Lehigh Valley, Pa.,
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What You Need to Know: Coronavirus FAQs With Infectious Diseases Specialist Luther Rhodes, MD

You have questions about coronavirus and we have answers from our infectious diseases expert, Luther Rhodes, MD, with LVPG Infectious Diseases.


It’s in the news every day: coronavirus. But what is this virus and are you at risk for catching it? Lehigh Valley Health Network infectious diseases specialist Luther Rhodes, MD, with LVPG Infectious Diseases, has been laser-focused on this outbreak and has answers to the questions you have about the current outbreak of a novel strain of coronavirus infections.

What is Coronavirus?

There are seven strains of human coronavirus. Four cause common cold-like symptoms, and the other three can cause much more severe lung infections, such as pneumonia. The three more serious types are SARS-CoV-1 virus, MERS virus and the latest one named SARS-CoV-2, which is currently causing a worldwide outbreak of infections and is referred to as COVID-19. The newest strain arose in China in December 2019 and is a bat strain of coronavirus that mutated so it can now infect humans. Because the world’s population lacks immunity to the virus, and there is no current vaccine against it, COVID-19 infection spread wildly throughout China in December 2019 and January 2020. At this time, COVID-19 is spreading into the rest of the world at a slower pace, largely carried by airline passengers and, to a lesser extent, by cruise ship passengers.

How is COVID-19 transmitted?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), this new form of coronavirus is spread mostly by person-to-person contact but it can also be spread by auto-infection, which means a virus is picked up from a contaminated surface onto a hand then rubbed into an eye or mouth by accident. There is no evidence that the virus is transmitted in the mail or in packages received from China.

Frequent hand washing and covering a cough are key measures to lessen the chance of becoming infected with the COVID-19 virus.

Should I wear a face mask to protect myself from COVID-19?

Despite being a common practice now, wearing a regular (medical style) face mask to prevent infection with COVID-19 is not very effective to protect you from acquiring an infection. However, if you are sick with COVID-19, wearing a face mask may help reduce spread of virus to others, especially if you are coughing.

If you are sick with COVID-19 and cannot wear a mask, a person caring for you could benefit by wearing one, provided they are careful when removing their face mask to avoid cross-contaminating themselves with virus that is on the outside surface of the mask.

How can I protect myself from coronavirus, or other viruses?

The World Health Organization (WHO) reminds all people to follow “respiratory hygiene,” meaning if you sneeze or cough, do so into the crook of your elbow to stop expelled droplets from traveling into the air. All people should be mindful of hand washing or using alcohol-based hand sanitizer regularly as proven ways to reduce chances of becoming infected

Because seasonal flu is still prevalent in the area and throughout the U.S., it is not too late to get a flu vaccine if you have not already done so. It will help protect you from seasonal flu or help reduce your symptoms if you do get sick with the flu.

Why is COVID-19 a concern?

COVID-19 has caused illness ranging from mild upper respiratory symptoms (like a cold) to causing death. Because COVID-19 has caused illness in people beyond China, it is considered a widespread outbreak and has been declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO). For most people, this virus will cause cold-like symptoms. However, WHO states that older people and those who have preexisting medical conditions, such as diabetes, heart disease, lung disease, or cancer, or those with a weakened immune system, may be at greater risk for developing severe disease from a COVID-19 infection.

Is there medicine to treat COVID-19?

Although investigational drug studies are currently underway in China, at present there are no antiviral medications approved in the U.S. to treat or prevent COVID-19. Treatments that are currently used for patients who are diagnosed with COVID-19 are to help address symptoms such as fever or secondary bacterial pneumonia.

Our expert: Luther Rhodes, MD

Dr. Rhodes is a fellowship-trained and board-certified infectious diseases specialist with LVPG Infectious Diseases and Chief, Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology, at Lehigh Valley Health Network (LVHN). He is a leader in emerging illness management and has guided LVHN preparedness efforts through the last several decades. His approach to emerging illnesses is to study outbreaks, educate colleagues and the community, determine best practices to treat those who may have become infected, and use commonsense approaches (and technology) to help prevent spread of illness.

It’s more likely that you will need to seek medical help for seasonal flu and colds than for coronavirus. When you need help with flu or colds, turn to LVHN ExpressCARE or LVHN Video Visits for quick, convenient care.

Learn more about ExpressCARE at LVHN.org/expresscare.

Learn more about video visits at LVHN.org/videovisits.