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LI doctors weigh in on avoiding, treating and testing for the new coronavirus

Nasal swab test in the Northwell Health Lab

Nasal swab test in the Northwell Health Lab on Tuesday in Lake Success. Credit: Howard Schnapp

Long Island-based physicians offer common-sense advice on the coronavirus.

How do I avoid getting coronavirus?

Brian Harper, chief medical officer of the Academic Health Centers at New York Institute of Technology's College of Osteopathic Medicine in Old Westbury, said it is of “primary importance” to stay away from friends, family and co-workers who are showing signs of illness — even though their ailment is likely not coronavirus. There is no vaccine or cure for coronavirus.

“The way a person becomes infected generally is by coming in contact with the actual virus,” said Harper, a former Suffolk County health commissioner, adding that touching surfaces and then placing hands on the face is among the most common ways people become infected.

State health department officials said spreading can occur person to person by droplets cast into the air through coughing or sneezing.

State health officials advise washing hands thoroughly and often with soap and water or a hand sanitizer for 20 seconds and avoiding touching your face with unwashed hands.

If someone suspects they have coronavirus, what should they do?

Doctors and officials advise anyone who suspects they have the disease to seek health care and let the provider know whether they have traveled to places where coronavirus has struck, said Dr. Aaron Glatt, an infectious disease expert at Mount Sinai South Nassau hospital in Oceanside. A visit to a primary care physician is fine but those with more severe symptoms, such as compromised breathing or high fever, may want to go to the emergency room. 

Harper said physicians will first check for other illnesses that present the same symptoms, such as coughing, sneezing, aches, high fever and trouble breathing. Once those illnesses are ruled out, he said, the clinician may test for coronavirus and send the sample to the federal Centers for Disease Control.

How am I tested and who pays for it?

The state has directed all insurance carriers to cover the cost without co-pays. Testing can be done through swabbing the nose or throat and sending it to an authorized lab.

How do you differentiate between coronavirus and the average cold, flu or pneumonia?

The symptoms of the new coronavirus and the flu are similar, according to Dr. Lisa Lockerd Maragakis, who posted a comparison of the ailments on the Johns Hopkins Medicine website. Both illnesses can be mild or fatal and result in pneumonia.

Added Dr. Fred Davis, associate chair of the emergency room at Northwell Health in New Hyde Park: "A lot of the cases we will be seeing will be very mild and, just like the flu, most people will recover from it. Most people will have a cough, runny nose, maybe some body aches, and that will be the extent of it. If you do have those symptoms, try and stay home to prevent yourself from infecting others, rest and drink plenty of fluids.”

Should I be very concerned?

Above all, Glatt said, don’t panic.

“The basic thing people should be doing is common sense,” Glatt said. “They should not panic. If you feel sick, you should stay home, because it could be a cold or the flu and it most likely isn’t coronavirus. People need to understand that the more they are mingling in public and if they’re sick, they're going to get other people sick. They should stay home until the symptoms abate.”

The World Health Organization on Tuesday said the mortality rate is 3.4%. 

How is it treated?

Neither flu nor coronavirus is treatable with antibiotics, which only work on bacterial infections, Johns Hopkins medicine said. Rest, fluids and over-the-counter fever reducers are recommended.

“Bear in mind the human body was designed to be in a world full of microorganisms,” Harper said. “We do have an immune system that can fight off viruses.”

Should I wear a facemask?
No if you're not sick, according to local experts and the CDC. 
Harper and Davis said people who already have coronavirus and are showing symptoms should wear them or if a healthcare professional recommends it. “Masks don’t protect you from the virus,” Davis said. “They are great if you are already sick because they will prevent the spread to other people.”