As the coronavirus pandemic spreads around the world, hundreds of our readers across the nation have asked us questions about COVID-19.
To answer many of your concerns – What are the symptoms? How should you prepare? How is it spread? – we've put together an explainer on the virus. We've also debunked some of those viral coronavirus myths you're seeing on social media. (No, it's not related to Corona beer. And no, it didn't escape from a Chinese lab.)
But you're curious, so we wanted to address more of the important questions you submitted via our newsletter, Coronavirus Watch. (Not a newsletter subscriber? Sign up for it here!)
What else would you like to know? Ask us by filling out the form here.
(Update: Your questions keep on rolling in, so we're continuing to find you answers. Check out our latest reader Q&A here.)
If a person tests positive for influenza, they are not tested for coronavirus. Could a person have both?
– Diana from Goodyear, Arizona
Yes, a person could have both. This was the case for one patient in China, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The 69-year-old man in Wuhan had both SARS-CoV-2 and influenza A virus. Doctors initially diagnosed the man with the flu and later diagnosed the coronavirus.
Doctors studying the patient said the case "suggests that COVID-19 might be underdiagnosed because of false-negative tests for upper respiratory specimens or co-infection with other respiratory viruses. Broader viral testing might be needed."
Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, agrees.
"I don’t like that people are doing flu tests and saying therefore it’s not coronavirus," Hotez said. "Traditionally, for flu, we know it’s possible to get other co-infectious with other viruses."
Can testing show if someone has had coronavirus and then recovered?
– Chris from Pasadena, California
Yes, but it depends on what kind of test you do. "If you do an antibody test, in theory it could show that you had the virus and then recovered," Hotez said.
To do an antibody test, you'd need to have blood drawn. But coronavirus tests in the U.S. aren't being done this way.
Will mosquitos be able to catch this virus and pass it on to humans this summer?
– Jodie from Texas
No, Hotez says. As far as we know, it's not a mosquito-transmitted virus.
Is it best to cancel routine doctor and dental appointments?
– Cathy from Kingston, New York
Federal health officials are asking Americans to stay home as much as possible and cancel any elective surgeries. Some local and state governments have implemented stricter rules.
If it's possible to keep your appointment and speak with your provider over the phone or video, you should. However, if you cannot speak with a provider remotely and are able to reschedule your in-person appointment for a later date, you should.
What is involved in testing for the coronavirus? Is it the same as when they do a nasal swab for influenza?
– Julie from Chicago, Illinois
To collect a sample for a diagnostic test for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes the COVID-19 disease, doctors typically use the same method of collection as they would for influenza: a nasopharyngeal swab. For this swab, a tiny Q-tip on plastic or a wire stem is put up your nose about 3 or 4 inches.
"I've had it done, and it's mildly uncomfortable for a few seconds," said Gregory Poland, director of the Mayo Clinic’s Vaccine Research Group.
A doctor may also do a throat swab. In some cases, if you have a "wet" cough, a doctor may also have you cough up some phlegm into a collection cup. These specimen are then packed with ice and shipped to a lab for testing.
To determine if someone has recovered from the coronavirus, at least two different nasal swabs taken at least 24 hours apart must test negative, Poland said.
Should people in their 60s be concerned? Are they considered elderly?
– Nancy M
As with seasonal flu, people at highest risk for severe disease and death include people over the age of 60 and those with underlying conditions, according to the World Health Organization.
"Starting at age 60, there is an increasing risk of disease and the risk increases with age. The highest risk of serious illness and death is in people older than 80 years," Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, told reporters in a recent telebriefing.
The CDC recommends that people over 60 stock up on supplies, keep away from others who are sick, limit close contact, wash hands often, avoid crowds as much as possible, avoid cruises and don't fly on planes unless absolutely necessary.
How likely are you to die from the virus?
– Aubrey from Ooltewah, Tennessee
Of the more than 586,000 people who have been infected worldwide, more than 26,000 have died. That's a death rate of about 4.6%. The WHO has previously estimated the rate at about 3.4%.
The death rate, however, varies widely based on age, health and geographic location. People who are older or who have preexisting conditions are at higher risk of severe illness.
Can someone get the coronavirus more than once?
– Randi from Arizona
Scientists aren't sure yet. For many viruses, including the MERS virus, patients are unlikely to be re-infected shortly after they recover because a protective antibody is generated in those who are infected. But scientists still need to do more research to determine if this is also the case with COVID-19 and how long those antibodies may last.
"However, in certain individuals, the antibody cannot last that long. For many patients who have been cured, there is a likelihood of relapse," said Li QinGyuan, director of pneumonia prevention and treatment at China Japan Friendship Hospital in Beijing.
Poland agreed, saying the chance of reinfection is "very likely."
Are infected people able to transmit the virus to their pets and visa versa?
– Machell from Buffalo Grove, Illinois
No, there is no evidence that pets such as cats and dogs have been infected or could spread the virus that causes COVID-19, according to the WHO.
Last month, the pet dog of a coronavirus patient in Hong Kong tested "weak" positive for COVID-19 and was put in quarantine. Scientists concluded that pet cats and dogs can test positive for low levels of the pathogen if they catch it from their owners, but pets can't get sick from the virus.
On containing the spread: A self-quarantine seems brutal when you're not sick – but it really is for the greater good
How do the coronavirus stats compare to other bad flu seasons?
– Stephanie from Atlanta, Georgia
In the U.S., influenza has caused 12,000 to 61,000 deaths annually since 2010, according to the CDC. So far this flu season in the U.S., there have been at least 38 million flu illnesses, 400,000 hospitalizations and 24,000 deaths from flu, according to the CDC.
Is it safe to swim at an indoor public pool? Can someone be infected there?
– Margaret from Knoxville, Tennessee
Properly chlorinated pool water kills viruses, but you can still catch the coronavirus at the pool through other means, including: If you touch a surface that has the virus on it, or if an infected person coughs or sneezes and the respiratory droplets enter your mouth or nose, according to the CDC.
How long does the virus live on an object like a dollar bill?
– John from Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Depending on the type of surface, the virus can stay on surfaces for a few hours or up to several days, according to the WHO. A recent study by scientists in the U.S. found that viable virus could be detected up to three hours later in the air, up to four hours on copper, up to 24 hours on cardboard and up to two to three days on plastic and stainless steel.
However, a subsequent report from the CDC found that genetic material from the virus can live on surfaces for more than two weeks. The CDC found traces of the virus' RNA, not the coronavirus itself, on surfaces in the cabins of both symptomatic and asymptomatic infected passengers on the Diamond Princess cruise ship – 17 days after passengers had left the cabins.
It's possible that you can become infected if you touch your face after touching a surface or object that has the virus on it, according to the CDC. But scientists don't think surfaces are the main way that the virus spreads; the most common form of infection is from respiratory droplets spread by a person's cough or sneeze, the CDC reports.
Meanwhile, the WHO says it is very unlikely that the virus will persist on a surface after being moved, traveled and exposed to different conditions and temperatures. That means the virus cannot spread through goods manufactured in China or any country reporting coronavirus cases.
At the same time, the WHO is reportedly encouraging people to use as many digital payment options as possible. Viruses can survive on hard surfaces like coins for days in some cases. U.S dollars, a blend of fabric and paper, are harder for viruses to stick to.
Coronavirus prevention: Health officials say not to touch your face. That's harder than it sounds – even for them.
What is being given to treat the coronavirus once you’ve become infected?
– Diane from Norman, Oklahoma
There is no vaccine for the new virus and no specific antiviral medicine to prevent or treat COVID-19, so treatment consists of supportive care to help relieve symptoms and, for severe cases, care to support vital organ functions, the CDC says.
About 80% of people recover from the disease without needing special treatment, according to the WHO. For most patients, that means drinking plenty of fluids and resting, just as you would for the cold or flu.
How many children have been diagnosed with the virus? How many of them have died?
– Rosemary from Ventura, California
Among the more than 4,000 cases in the U.S. as of March 16, only 5% were people aged 0–19 years, according to the CDC. Just 2%–3% of cases in that age group had to be hospitalized, and none were in the ICU.
This week, however, health officials reported that a 17-year-old teen in New Orleans died after contracting the virus. And a 2-month-old in Nashville who tested positive for the virus could be the youngest patient in the nation, officials say. In China, at least one two-day-old infant had been infected, according to a WHO study.
What are dangers to pregnant women?
– Faye from Melbourne, Florida
It's unclear how the coronavirus may affect pregnant women. In general, pregnant women may experience changes to their body that could make them more susceptible to viral respiratory infections, according to the CDC.
In the case of SARS and MERS, pregnant women were more at risk for severe illness, and some experienced miscarriage and stillbirth, according to the CDC.
There is no evidence that the virus can be transmitted from an infected mother to her fetus, and, in a limited number of recent cases of infants born to mothers with COVID-19, none of the infants have tested positive for the virus, the CDC said.
Is the presence of a fever always the first symptom of a coronavirus infection? Is there any value in taking your temperature every day?
– Colleen from Knoxville, Tennessee
Symptoms of COVID-19 resemble the flu and include fever, cough and shortness of breath, according to the CDC. Some people also develop aches and pains, nasal congestion, runny nose, sore throat or diarrhea.
While fever is one of the most common symptoms, it's not productive to take your temperature every day, Poland said.
"That's like taking your blood pressure four times a day for no particular good reason. I’d probably not do that unless there's a reason to do it. For example, if you felt feverish, or if you traveled to a high-risk area, or if you had contact with somebody (infected)," he said.
How can I know if I have the coronavirus and should go for a test?
– Ruth from Ocala, Florida
If you have symptoms and want to get tested, the CDC recommends calling your state or local health department or a medical provider.
Not sure if you should get tested? The CDC website features a "self-checker" to help you make decisions about seeking medical care. The feature is not intended for the diagnosis or treatment of COVID-19 and is intended only for people in the U.S.
Does testing positive mean that I have the virus and that I will develop symptoms?
– Frank from Palm Desert, California
Yes, testing positive means that you have the virus, but it does not mean that you will develop symptoms. Some people who have the virus don't have any symptoms at all.
At the same time, testing negative does not necessarily mean that you don't have the virus.
Can someone spread the virus without symptoms?
– Leo from Indianapolis, Indiana
Yes, some spread might be possible before people show symptoms, according to the CDC. However, people are most contagious when they are most symptomatic.
There has been a Hong Kong flu, a Swine flu, H1N1, SARS, MERS, Ebola, Zika and other global health threats since the 1960s. How is the coronavirus different?
– Patrick from Louisville, Kentucky
The current outbreak is the world's first pandemic caused by a coronavirus, a family of virsuses that includes the COVID-19 virus, according to the head of the WHO.
While more people in the U.S. were infected by and died after contracting the flu in 1968 and 2009, the new coronavirus has infected and killed more people in the U.S. than did SARS, MERS, Ebola or Zika.
By comparison, the 1968 "Hong Kong flu" pandemic was caused by an influenza A virus and killed an estimated 1 million people worldwide, with about 100,000 deaths in the U.S., according to the CDC. The 2009 "swine flu" pandemic was caused by an H1N1 subtype of the influenza A virus and killed at least 151,000 people worldwide during the first year the virus circulated, with more than 12,000 deaths in the U.S., according to the CDC.
Coronavirus is scary: But the flu is deadlier, more widespread
How old was the youngest person to die from the virus?
– Larry from Knob Noster, Missouri
A study of more than 72,000 cases in mainland China found that at least one person between ten and 19 years of age had died, but no one younger than ten had died. A subsequent study in the journal Pediatrics found that a 14-year-old boy from China died in February after contracting the coronavirus.
It was not immediately clear if anyone younger had died elsewhere in the world.
By comparison, at least 155 children in the U.S. have died after contracting the flu so far this flu season, according to the CDC.
Follow Grace Hauck on Twitter @grace_hauck
Contributing: John Bacon, USA TODAY
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Your coronavirus questions, answered: Symptoms, tests, how to treat