As a pharmacist on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic, I’m constantly getting questions about coronavirus—specifically questions about coronavirus symptoms, coronavirus and high blood pressure, and coronavirus and diabetes. I also get some crazy questions that I would have never thought of myself.
In this post, I’ll be answering some of the most common and craziest questions I’ve heard thus far.
Are coronavirus and COVID-19 the same? First things first, coronavirus and COVID-19 aren’t the exact same things, but they’re closely related.
Coronavirus is actually the name of one big family of different viruses. It’s like you’re at one big family reunion and every virus in attendance falls under the coronavirus family name. Each different type of coronavirus is like an individual person in the coronavirus family. They look and act differently from one another. Some coronaviruses cause the common cold.
The one that’s responsible for the 2020 pandemic is called severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus-2, or SARS-CoV-2 for short. Her name is a bit of a mouthful to say, so most people have just been calling her “coronavirus” or the “novel 2019 coronavirus.”
Now so far, we’ve talked about these different names for coronaviruses, but these names only describe the virus itself. They don’t describe the disease the virus causes. That’s where COVID-19 comes in.
COVID-19 is the name of the sickness SARS-CoV-2 causes. It stands for “coronavirus disease 2019.” So to recap: the coronavirus is the virus itself and COVID-19 is the infectious disease it causes.
Someone may carry the virus in their body, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll develop COVID-19. They may be asymptomatic. In other words, you can have coronavirus without getting sick from it.
But the older you are, the sicker you are, and the weaker your immune system, the more likely you are to get sick with COVID-19. Plus, even if you don’t get the disease, you could pass the virus along to someone who does develop the disease.
What does coronavirus do to you? Viruses need living, breathing “hosts” to invade and survive. Hosts could be animals or they could be humans.
When the virus enters your body, it gets inside your cells where it can make copies of itself and spread throughout the rest of your body. Eventually, the virus takes over your once-healthy cells. It turns out that this coronavirus really likes the cells in your respiratory tract, especially the ones deep down in your lungs. That’s why many of the symptoms of COVID-19 are related to your breathing and lungs.
You’ve probably heard that not everyone experiences the same symptoms with COVID-19. Some cases are more mild, while some people end up in the hospital in critical condition. How severe a coronavirus infection becomes depends on 4 factors:
How much virus gets into your body
How much the virus copies itself
How much the virus copies itself in your lungs, specifically
How strong your body’s immune system fights back
I know the common coronavirus symptoms are fever, shortness of breath, and a cough. But what are other symptoms of coronavirus? Fortunately, most cases of COVID-19 are pretty mild. You might have a fever and a cough and nothing more. But for others, the infection is rough on the lungs and can cause trouble breathing, pneumonia, and acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS). Pneumonia and ARDS are both dangerous lung conditions. If ARDS gets worse, you could need a ventilator to help you breathe or breathe for you.
Some of the other COVID-19 symptoms healthcare providers are seeing are:
Loss of smell
Loss of taste
Loss of appetite
Nausea and/or diarrhea
Muscle aches and pains
Do cloth masks work against coronavirus? In early April, the CDC updated its recommendations to state that if you’re going into a public area like the grocery store, you should wear a cloth face covering. Considering healthcare workers typically use surgical masks and N95 respirators to limit the spread of infections in doctors offices and hospitals, it’s natural to wonder whether cloth face coverings will really do any good.
Let’s face it: cloth masks are not equal to real protective equipment, but they could offer some level of protection if they’re used correctly. “Correctly”, meaning you should still:
Practice social distancing, keeping 6 feet away from other people
Wash your hands with soap and water whenever you go into or leave a different location
Avoid touching your face or the face covering while you’re out in public areas
When you wear a cloth mask, along with the other recommendations, you might be able to limit the amount of droplets you make when you sneeze, cough, or talk. But the numbers on that varies.
If you do decide to wear a cloth face covering in public, here’s what you need to do to keep yourself safe:
Avoid readjusting, moving, or removing and replacing the face covering, since you could contaminate it with your hands
Add filters to your face coverings, using vacuum bags, coffee filters, or tea towels
Wash your face covering once a day
What’s my risk for COVID-19? Realistically speaking, you probably want to know what your personal risk is. Here’s what I can tell you: if you have chronic conditions like high blood pressure or diabetes, you are more likely to get COVID-19 with serious symptoms. People with chronic diseases also end up dying at higher rates.
According to CDC stats, almost 90% of people who have been hospitalized with COVID-19 had at least one underlying health condition:
About 50% had high blood pressure
About 50% were obese
About 35% had lung disease
About 30% had diabetes
Almost 30% had cardiovascular disease
So why the worse health results for people with these diseases? Chronic conditions like these make your immune system weaker. When your immune system isn’t in tip-top shape, it’s easier for you to get infections like coronavirus and then get even more infections on top of that, like pneumonia. Pneumonia infections can be life-threatening and can cause further damage to your heart, and they happen to be a common complication of COVID-19.
It’s important to remember, though, that the link between COVID-19 and age might be the reason more people with chronic diseases are getting sick and passing away. Naturally, older people are more likely to have chronic conditions like high blood pressure and diabetes. Scientists are still trying to understand exactly who is most at risk and why.
For now, your best bet is to continue following recommendations from the CDC and the World Health Organization (WHO) and take your medications for your chronic diseases consistently.