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COVID-19 Signs and Symptoms

What is COVID-19?

 
Coronavirus Disease-2019 (COVID-19) is caused by the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2).  The virus was originally identified in Wuhan, China, in December 2019. 
 
COVID-19 causes a variety of symptoms ranging from mild, moderate or severe.  In the most severe cases it can cause a viral pneumonia requring supplemental oxygen or mechanical ventilation, organ failure, stroke, cardiac arrest and even death.  
 
Coronaviruses are a family of viruses and are nothing new.  They are one of many viruses that cause the common cold.  Other coronaviruses have caused more severe epidemics suchs as SARS and MERS.  However, the COVID-19 strain is different in that it is very contagious and has the potential to cause severe illness in people who have pre-existing pulmonary disease, diabetes, the immune-compromised, infants and the elderly.
 

What are the symptoms of COVID-19?

Coronaviruses typically cause symptoms that are similar to other viral illnesses. The most common symptoms of COVID-19 are:

Mild or Moderate Coronavirus symptoms:  What are they?

About 80% of patients have mild or moderate symptoms that begin anywhere between 4-14 days after exposure.  Some people have little to no symptoms and others can have a cough, fevers, and muscle aches.  
 
Fevers greater than 100.4 F particularly in those people 65 years and older with preexisting medical conditions are more worrisome.  Other symptoms to watch out for are shortness of breath particularly at rest or with minimal activity.  Call your doctor if you have any shortness of breath.  
 
Dehydration is also of concern.  Signs of dehydration include increased thirst, dry mouth, decreased urine, dark or yellow urine, dry skin, a headache or dizziness.
 
If you have moderate to severe symptoms such as dehydration and shortness of breath.  Call your doctor immediately.    
 
Typically COVID-19 symptoms will only last 14 days.  It is unknown how long you will be infectious after symptoms resolve.  
 
If you have mild symptoms (fever, cough, and muscle aches), avoid going to ERs and doctors offices. In addition, you may call your doctor's office for a telemedicine consutation.  This is a great way to continue social distancing and continue your medical care.  
 
If you have other medical conditions including bone and joint injuries, call your orthopedic surgeon for a telemedicine visit.  This will help reduce the risk of spread.  
 

Should I get tested for COVID-19?

This is a decision that your doctor will make with you.  Call your doctor for a telemedicine consultation.  The decision to test will be based on numerous factors such as age, medical conditions, travel history, severity of symptoms, and testing availability.  
 
Eventually, the hope is that testing will be freely available to anyone that wants it.  However, right now, your doctor is the best person to determine the resources in your community and your overall risk.  
 
If you are experiencing mild symptoms, call your health care provider and consider increasing social distancing efforts, and maybe even undertaking self-quarantine.
 
If symptoms worsen, alert your primary care provider as soon as possible to re-evaluate your illness. If your symptoms are more moderate, speak with your health care provider to see if COVID-19 testing is right for you.
 

What are severe COVID-19 symptoms?

About 14% of cases develop into severe disease in which patients may need supplemental oxygen in the hospital setting.
 
The coronavirus infects lung tissue and causes an inflammatory process that results in fluid in the lungs known as viral pneumonia.  In the most severe cases this can lead to ARDS or Acute Respiratory Distress syndrome requiring supplemental oxygen or mechanical ventilation.  
 
About 6% of cases become very severe leading to organ failure, respiratory failure, stroke, and / or death.  
 
If you're experiencing severe coronavirus symptoms, particularly shortness of breath or dehydration coupled with a fever of 100.4 F or higher, call your doctor immediately or go to your nearest emergency room.
 
Author
Amish A. Naik, MD, PhD Amish Naik MD PhD specializes in Orthopedic Surgery with additional training in Hand and Upper Extremity Surgery.

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