Life

Coronavirus FAQs: Answers For The Health Questions You Have

What the experts say about going out for walks, taking ibuprofen, and much more.

There’s so much about the coronavirus pandemic that we don’t understand yet, and there’s disinformation everywhere. It’s important that doesn’t overshadow the credible information, which is also widely available.

“This is a new normal, and a new abnormal in many ways,” Dr. Kavita Patel, a fellow at the USC-Brookings Schaeffer Initiative for Health Policy and a former policy adviser for U.S. President Barack Obama, told Verizon Media.

For most Canadians, daily life has changed in pretty significant ways, and they still have lots of questions about how to navigate their new routines while staying healthy.

We want to make sure that clear and accurate information is available to all Canadians, so we’ll be regularly updating this list of frequently asked questions with accurate and credible information from Health Canada, medical experts, and trusted news outlets.

What do we know about how coronavirus is spread?

Coronavirus can be spread through person-to-person contact, according to Health Canada. It can spread when people touch, when droplets from an infected person’s sneeze or cough is transmitted to someone else, or when someone touches their face, mouth, nose, or eyes after touching an infected person. It can also spread through bodily fluids like feces, Patel said.

Read more about how coronavirus can spread from HuffPost UK.

What’s the best way to prevent contracting COVID-19?

Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly many times throughout your day, and practice social distancing by only leaving home when you need to.

WATCH: What is social distancing: Story continues below.

Read more about the benefits of hand-washing, or watch a helpful reminder of just how long we should be washing our hands.

Read more about what Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said about social distancing.

Who’s most at risk?

Health Canada says there are three groups of people especially at risk of coronavirus:

  • People older than 65
  • People with underlying medical conditions (including Crohn’s disease, lupus, arthritis, scleroderma, and psoriasis)
  • People with compromised immune systems

In Italy, where coronavirus has taken a stranglehold over the population, more than 99 per cent of deaths occurred in people who had at least one other illness. A study by the country’s ministry of health found that the majority had two to three previous illnesses before contracting coronavirus.

Fatality rates in China and the U.S. have so far been highest in people older than 60, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and particularly high in people over 85.

Still, that doesn’t mean young people can’t contract the disease.

Read more about which Canadians are most at risk from Health Canada.

What are some of the health conditions that make people more at risk?

There are several conditions that either make contraction of the virus more likely or would make infection more severe, including Crohn’s disease, multiple sclerosis, lupus, Parkinson’s disease, muscular dystrophy, arthritis, scleroderma, and psoriasis. Anyone taking immunosuppression medication, like people who have recently had a transplant, are also part of this group.

People who are very overweight and pregnant women are at increased risk, as well.

Read more about health conditions that put people at further risk from HuffPost UK.

What does immuno-compromised mean?

Your immune system helps your body fight bugs and viruses. But lots of groups of people have compromised immune systems, including people with HIV or AIDS, cancer (particularly blood and bone marrow cancers), chronic respiratory disease, diabetes, kidney disease, hepatitis, cardiovascular disease, or hypertension.

Read more about immunocompromised people and coronavirus from Health.com.

People wearing face masks walk around Vancouver. The British Columbia government has declared a provincial state of emergency.
People wearing face masks walk around Vancouver. The British Columbia government has declared a provincial state of emergency.

What are the symptoms of coronavirus, and how are they different from flu, cold, or allergy symptoms?

Some of the symptoms of coronavirus are similar to symptoms of the flu or the cold, including:

  • High fever
  • Sore throat
  • Fatigue
  • Dry cough
  • Diarrhea (in about half of cases)

Another common symptom of coronavirus is difficulty breathing, which is sometimes an allergy symptom too, but would rarely be accompanied by a fever in the case of an allergy.

Coronavirus is also notable because it’s a lower respiratory infection, Patel explained. That means the symptoms don’t show up on your face the way a cold might — you won’t have watering eyes or a runny nose. You’ll feel a lower respiratory issue more in your chest and lungs.

There are also some common symptoms of flu, cold, and allergy that ARE NOT coronavirus symptoms:

  • Runny nose
  • Frequent sneezing

These symptoms usually show up about five days after someone has been infected, according to research published in mid-March. The vast majority of people with coronavirus — 97 per cent — will show symptoms 11.5 days after infection.

Read more about coronavirus symptoms from The Guardian, more about how to distinguish the virus from the flu, or more about the timeframe from Fast Company.

What should I do if I think I’m infected?

If you think you’ve been infected, you should first self-isolate. Then call your doctor, your province’s health authority, a local public health unit, or the Public Health Agency of Canada’s toll-free line at 1-833-784-4397.

Your waiting time will likely be quite long.

What you should not do, Dr. Patel said, is go to the emergency room or show up to your doctor’s office in person. You risk potentially infecting other people if you do have the virus — and if you don’t have it, you risk potentially getting infected.

How do you get tested for coronavirus?

Your doctor or provincial health authority will tell you if they think you need to get tested, and they’ll give you instructions on how to access a test.

Right now, tests are prioritized for certain groups of people, Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam has said. That currently involves health-care workers, people who have severe respiratory illness, people living in long-term care facilities, and people who have travelled recently.

A staff member checks the quality of nucleic acid extraction kits for coronavirus tesing at Chengdu Bio-Base Technologies Co., Ltd. in Chengdu, China.
A staff member checks the quality of nucleic acid extraction kits for coronavirus tesing at Chengdu Bio-Base Technologies Co., Ltd. in Chengdu, China.

What does the test involve?

It’s pretty similar to a flu test, according to USA Today. A swab similar to a long Q-tip is inserted through the nose to reach the area at the back of the throat where your mouth connects with your respiratory tract. The swabbing takes about 10 seconds.

That test is then sent to a lab, where the cells taken from a patient’s throat are turned into liquid and the patient’s ribonucleic acid (RNA) is matched against the virus’s RNA to determine a positive or negative result.

Dwayne Breining, executive director of New York’s Northwell Labs in New Hyde Park, New York, told US Today that the test is very accurate, and can detect even low levels of the virus.

When will a vaccine be ready?

There are a few different ones under development now, and the testing process has already started. But testing to make sure it’s safe for the general population takes a very long time. There are three testing phases, and even if testing goes well, the vaccine wouldn’t be available to the general population for another 12 to 18 months, Dr. Anthony Fauci of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease told NBC News.

That might sound like a long time, but it’s actually pretty expedited — Professor Robin May, an expert in infectious diseases based at University of Birmingham, told HuffPost UK that vaccines historically take ten to 15 years to create and get out to the public.

Is it safe to go outside for walks?

Yes, as long as you’re not getting too close to anyone, Patel said.

It’s still unknown how airborne the virus is, but we have lots of proof that “generally in the outside air, the virus does not survive more than minutes, if that at all,” she told Verizon Media. But, if you are in close proximity to someone, that’s another story.

A good analogy, she explained, is to think of someone who’s smoking. If you’re six feet away, you can likely smell the smoke, but you wouldn’t inhale it until you got much closer. If you’re very close to someone infected, you’re at risk, but you’re likely fairly safe outdoors if they’re a good distance away — the current thinking is people should keep a minimum of six feet (or roughly two metres) away, Patel said.

A woman walks her dog in Valencia, Spain. Experts say going for walks is safe, as long as you're not getting too close to people.
A woman walks her dog in Valencia, Spain. Experts say going for walks is safe, as long as you're not getting too close to people.

Is it true that taking ibuprofen makes you more susceptible to coronavirus?

French health minister Olivier Véran tweeted over the weekend that nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), which includes ibuprofen like Advil, could exacerbate coronavirus symptoms and make people who take them more susceptible. His information came from a letter published in the medical journal The Lancet.

We don’t know for sure if this is accurate. There haven’t been any clinical trials or peer-reviewed media to prove this is true, Patel explained. The World Health Organization is looking into it, but hasn’t yet found any proof. Dr. David Williams, Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, said he had heard of the report and is also looking into it.

It is true, though, that ibuprofen can have long-term effects on the kidneys, and that some people who have contracted the coronavirus had kidney damage.

For now, if you have a headache, you might as well take every precaution and opt for acetaminophen like Tylenol rather than NSAIDs, Patel said.

But if you’re on a prescription for NSAIDs, don’t stop taking them — contact your doctor instead.

What surfaces does coronavirus live on, and for how long?

Studies suggest that coronavirus can live up to three days on plastic and stainless steel, which is why those surfaces are so important to clean and disinfect regularly.

It can also live on fabric. We don’t yet have a ton of information about which materials are most hospitable to the virus, but Dr. Janette Nesheiwat told HuffPost that she believes polyester, spandex-like material may retain germs longer than breathable cotton-based fabrics.

To keep clothes clean and virus-free, it’s a good idea to use the hot setting wherever possible, and use detergents that include a bleach compound. It’s also a good idea to change your clothes after returning from a heavily-populated area.

The virus can also live on cardboard, but studies show that it seems to disintegrate quickly on cardboard. Still, it’s a good idea to take the precaution of opening packages and disposing of the cardboard outside, so that you aren’t bringing it into your home, Patel said.

Is it safe to go out for groceries?

If you don’t have any symptoms and you haven’t been in close contact with any infected people or people who have just returned to the country, you’re okay to go out. But you should be mindful of how much you’ve touched. It’s not a bad idea to wear gloves, Patel said. And make sure you wash your hands very thoroughly when you get home.

Crowds gather to buy groceries at Real Canadian Superstore in Vancouver on Monday. 
Crowds gather to buy groceries at Real Canadian Superstore in Vancouver on Monday. 

Do I need to use a face mask?

Unless you have symptoms or are working in close physical contact with people who are infected, you do not need a face mask. In fact, the Health Network calls them “counterproductive” when healthy people wear them, because they won’t do much to protect you from coronavirus.

Face masks are really only useful when worn by sick people, because they can prevent an infected person from spreading the illness.

There is an exception, though, which is for health-care workers. Because they’re regularly in close physical contact with infected people, there’s a clear benefit to them wearing the masks, unlike your average person who would be better served by regular hand-washing.

But because so many people who don’t need face masks have been buying them, there are shortages for doctors and other medical professionals, who need them to stay healthy and continue to do their vital work.

Can I catch coronavirus from my phone?

Yup, it’s possible. Your phone is basically your third hand, so it’s a good idea to clean and disinfect it regularly. A disinfectant wipe with a high bleach content is a good bet, health science professor Jagdish Khubchandani told HuffPost.

What about from food?

Good news: ordering takeout is still OK, because “cooked foods are unlikely to be a concern unless they get contaminated after cooking,” epidemiologist Stephen Morse told The Atlantic. If something uncooked gets contaminated — for instance, if someone infected sneezes on a salad — there “might possibly be some risk.” But if food is handled properly, “there should be very little risk,” he told the magazine.

How long will these measures last?

No one knows for sure.

Our government has restricted flights, closed the U.S. border to non-essential travel, and urged us to practice social distancing.

“Doctors and nurses need your help. Your neighbours need your help. Vulnerable people in the community need your help,” Trudeau said during a press conference on Tuesday. “As much as possible, stay home. Don’t go out unless you absolutely have to. Work remotely if you can. Let the kids run around a bit in the house. Things will get better.”

Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious disease specialist at Toronto General Hospital, told Global News that the amount of time we spend social distancing is “completely dependent on us.”

He told the outlet that we’ll have to wait a little while to see what impact this past week’s social distancing will have. But he think it will likely last another few months.

“I would say plural, in the coming two-ish or more months,” he said. “Depending on how well we do.”

This is a rolling list, which will be updated regularly. If you have any health-related coronavirus questions you’d like answered, comment on our Twitter or Instagram posts, or email maija.kappler@huffpost.com

Also on HuffPost: