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Coronavirus Q&A with Dr. Stephen Prescott: April 2 Update

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Dr. Stephen Prescott, Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation president, answers your medical questions about coronavirus and Covid-19.

If I feel ill and suspect COVID-19. What should I do first?

Stay home and separate yourself from loved ones. Then, contact your primary care provider, describe your symptoms and let them advise you of what to do next. But, please do not go to the hospital emergency room unless advised by your healthcare provider or if you are having trouble breathing. Our healthcare system is overwhelmed right now, and a hospital waiting room is also a prime place to be exposed to other very sick people.

Hydroxychloroquine has been suggested as a treatment, and Johnson & Johnson announced a lead vaccine candidate for COVID-19. How close are scientists to finding a cure?

Clinical trials of hydroxychloroquine and numerous other investigational treatments are underway. While there are anecdotal reports that some of these drugs are effective, it is too early to tell for certain.

With vaccine development, the story is similar, although efforts are in much earlier stages. Clinical trials of one candidate vaccine have just begun, and others are expected to follow in the coming months. Under a best-case scenario, we would be looking at a limited roll-out beginning in a year or so. But even with success, you would not expect to see widely available vaccinations until later. You do not want to release a vaccine before it has been evaluated for safety and effectiveness, so we cannot rush the process.

Is there any truth that coronavirus will subside with warmer weather?

This virus only appeared a few months ago, so we really do not yet know. When the weather is warmer, people spend less time cooped up together indoors, so there is less chance of person-to-person infection. But, our bodies have no natural immunity to this new virus, so we are all vulnerable, no matter the temperature. In the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918, cases abated with the arrival of summer, only to come roaring back in the fall when temperatures dropped again. The development of an effective vaccine represents our most concrete and realistic hope of stopping this virus.

From a transmission perspective, is COVID-19 easier to transmit than the typical seasonal flu?

Yes, it appears that COVID-19 is more contagious than most strains of the flu. Each person with seasonal flu infects 1.3 others on average, while statistics show that a COVID-19 sufferer passes the virus to another 2.2 people. A major reason for this seems to be that many people can spread COVID-19 while showing mild or no symptoms.

Are the current social-distancing guidelines adequate?

New data indicate that stay-at-home orders, along with closures of restaurants, bars and other businesses, are contributing to a drop in fevers around the country. We are also seeing a slowing in new cases in states like Washington and California, which put these measures in place before other parts of the country. These are positive signs and indicate that the approaches we are taking can be effective. They have worked in other countries, but the key is implementing them consistently across communities and for sustained periods of time.

Related articles:
Coronavirus Q&A with Dr. Stephen Prescott: March 26 Update

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