Telling people that you are a “zero” may not get much attention. Telling people that you are a “patient zero”? That’s a different story.
Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, who also goes by the nickname Woz, momentarily caused a stir with the following tweet:
Yeah, that’s not going to get zero reaction with the ongoing COVID-19 causing coronavirus (SARS-CoV2) outbreak occurring. The possible suggestion that he and his wife, Janet, may have been the “patient zeros” who brought the new coronavirus to the U.S. got all kinds of responses, ranging from people tweeting that Macs don’t get viruses to those wondering angrily why the Wozniaks took so long to see doctors.
A “patient zero” is the first human to get infected by a pathogen like a virus and then subsequently spread it to other human beings. There can be a patient zero for the overall SARS-CoV2 outbreak, that is the first human to have contracted the virus from a non-human source such as another animal. There can also be patient zeros for outbreaks in different locations, such as the persons who first introduced the virus to each country. It can be very, very difficult to identify who really was the patient zero in each of these cases because that person may have had very non-specific symptoms or even no symptoms at all.
It turns out that all of this patient zero talk “Woz” probably a false alarm. As Carlie Porterfield reported for Forbes, Janet Wozniak sent USA Today an email indicating that she actually had a sinus infection, presumably a run-of-the-mill sinus infection that was not caused by the SARS-CoV2. So perhaps there is zero concern, or rather zero zero concern about the Wozniaks.
All of this shows how easy it is to mistake something else for a SARS-CoV2 infection, and vice versa. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website, the potential symptoms of “coronavirus disease 2019” include fever, cough, and shortness of breath. That’s pretty darn non-specific.
The World Health Organization (WHO) website does add “breathing difficulties” to the list of potential symptoms. It also says that “infection can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and even death.”
OK, so death is always pretty serious and would certainly merit attention. But the other symptoms may not be quite as clear. After all, lots of things can cause a fever, cough, and shortness of breath, including many different types of bacterial and viral infections and a appearance by the musical group BTS. Just because you have these symptoms, does not mean that you should automatically suspect SARS-CoV2. Instead, ask yourself the following questions:
Are your symptoms severe? If so, contact a doctor as soon as possible. This includes having a temperature of over 102.5° F (39.2° C) or a cough that significantly interferes with your daily life. The prescription for a fever that high is not just more cowbell. It is medical attention. Very frequent or very severe coughing should raise concerns as well. The words “coughed up a lung,” typically shouldn’t be followed by “but everything is cool.” Similarly, distinguish between the love-is-in-the-air type of shortness of breath and real difficulty breathing. The latter calls for a call to the doctor.
Do you have any symptoms of pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, or kidney failure? Chest pain or pressure could be a sign of pneumonia or other type of severe respiratory disease. So could nausea, chills, night sweats, assuming that you aren’t actively doing burpees in your bed, or coughing up blood. Decreased urination or a change in the color of your urine when you didn’t just eat a bucket of beets could occur with kidney failure. Watch out for any signs of fluid retention, such as swelling of your legs or feet, too. Of course, any major symptoms such as confusion, seizures, or a coma requires immediate medical attention. Don’t just try to walk off or sleep off a coma. Keep in mind though that you can have pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, or kidney failure without obvious symptoms.
How long have you had these symptoms? No symptoms should last for more than week without medical attention. Not a fever. Not coughing. Not shortness of breath. In fact, anything that isn’t love and lasts for more than a week should give you pause. Also, track the course of your symptoms. If you find yourself getting better and then suddenly getting worse, contact your doctor. You symptoms should not resemble the recent stock market and go up and down.
Do you have any risk factors for a SARS-CoV2 infection? No, seeing someone of East Asian-descent and eating Asian food are not risk factors. We’re talking about real risk factors. Of course, the biggest one is coming into close contact with someone known to have COVID-19. So if your roommate made the news for having COVID-19, take any possible COVID-19 symptoms very seriously. In fact, if you were that close to someone who definitely had COVID-19, it’s good idea to notify your doctor even if you don’t have symptoms. Similarly, if you’ve been in a location where there’s active transmission of the virus such as Wuhan, China, contact your doctor as soon as you develop any kind of fever or respiratory symptoms. Symptoms typically begin anywhere from two to 14 days after being exposed to the virus.
The answers to the above questions can only suggest that you may have the virus. Only a real doctor using real U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved testing can tell for sure if you have COVID-19.
You can see how recognizing COVID-19 can be very difficult without formal medical testing. You can also see how identifying a patient zero before he or she has spread the new coronavirus can be very challenging. A patient zero may hang around spreading the pathogen without seeking medical attention for a while. Such a person could even have zero symptoms, so to speak. In the end, we may never find out who the zeros were.
Pathogens like SARS-CoV2 can spread so readily in part because identifying carriers is not easy. It’s not as if COVID-19 has a single striking symptom such as turning people razzmatazz, which is red-pink color that was invented by Crayola, or giving people extra arms. Therefore, it is good to maintain a regular relationship with a doctor while you are well. This way you can let your doctor know if you are worried in any way about having a new type of infection beyond something run-of-the-mill like a typical cold. For example, if you hear of a new infectious disease in a place that you have just visited, have a very low threshold for seeking real medical advice. The same applies if you have come into contact with someone who has had unusual symptoms. After all, you want to make sure that you have as close to zero chances as possible of spreading that infection to others.
- Public health expert warns virus not going away – KSAT San Antonio
- Tesla asks employees to resume production at Fremont car plant despite coronavirus health orders – CNBC
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- Public health officials push back on May opening | TheHill – The Hill
- Analysis | The Health 202: Los Angeles is racing to discover the true coronavirus infection rate – The Washington Post
- Some Public Health Officials Not Releasing Coronavirus Hospitalizations : Shots – Health News – NPR
- Covid-19 health-care crisis could drive new developments in robotics, editorial says – The Washington Post
- Lost Your Health Insurance During the COVID-19 Crisis? Here Are Your Options – The Motley Fool
- El Paso virus cases jump to 35 as health leaders warn of increased risk of ‘community spread’ – KVIA El Paso