One thing is true – the coronavirus is keeping us on our toes. Since it’s a new virus, the information is changing, and that can create a lot of confusion and uncertainty around things like coronavirus vs flu and how these are different. It’ll take time, but experts will continue to learn more about COVID-19 with research and observation. Since people are talking about the virus often, it’s easy to get caught up in a game of telephone. UnityPoint Health Infectious Disease expert Dr. Rossana Rosa sets the record straight on six confusing aspects of COVID-19.
1. Coronavirus vs flu - is COVID-19 more serious? Yes.
This is a new virus. Until December 2019, no one in the world had ever been exposed to it and everyone is susceptible to it. Experts are still trying to figure out the mortality – or death rate – associated with this virus. Current data suggests COVID-19 is at least three times more deadly than the seasonal flu. It is also proven to be more contagious.
“However, even though COVID-19 is proving to be more dangerous than the flu, that doesn’t mean you should wait for the COVID-19 vaccine and skip your flu shot. It’s equally important to get both as soon as they are available in order to protect yourself and others,” Dr. Rosa says.
2. If you’ve had COVID- 19, are you immune to it? Maybe.
There are some studies coming out of South Korea where researchers followed up with people who re-tested positive. It turns out, the second positive test results were a result from the original infection – not a reinfection. But, Dr. Rosa says immunity is not a 100 percent guarantee for those who contract the virus.
“This virus is so new, meaning a lot more testing and research needs to be done. The research so far has been on people who likely had the virus very early on in this pandemic – like February or March. The second test was only three or four months from the first positive test. We still need to test those same people within six-to-nine months, and even a year out, to see if they are still immune,” Dr. Rosa says.
3. Are loss of taste and smell really signs and symptoms of coronavirus? Yes.
The primary list of symptoms for COVID-19 is cough, shortness of breath/trouble breathing and fever. However, there are several other symptoms now considered to be related to coronavirus. They include:
• Muscle pain
• New loss of taste or smell
• Sore throat
“The novel coronavirus treats everyone differently, and there’s no comprehensive list of symptoms everyone will experience. It all depends on your body and your health. That’s why it’s extremely important to listen to your body and contact your doctor, if you start noticing anything out of the ordinary,” Dr. Rosa says.
4. Do pre-symptomatic and asymptomatic mean the same thing? No.
- Pre-symptomatic is a word used to describe people who came close to the virus and are in that period where they haven’t developed symptoms yet. However, they go on to develop symptoms in just a matter of days.
- Asymptomatic describes people who came in contact, acquired the infection and never developed symptoms. That means they never had a fever, cough, shortness of breath or other symptoms.
“To make things even more complicated, there’s another term for a group of people who get very mild symptoms, mild enough that it doesn’t cross their mind they even have the virus – maybe they think it is just allergies. The term for this is oligosymptomatic. All the different types of responses from people’s bodies make it difficult from a public health perspective – meaning it is difficult to stop a virus from spreading if people don’t know, or don’t think it’s currently impacting them,” Dr. Rosa says.
5. Are you safer from COVID-19 indoors or outdoors? Outdoors.
“The difference is that outdoors COVID-19 respiratory droplets fall out of the air much faster than they do if you are indoors. With less of the virus circulating in the air, there’s less chance you’ll catch the virus by breathing it in your mouth or nose or getting it in your eyes. Also, the virus loses a lot of its strength under heat and UV light, which again, means a lower chance you’ll contract the virus,” Dr. Rosa says.
When you’re indoors, you don’t ever really know what type of air quality you’re walking into. Dr. Rosa says if the air is stagnant, the virus spreads easier. It’s also hard to tell how the air currents are moving in the room, meaning COVID-19 respiratory droplets might favor moving to one side of the room rather than the other. You don’t want to find yourself in part of a room where there is a higher concentration of the virus in the air because it would increase your odds of contracting coronavirus. She also says COVID-19 respiratory droplets don’t tend to drop out the air as fast indoors as they do outdoors. With more of the virus floating in the air, there’s a higher risk that you could breathe it in or get it in your eyes and contract the virus.
6. Do masks help with coronavirus by protecting me or others? Others.
The purpose of wearing masks in public is to halt the number of respiratory droplets the person wearing the mask puts out into the world. Face masks and face shields help people who don’t know they have the virus (they might be asymptomatic, presymptomatic or oligosymptomatic) from transmitting it to others.
“My mask protects you, and your mask protects me. Wearing a face mask or face covering is so very important and will help stop the spread of COVID-19 in our communities,” Dr. Rosa says.