From common colds to COVID-19-Respiratory infections update 2020

This year’s cold/flu season is complicated by a new player- COVID-19, caused by the SARS-CoV-2. If you get sick, please do not assume your illness is “just the flu” ; this could have serious, perhaps fatal consequences for you and your loved ones.

Where I live, North America, we’ve just observed the first day of fall, also known as the autumnal equinox. And especially in healthcare, we unofficially view it as the start of the “cold and flu” season. To those of you in the southern hemisphere, happy spring. You also have a respiratory illness season during fall/winter.

Respiratory infections

By “cold and flu” we means acute respiratory infections caused by a variety of viruses including

  • influenza
  • respiratory syncytial virus (RSV)
  • adenovirus
  • rhinovirus
  • coronavirus

and less commonly several bacteria, most commonly

  • Streptococcus
  • Mycoplasma
  • Haemophilus
  • Legionella
  • Pertussis (whooping cough)

These cause diseases called by various names including

  • colds/flu
  • influenza
  • pharyngitis (throat infection)
  • otitis media (ear infection)
  • bronchitis
  • sinusitis
  • pneumonia
  • laryngitis
  • COVID-19
  • whooping cough
  • bronchiolitis-infants and children
  • croup-mostly children

This year’s cold/flu season is complicated by a new player- COVID-19, caused by the SARS-CoV-2.

Acute vs chronic

We call these illnesses acute because they (usually) come on fairly suddenly, run their course within a few days to sometimes a few weeks, and then resolve. Sometimes they don’t resolve and become chronic.

Some underlying factor may prevent healing. There may be a chronic condition that is out of control, or has not been previously diagnosed. You may need a doctor’s evaluation to determine whether it’s “just a cold” or perhaps asthma, COPD ,or allergic rhinitis.

Many of these illnesses tend to occur seasonally, such as influenza and RSV. Others can occur year round. So far we don’t know if COVID-19, due to the SARS-CoV-2 , will be year round or seasonal. Unlike influenza, it did not abate during the summer this year.

What are respiratory symptoms?

Symptoms of respiratory illness involve some combination of the nose, sinuses, ears, throat, larynx (voice box), trachea, bronchus, and lung

  • Sneezing, stuffy  or runny nose,
  • Sinus pain, pressure
  • coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath
  • sore throat, hoarseness
  • ear pain, fullness

often along with systemic symptoms such as

  • fever and/or chills
  • body aches, fatigue, 
  • nausea, vomiting, diarrhea 
  • headache
  • loss of appetite

 

Coping with respiratory illness

Although these infections make us miserable and can temporarily disable us from work and school, most otherwise healthy people recover uneventfully, even from COVID-19. Nevertheless, we should take them seriously.

 

 

Don’t panic.

Fever ,especially in children, alarms parents. Don’t ignore it but don’t panic either. Reading this post should help you keep calm about fever .

a woman taking her temperature
This photograph depicted a woman who was using a modern, battery-powered oral thermometer, in order to measure her body temperature. In order to return an accurate reading, this particular type of thermometer needed to be placed beneath the user’s tongue, for a set amount of time, beeping when the ambient, sublingual temperature was reached. Photo credit-James Gathany, CDC, public domain

Some  people are at risk of developing  severe symptoms and serious complications from respiratory illnesses, so seek medical help sooner, rather than later. These include

  • Infants, especially under one month old
  • Older adults,starting at about age 50, with risk increasing with age, especially combined with chronic disease
  • Those with chronic lung disease, like asthma, COPD, emphysema, cystic fibrosis
  • People who smoke cigarettes or vape
  • People on medications or with diseases that suppress the immune system
  • Serious chronic diseases – diabetes, liver disease, kidney disease, heart disease, cancer 
  • Obesity (a risk factor for COVID-19 complications)
  • Pregnancy

If you are not sure if you fit into one of these categories, ask your doctor.

Stay home.

These illnesses spread person to person, so minimize contact.

Keep your kids home from school and stay home from work, at least the first few days, when you are  the most contagious. When  there is widespread illness in your community, avoid crowds and public gatherings.

Resting, getting extra sleep, drinking fluids and staying warm and dry  make staying at home therapeutic.

Wash hands.

Speaking of person to person contact, the best way to avoid getting or giving germs is to wash your hands often, but especially after being with others ,using a restroom,  and before cooking or eating. Cleaning household surfaces helps too, as well as clothing and linens. Don’t forget to clean your cell phone, tablets, and keyboards too. Use hand sanitizer if hand washing can’t be done.

Wear a mask

You probably know that early on in the pandemic, theCDC did not recommend wide spread wearing of masks. I suspect this was to prevent hoarding of masks (remember toilet paper? ) and because it was not yet recognized how widely the virus was circulating in the United States.

But that has changed; when new information is learned, the smart thing to do is reassess and update recommendations. So now masks that cover the nose and mouth should be worn whenever you expect to have close contact with people outside your household. In some situations, eye coverings are also warranted but that is not universally recommended now.

Use medication wisely.

Some of these illnesses have a specific medication that clear it faster- strep throat, influenza, pneumonia. The others will “run their course” and meds are used to help relieve symptoms.

Many people assume that any illness with fever, sore throat and cough will improve with an antibiotic. The fact is, most will not. Antibiotics only treat infections caused by bacteria, and most of these are caused by viruses. To learn more read about

These illnesses cause the greatest overuse of antibiotics, contribute to the cost of health care, and the development of antibiotic resistance. Please do not insist on an antibiotic if the doctor says you don’t need it; if offered an antibiotic, ask why.

 

 

6 smart facts about antibiotic use

 

 Be patient

The “24 hour virus” is for the most part a myth. Expect to be ill anywhere from 3 to 10 days; some symptoms, especially cough, can linger for weeks. If you are a smoker, this is a great time to quit. 

But if after 7-14 days you are not getting better or are getting progressively worse, something more may be going on, so it’s wise to seek professional medical help.

Is it flu or is it COVID?

The arrival of COVID-19 this year creates a dilemma since symptoms overlap other respiratory infections and the possible outcomes run the gamut of no symptoms to death.

So this year, if you develop respiratory symptoms, healthcare clinicians will likely test you for COVID-19 , both to guide your care and to protect your family, co-workers, and healthcare workers.

Please do not assume your illness is “just the flu” ; this could have serious, perhaps fatal consequences for you and your loved ones.

Prevention of respiratory infections

Respiratory infections don’t have to happen. We know that they are mostly spread person to person, so what we each do matters. So what can you do?

  • Stay home when you are ill.
  • Observe physical distancing when disease is spreading in your community.
  • Wear a mask when recommended by public health professionals.
  • Practice careful hygiene on hands and surfaces.
  • Get available vaccinations.

 

 

 

exploring the HEART of respiratory illness

I would love for you to share this  information (but not your germs) on your social media pages.

FLU VACCINE: We all have a role in protecting each other.
used with permission CDC

Thanks for following this blog. If you’re visiting, I would love for you to start following Watercress Words : use the form to get an email notification of new posts. Don’t worry, you won’t get anything else from me. I also want you to find and follow me on Facebook, Pinterest , Instagram, and LinkedIn .


                              Dr. Aletha 


What you should know about COVID-19 exposure notification apps

There will not be a national app for contact tracing. There are many options available now, and it is up to each state and individual to decide which tools best fit their needs. It is up to you to decide if you download an exposure notification app for COVID-19.

Recently several friends on social media posted about settings on their phones for COVID-19 exposure notification. I checked and found it on my phone also. Early in the pandemic I read that this software was being developed for possible use in contact tracing but did not know it was now a reality.

I mentioned it to my computer guru husband Raymond who writes a tech blog Tech Savy Life and he researched and wrote an in-depth post about it. So I’m tapping into his knowledge to share with you.

What is contact tracing?

According to the CDC, contact tracing “helps protect you, your family, and your community” by

  • Letting people know they may have been exposed to COVID-19 and should monitor their health for signs and symptoms of COVID-19.
  • Helping people who may have been exposed to COVID-19 get tested.
  • Asking people to self-isolate if they have COVID-19 or self-quarantine if they are a close contact.

Manual contact tracing done by humans is labor intensive and sometimes inefficient, requiring time on the phone trying to reach people, physically tracking them down, and then depending on their memory of where and with whom they have been. Using technology to do this speeds the process and improves accuracy, making it far more valuable and helpful.

Using case management tools

Local health departments may use digital case management tools to help make the contact tracing process more efficient. If you choose to provide information through one of these tools, your information is secure and stored with the health department. These tools help health departments quickly receive and analyze information about COVID-19.

Case management tools are under the same laws and regulations for all sensitive health information use (e.g. HIPPA). You must provide consent for the health department to collect information using a case management tool. Just like traditional contact tracing, digital tools will not collect information regarding money, Social Security numbers, bank account information, salary information, or credit card numbers.

Using exposure notification tools
a phone screen shot of Settings

from iPhone 11, iOS 13.7

Exposure notification tools may be an app that you can download on your personal cell phone. If you choose to download an exposure notification app for COVID-19, your information is secure.

How exposure notifications work when available

Exposure notification apps are developed in collaboration with or endorsed by health departments. These apps undergo rigorous testing to determine their trustworthiness, security, and ability to protect people’s privacy. Until you give consent to share information with your local health department, any information you have entered into the app is stored only on your personal phone and is not sent to the health department or any other third party. The app and your information can be deleted any time.

Exposure notification on the iPhone 11 iOS 13.7

By clicking Continue, I went to a screen where I entered my country, the United States, and then my state, Oklahoma, where exposure notifications are not currently available.

Privacy and civil liberty issues

Again, according to the CDC,

There will not be a national app for contact tracing. There are many options available now, and it is up to each state and individual to decide which tools best fit their needs. It is up to you to decide if you download an exposure notification app for COVID-19.

Tech Savy Life

Raymond’s article was written before the iOS update, but I recommend you read it for a more detailed explanation of how contact tracing works. And check out some of his other posts while you’re there.

Raymond Oglesby, an Information Technology (IT) specialist with 30 years in the field. I have taught Microsoft Applications and troubleshot computers in 15 countries and many States. My career was focused on mainframes and desktops from application development to implementation. I have written hundreds of programs for various architectures. I decided to start a blog to share my knowledge and experiences with you.

Contact tracing is coming on your smartphone

man looking at a phone screen

exploring the HEART of health with technology

Even though computers and smart phones aren’t so “smart” sometimes (or maybe it’s just me) I’m glad we can harness the power of technology to help us explore and share the HEART of health. You may enjoy this post about how technology has changed the way we document healthcare for better and for worse.

Thanks for following this blog. If you’re visiting, I would love for you to start following Watercress Words : use the form to get an email notification of new posts. Don’t worry, you won’t get anything else from me. I also want you to find and follow me on Facebook, Pinterest , Instagram, and LinkedIn .

                              Dr. Aletha