Ask the Doctors by Eve Glazier, M.D. and Elizabeth Ko, M.D

The Doctors Recap What We Know About Coronavirus

Dear Doctor: Would you please consider doing a recap about the coronavirus -- especially about how it spreads? There’s a lot of information floating around, and it’s getting hard to sort through the noise.

Dear Reader: It’s true that we’ve been deluged in recent months with coronavirus coverage. Whether in print, on TV, on the radio or online, the information ranges from accurate to speculative to deliberately false. All of this adds up not only to potential confusion, but also to mental fatigue. You’re not alone in feeling overwhelmed by the topic. And to be honest, just running through the facts as we know them thus far will be helpful to us, as well.

Let’s start at the beginning. The novel coronavirus goes by the name SARS-CoV-2, which stands for severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2. It’s referred to as “novel” because it has never been seen in humans before. This means we have no acquired resistance or immunity to this particular virus. The disease that SARS-CoV-2 causes is known as COVID-19. COVID stands for “coronavirus disease,” and the number 19 refers to the year that it first appeared, which is 2019. In fact, the first public information about the disease was released on Dec. 31, 2019, the last day of that year.

A growing body of evidence suggests the virus most commonly spreads via the tiny respiratory droplets we emit whenever we speak, cough, sneeze and breathe. These droplets can be inhaled, or may be transferred to the mucous membranes of the nose, mouth and eyes via touch. That’s why washing your hands and not touching your face are both so important. This is also why the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now recommends that people in public places wear facial coverings, which constrain the movement of the respiratory droplets we all release. Since not everyone infected with SARS-CoV-2 develops physical symptoms, it is possible for these individuals to unknowingly transmit the virus. Again, that’s why facial coverings for everyone are so important -- you’re protecting the people around you. The typical range of expelled respiratory droplets is less than 6 feet, which has led to the buffer zone we are now all asked to observe.

Symptoms of COVID-19 appear about two weeks after infection. They include fever, dry cough, tiredness and shortness of breath. Also common is a sudden loss of the sense of taste and smell. Patients also report headache, muscle aches, chills and chest pain. Although older adults and anyone with a serious underlying medical condition appear to be at higher risk of serious COVID-19 complications, it’s possible for anyone of any age to become ill. And the disease appears to have a broader scope than the pneumonia it’s best known to cause. A rare inflammatory condition is now being seen children. And in a number of adults, a range of adverse reactions brought on by sudden and unexpected blood clot formation have been reported. Unfortunately, there is no cure for COVID-19 at this time. Anyone with symptoms should seek immediate medical care.

(Send your questions to askthedoctors@mednet.ucla.edu, or write: Ask the Doctors, c/o UCLA Health Sciences Media Relations, 10880 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 1450, Los Angeles, CA, 90024. Owing to the volume of mail, personal replies cannot be provided.)