What is the role of inflammation?
A. Eat high-antioxidant foods, which are good for immunity (like fruits and vegetables). For good gut health, eat high-fiber foods. Try to eat more anti-inflammatory foods, because the virus wreaks havoc on the body and inflammation is your body's response. Your body gets sick not from the virus itself but your own inflammatory response -- which is in overdrive and which when you're healthy generally, works as it should.
The body goes into overdrive trying to fight the virus with inflammation, so the more anti-inflammatory your diet the better. Since the virus is directed at the lungs and your immune system is already handicapped, the inflammation gets out of control, so that is why you feel sick. The answer is to eat anti-inflammatory foods and stay healthy.
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