FGH answers frequently asked questions about COVID-19

(The following is a press release from Forrest General Hospital.)

Hattiesburg, Miss. (March 5, 2020) With the uncertainty surrounding the spread of COVID-19, commonly referred to as coronavirus, Pine Belt residents are equally as concerned as others around the globe.

Forrest General understands people have many questions and are searching for answers. As a reminder, the hospital encourages everyone to make sure you are receiving accurate information from trusted sources.

Thompson Liddell, MD, an infectious disease physician at Forrest General Hospital, said, “At this time there are no reported cases of coronavirus in Mississippi. In fact, the flu is of higher concern, because we already know we have the flu in the state.” He and Melissa Mazer, MLS, CIC, infection preventionist at the hospital, addressed a few frequently asked questions below.

What is Forrest General doing to prepare in the event a patient appears to have COVID-19? “At Forrest General, we’ve spent the last few months in meetings reviewing our infectious disease protocols and ensuring they are updated as the CDC’s recommendations continue to evolve and change for COVID-19,” Liddell said, noting that hospital personnel have been in meetings in conjunction with the local health departments, as well as the State Department of Health. “I think we are very prepared at this point.”

Who is most at risk for becoming infected? “Those who are most at risk for the coronavirus are the elderly and people who already have underlying health problems or conditions,” Liddell said. Mazer added you should look at this as a respiratory illness, like the flu, and think about what you would do to try to avoid the flu. As with the flu, Liddell said a number of people who have the coronavirus recover and do well afterward. “It’s still early to look at numbers,” he said. What should I do if I have some of the common symptoms of COVID-19? “If anybody has a fever, cough, or shortness of breath, the sort of symptoms we see with the flu and other viruses, including coronavirus, they should visit their healthcare provider and be evaluated to make sure they don’t have other illnesses,” Liddell said. He urged anyone who might be exhibiting symptoms and planning a visit to their physician’s office, an immediate care facility or the emergency room to call ahead and alert the medical facility of their plans. This allows hospital personnel to meet the patient at the door and provide them a way to be brought into the hospital that is safest for them and for others.” Testing is being conducted through the health department and not yet available in hospitals and clinics. How do you treat someone with COVID-19? While there is no treatment for the coronavirus, patients are provided with supportive care to ease and improve viral symptoms, according to Liddell. “If someone is sick enough to require hospitalization it would mean they are in need of something like supplemental oxygen to help breathing, or they may require IV fluids,” he said. What are some tips to decrease my chances of getting COVID-19? Liddell and Mazer offered the following tips for preventing any infectious disease, including COVID-19: • Regular hand hygiene. Washing your hands consistently. Carrying hand sanitizer with you is a good idea. Make sure the sanitizer has at least a 60 percent alcohol content. • Don’t cough or sneeze into your hand, but use a tissue instead, then dispose of the tissue. If you don’t have a tissue, cough into your elbow, and then immediately perform hand hygiene. • Avoid touching your face. Liddell and Mazer noted that just doing these little things can make a big difference in decreasing the spread of viruses. How can I protect my children who are not old enough to understand viral infections? Mazer said it is important to stress to your children on a daily basis to wash their hands or use hand sanitizer and cover their mouth when they cough. Other recommendations are to get your children to change clothes when they get home from school or take an early bath, but that would be the same recommendations for dealing with any illness. What should I do if I have been traveling and am worried I may have been exposed to someone with COVID-19? Liddell said if people feel they have had some travel contact or contact with someone who is suspected of having coronavirus, they should contact their local health department so they can have their questions answered and concerns addressed. Should I be wearing a mask? Will that protect me from the virus? As far as wearing a mask, Liddell said physicians do not recommend walking around with a mask on right now, particularly in Mississippi, when there is no coronavirus.

“We’ll put a mask on somebody to prevent them for spreading viruses,” Liddell said. “That’s really what a mask is for at this point. It’s not really necessary for someone who is otherwise healthy.”

According to Mazer, “Masks give you a false sense of security, that you can walk around and not pay attention to hygiene, which is not true,” she said. “Masks will actually make you touch your face more, which is where your mucous membranes are – your nose, your mouth, your eyes – which is where the disease enters the body. So it is important to keep your hands away from your face.” I have plans to travel, do I need to cancel them? Liddell recommends heeding the travel advisories posted on the Center for Disease Control (CDC) website, https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/travelers, which currently includes countries and cities where larger outbreaks are occurring. Is it safe to be in airports and on airplanes? When traveling through airports, Liddell recommends taking the normal precautions such as mentioned here. Travelers may want to carry anti-bacterial wipes to disinfect tray tables, armrests and headrests. Make sure any such carryons are TSA compliant. Mazer echoed Liddell’s travel suggestions noting that practicing good hygiene is one of the most important precautions you can take. For more resources on COVID-19, including FAQs and prevention measures, visit forresthealth.org/covid19.

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