What a way to start off the new year 2020, first we have uncontrolled wild fires is Australia, next we have crazy earthquakes in PR and Turkey, severe flooding in the southern United States, market crashing and by the end of February we are going into lock down due to a new virus pandemic that is sweeping the globe! SARS-Cov 2, Corona Virus, COVID - 19 or as the President likes to call it; Chinese virus, was first discovered in Wuhan China after a string of pneumonia cases were discovered before the new year. A new virus (novel) virus, similar to the flu virus which is also a Coronavirus named after the points it has on the cell wall making it appear like a crown, was spreading through China rapidly infecting many and with a rising death toll it was cause for concern. Virologist believe it is tied to a specific "Wet market", in Wuhan where fish and other live animals are sold. Wet markets have been known for transmitting virus before. At these wet markets its usually customary to watch them kill the animal prior to purchase to ensure you get what your paying for. It is not the most sanitary of places and it is not difficult for blood and pathogens to be transmitted from animal to human.
So what do we know about Coronavirus?
Well to begin it is a virus, so anti-bacterial medications will not work. It is a respiratory illness and easily transmittable person to person either by direct contact or from respiratory droplets which can come from a person's breath, cough or sneeze. The virus is a particularly a pain in the butt since it can linger in the air for hours and on surfaces for days. Not to mention, you may be have the virus and not show any signs or symptoms for days however your still contagious. Due to its ability to infect through the air it is recommended that you maintain a distance of 6 ft to avoid coming in contact with these air droplets. We know that it causes flu like symptoms like fever, cough, sneezing and some GI symptoms as well. We also know that the elderly are more likely to get sick from the virus and have the worst symptoms, we are talking 65 and older.
How does this compare to other viruses we have come in contact with? Well I think if you compare it will our most common virus, Influenza, you wouldn't be to concerned about the novel virus COVID-19. So far the new Coronavirus has led to more than 220,000 and more than 9,300 deaths worldwide, but that is nothing compared with the flu, also called Influenza. In the US alone, the flu has caused an estimated 36 million illnesses, 370,000 hospitalizations, and 22,000 deaths, this season alone, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). With numbers like these, it is compelling to think that if it was not discovered in the first place, some would say that this years flu season was just a bad one, however, it is a NEW virus and there is much we do not know so without hard data it is difficult to make decisions in regards to how to stop the spread and treat the sick.
So where are we at today? Well if you want to know just how good we are dealing with this problem just ask the president and he will tell you, but for the most part it seems that we are taking some pretty drastic strides in eliminating further spread, and preparing our healthcare workers for a possible doomsday type scenario. Vaccines are currently being developed but it is not likely to be ready for months. So we have schools and businesses closing, in order to prevent spread and cross contamination, but there are no restrictions on people getting together privately.
So what does this mean for all of us? Well, beyond our normal everyday duties treating the sick now we are going to have an influx of people who just think they are sick and want to be transported to the hospital. More patients, more strain on the hospitals, not enough tests to go around, not enough personnel to go around, it is leading up to a real problem and since it is so easily transferred it is a real cause for concern for our first responders and healthcare providers. It is probably best if some dispatch questions can be asked early to see if there is a possibility of Corona virus infection and then we can use the correct PPE prior to coming in contact with the patient, which in my opinion should be some sort of gown with a hood, Eye protection that is form fitted to the face, and at a minimum N95-P100 filter/cartridge.
Well that is good for protecting ourselves but what about decon? Well, it can survive on surfaces so it is important we clean all surfaces and we must use either a bleach solution or alcohol based solution. A 10% bleach solution will disintegrate the cell membrane of the virus and all its contents in about 10-20 minutes while a 70% Isopropyl Alcohol will eventually do the same but will take a bit longer. UV lights will work very well also. Remember all that PPE is one time use and needs to be doffed appropriately and washing hands is extremely important afterwards. The main thing here is to practice good protection practices and prevent cross contamination by cleaning all your equipment and surfaces, and making sure that if you begin feeling sick you don't hide it and you self quarantine. Hopefully, this will all soon pass and it wont be as bad as everyone is making it out to be.
With vaccines currently under human trial and some very positive results from anti-viral drugs like the drugs used in HIV patients, we may be ahead of this thing very soon. Lets just be smart and stay home, avoid social gatherings, keep clean and clean all surfaces and points of contact, get tested if you are sick, and if you are a first responder, protect yourselves at all times.
How are things being done by your department? What type of polices or guidelines has your department produced in light of this situation? We were lucky to have a surplus of equipment from previous viruses like Ebola and SARS that we were able to equip everyone right away.
Anyway stay safe out there and lets hope this is all over soon.
**This is a opinion based blog post and is not intended to make any medical or health prevention claims