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The spread of the new Coronavirus has continued, with a number of cases showing up in countries like Iran, Italy, and South Korea. Coronavirus information is changing by the minute, so we’re back with another update.


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John Green -- Executive Producer
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Coronavirus information is changing by the minute, so we're back with another episode. This is Healthcare Triage News.

[musical intro]

The spread of the new coronavirus is continuing, with a number of cases showing up in countries like Iran, Italy, and South Korea. As of taping, we have 233 confirmed cases and 12 deaths here in the United States. While it might appear the cases are suddenly exploding here in the United States, keep in mind that the numbers jumped up from zero in no time because we just started testing for the virus here

Examination of data from China has revealed potential demographic trends. According to this preliminary data, it appears that those under 30 have not been as heavily affected as those between the ages of 30 and 79. Around 8% of infections have been in individuals in their 20s, and that drops to about 1% for teens and younger children. 

Fatality rates appear to be highest in individuals above 80 years of age and in those with underlying health conditions. Fatalitty rates may be slightly higher for men, though it's unclear if this would be due to behavioral or biologic factors. Of the 72,314 patient records examined in this data set, 61.8% were confirmed cases and 80.9% of those were considered mild.

We'd also like to note here that we are in no way minimizing the importance of high-risk groups such as the elderly or immunocompromised. Specifying which groups are at high risk is important for purposes of intervention and treatment. 

Let's talk about face masks! Unless you're currently sick, caring for someone who is sick, or you are a healthcare professional, stop buying them! They aren't that effective in preventing infection outside of healthcare settings. If you are sick, they are useful in limiting your spread of germs, but otherwise, the run on face masks is just going to cause a shortage for the healthcare workers that are repeatedly in direct contact with sick patients. In general, gloves are not a necessary purchase either.

So is there anything you should buy? It's advisable to plan ahead in case you get sick. If you have refillable prescriptions, consider picking them up early. Check on your stocks of basic health supplies and nonprescription drugs. The Department of Homeland Security recommends a two week supply of food and water. But don't panic-buy! Keep in mind that many of these practices were advisable before the coronavirus came on the scene. For example, having a couple weeks of food and health supplies on hand is helpful if you get the flu or you live in an area prone to weather-related difficulties.

We try to keep some water, frozen steaks, and staples in the house just in case there's a bad storm making travel difficult for a while. It's the same idea.

Last but not least: there is no known substance that will reduce your risk of contracting this virus and no known substance to cure it. This includes zinc, vitamin C, Echinacea, sesame oil, a "silver solution" being sold by a certain televangelist for up to $300 a bundle, et cetera, et cetera. It is also important to note that antibiotics are useless in this particular war because antibiotics do not work against viruses.

Here's what you can do, even though you probably know this by now because I and others have been saying this on a loop: wash your hands often, for at least 20 seconds each time. Stop touching your face. We do that a lot more than we think. Clean surfaces you use often, including your cell phone. And if at all possible, stay home if you're sick, et cetera, et cetera.

In terms of containing the virus here in the United States, we will need to get a better handle on matters of testing and quarantine. In addition, it would be helpful if everyone had access to paid sick leave. A fourteen day self-quarantine is next to impossible for people living paycheck to paycheck with no paid sick days. Access to affordable healthcare would also be helpful. Some measures to this end have been taken, like New York's recent directive for waiving cost-sharing for coronavirus testing, but as you may have seen in my recent Twitter rants, this is necessary but not nearly sufficient. 

As a recent Vox article pointed out, things would need to get a lot worse before this reached the level of the Swine Flu pandemic in 2009, where schools did close, but no US cities were ordered to shut down. So again, be aware, be prepared, but don't subject yourself to undue panic.

Hey, if you enjoyed this episode, you might enjoy this other episode about how we really need paid sick time off. Come on! You also could like and subscribe down below. It also helps if you go to where you can help support the show and make it bigger and better like our Research Associate Joe Sevits and, of course, our Surgeon Admiral Sam.