COVID-19 Hype or Hazard

Hopefully you are concerned, but aren’t panicking about the new coronavirus that is all over the news right now.

Breaking News: we have seen community spread in the US, at least nine 41 deaths, and more cases in more states. (see below)

What do you think of the news of the 2019 novel coronavirus severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2)?

Experts say don't panic about the 2019 novel coronavirus.

Are you ready to put on a mask, never leave your home, or just wait and see what happens?

COVID-19 Hype or Hazard

Hopefully you are concerned, but aren’t panicking and want to wait and see what happens over the next few days, weeks, and months.

So what’s going on?

A new coronavirus, 2019-nCoV SARS-CoV-2 has been detected in Wuhan, China and it is spreading, killing some people.

Why is this a concern?

While there are coronaviruses that are very common, even causing many cases of the common cold, there are others that are much more serious.

Seasonal coronavirus are very common during cold and flu season.
Seasonal coronavirus are very common during cold and flu season.

These include the coronaviruses that cause SARS and MERS.

A worldwide outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome caused by SARS-CoV caused 8,098 cases and 774 deaths in 2002-03. It also started in China.

MERS-CoV, which causes Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, has been causing cases and deaths since 2012.

What’s Next With COVID-19?

Why are experts concerned about SARS-CoV-2?

Check for Travel Alerts and Warnings before your next trip.
Check for Travel Alerts and Warnings before your next trip.

Mostly because of past experiences with SARS and MERS.

There is also the fact that there is no treatment or vaccine for 2019-nCoV.

Coronavirus that shows up on those large respiratory panels that some health providers do is seasonal coronavirus = the common cold.
Coronavirus that shows up on those large respiratory panels that some health providers do is seasonal coronavirus = the common cold.

And no, your doctor won’t be able to routinely test you for SARS-CoV-2. Testing can be done for those who are high risk, but it still involves sending the specimens to a lab at your local or state health department or the CDC.

That shouldn’t put you into panic mode though…

“Two cases of 2019-nCoV have been reported in the United States. Both patients had recently returned from Wuhan, China. More cases are likely to be identified in the coming days, including more cases in the United States.”

COVID-19 Frequently Asked Questions

Unless you have recently traveled to Wuhan, China an area where there is a COVID-19 outbreak or have had close contract with someone who traveled to an area with a lot of cases while they were sick, then you likely aren’t at much risk to get sick with this virus.

“For the general American public, who are unlikely to be exposed to this virus at this time, the immediate health risk from COVID-19 is considered low.”

Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Situation Summary

It is certainly not something to ignore though.

Since first being detected in Wuhan, China on December 29, 2019, cases have spread to 28 41 46 64 72 134 other countries.

“More cases are likely to be identified in the coming days, including more cases in the United States. It’s also likely that person-to-person spread will continue to occur, including in the United States.”

Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Situation Summary

Most experts expect SARS-CoV-2 to become a pandemic, but that still shouldn’t put you into panic mode…

Experts are also working to learn more so that we know:

  • the original source of the virus – is it the animal markets in Wuhan, China?
  • the incubation period – it seems to be 1 to 14 days
  • how contagious the virus can be and how it spreads – close contact
  • how serious are the complications of infection or how deadly is this virus – so far, “reported illnesses have ranged from mild to severe, including illness resulting in death,” but the latest worldwide mortality rate of 1.4 to 3.4% is much higher than seasonal flu
  • can the virus be contained – this seems unlikely…

We got one answer recently, as it seems that people with the virus are contagious before they have symptoms.

What’s next?

Don’t panic. Plan ahead.

Stay up to date on SARS-CoV-2 information and call your health care provider if you have flu-like symptoms and recently traveled to Wuhan, China or had contact with someone who is under investigation for COVID-19.

“Limited reports of children with COVID-19 in China have described cold-like symptoms, such as fever, runny nose, and cough. Gastrointestinal symptoms (vomiting and diarrhea) have been reported in at least one child with COVID-19. These limited reports suggest that children with confirmed COVID-19 have generally presented with mild symptoms, and though severe complications (e.g., acute respiratory distress syndrome, septic shock) have been reported, they appear to be uncommon.”

CDC on Frequently Asked Questions and Answers: Coronavirus Disease-2019 (COVID-19) and Children

And even if you are starting to get nervous, at least you don’t have to worry too much about your kids. So far, there is no evidence that children are more susceptible to COVID-19 and there are reports that they actually get milder symptoms!

Lastly, if you haven’t yet, be sure to get a flu vaccine.

Affected geographic areas include China, Italy, South Korea, Iran, and Japan.
As we see community spread in more areas, the criteria to guide evaluation of PUI for COVID-19 continues to loosen up.

If you are going to develop a fever and symptoms of lower respiratory illness during cold and flu season in the United States, especially if you haven’t traveled to a high risk area, then it is probably the flu, not the new coronavirus…

More on COVID-19 Hype or Hazard

Does My Child Need a Flu Test?

Do you need to get a flu test if you think that you have the flu?

Your child has a fever, cough, runny nose, body aches and chills.

Should you rush them to your pediatrician for a flu test?

Diagnosing the Flu with a Flu Test

While you may want to seek medical attention, depending on your child’s age and how sick they are, believe it or not, you don’t need a flu test to get diagnosed with the flu.

“If your doctor needs to know for sure whether you have the flu, there are laboratory tests that can be done.”

CDC on Diagnosing Flu

A flu test is an option though.

Most people do not need a flu test.
Most people do not need a flu test.

Is it a good option?

A necessary option?

“Most people with flu symptoms are not tested because the test results usually do not change how you are treated.”

CDC on Diagnosing Flu

While a diagnosis of the flu can be made clinically, based on your symptoms, a flu test can be a good idea:

  • to help determine the cause of an outbreak (mostly if there aren’t already a lot of flu cases in your area)
  • if someone is at high risk for flu complications

In general though, most people do not need a flu test, especially during the active part of flu season.

What’s the problem with doing a flu test?

“In January 2017, the FDA reclassified antigen-based RIDT systems into class II. This reclassification was to help improve the overall quality of flu testing. The reclassification was prompted, in part, by recognition that the poor sensitivity of some of antigen-based RIDTs resulted in misdiagnosed cases, and, according to anecdotal reports, even death.”

FDA on CLIA-Waived Rapid Flu Test Facts

Mostly, they are neither as accurate nor as easy to interpret as most folks think, even the newer versions of these tests.

Have you ever heard someone say that they tested positive for both flu A and flu B?

When a flu tests is positive for both A and B flu strains, it invalidates the test. They may have had either flu A or flu B or neither, but they almost certainly didn’t have both.

The antigen-based rapid flu tests that most doctors and clinics use, which give results in 10 or 15 minutes, are also prone to both false positive (you don’t really have the flu, even though your test was positive), and more commonly, false negative (you actually do have the flu, even though your test was negative) results, depending if flu is active at the time.

Other flu tests are available, but are more expensive and take longer to get results, so aren’t used as often. These include “rapid” nucleic acid detection based tests that can be done in a doctor’s office, rapid nucleic acid detection based tests and rapid influenza diagnostic tests that are done in a central lab, PCR tests, and viral cultures.

So why do so many people rush to the doctor to get a flu test?

Many think that if they are positive, then they can take Tamiflu or another flu medicine and get better faster.

The problem with thinking like that is that few people actually need to take Tamiflu, as at best, it only helps you get better about a day quicker than if you didn’t take it. That’s why the recommendations for Tamiflu say to reserve it for children under two to five years of age and others who might be at high risk for flu complications.

Since most other people don’t need to take Tamiflu, they don’t necessarily need a flu test or a definitive diagnosis of the flu. Again, even if they did need Tamiflu, the diagnosis of the flu could be made clinically.

And even more importantly, a negative flu test doesn’t necessarily mean that you don’t really have the flu, especially if you have classic flu symptoms in the middle of flu season. Again, a negative flu test could be a false negative.

“RIDTs may be used to help with diagnostic and treatment decisions for patients in clinical settings, such as whether to prescribe antiviral medications. However, due to the limited sensitivities and predictive values of RIDTs , negative results of RIDTs do not exclude influenza virus infection in patients with signs and symptoms suggestive of influenza. Therefore, antiviral treatment should not be withheld from patients with suspected influenza, even if they test negative.”

CDC on Guidance for Clinicians on the Use of Rapid Influenza Diagnostic Tests

Have you ever had a negative flu test and the doctor still gave you Tamiflu? Then why did they do the test?

Diagnosing the Flu Without a Flu Test

If the results of flu testing aren’t going to change how you are treated, then you probably don’t need to have the flu test done in the first place.

Plus it saves you from having a swab stuck up your nose.

But kids should have flu tests, right?

Although rapid flu tests might be a little more accurate in kids than adults, it is not by much, so you are left with the same issues.

A positive test might reassure you that it really is the flu, but your child could still have the flu if their test is negative. A diagnosis and treatment decision can be made clinically, without a flu test, remembering that most older, healthy kids don’t need to be treated with Tamiflu.

We can’t skip flu season (although we sure can try if we get vaccinated and protected), but we can try and skip flu testing season.

More on Flu Tests