COVID-19: Stop Stocking Up On Toilet Paper

by Ann Gerhardt, MD                        March 17, 2020
I'm not an infectious disease expert, but I am trained in immunology, take care of high-risk patients and read a lot. After a great deal of urging by un-named persons, I've decided to write a series of articles about our current epidemic. Since even the virology experts know very little about any novel viral contagion, new information emerges every day. I hope that what I write on one day is not contradicted some time later.

Today's topic: How Do You Know If You Have COVID-19?

It's a mystery to me why people have bought out (and fought over) stores' toilet paper supplies. COVID-19 (coronavirus disease 2019), the disease caused by a new coronavirus strain, SARS-CoV-2, rarely causes diarrhea. I suspect that a gastroenteritis (diarrhea, nausea, vomiting), probably caused by some virus, was prevalent earlier this year and people assigned guilt to COVID-19. Regardless, we have many potential ways to clean our butts and don't need to deprive people who get food poisoning of their TP supply.

COVID-19 isn't the only communicable disorder causing symptoms.  We are in common cold, influenza and allergy season (in the warmer states), so many people have symptoms of something not necessarily caused by SARS-CoV-2. There are even coronavirus strains, 229E, NL63, OC43 and HKU1, that cause the common cold and go away without you ever knowing you had a coronavirus. 

People who are carriers, with virus present in their nasal swab but no disease symptoms, complicate diagnosis and containment efforts. Something about those people's immune systems enables them to prevent disease, but they could rub their nose, shake your hand and give you the virus.

Similarly,  many people with COVID-19 disease have mild disease and can recuperate at home with acetaminophen and cough medicine.  Since the Federal Government has failed to ramp up testing capacity (more about that later), these people will likely never know that they had COVID-19, unless they infect a family member who ends up in the hospital's Intensive Care Unit.
Up next: What's going on with testing?


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