Your coronavirus questions, answered: Medical experts respond to your COVID-19 concerns

The coronavirus outbreak is sparking fear, confusion and plenty of questions. Who’s most at risk? Should I cancel my travel plans or avoid public gatherings? And what should I do if I develop symptoms associated with COVID-19?

Global News has been flooded with questions from readers, viewers and listeners. We’ve asked some of Canada’s top medical experts to respond to your coronavirus and COVID-19 concerns. Below, you’ll find the answers.

As the outbreak evolves, we’ll update this page with the latest answers and information. Send your questions to [email protected]

What should I do if I develop symptoms consistent with COVID-19?

Symptoms of the new coronavirus include a fever, dry cough, fatigue and shortness of breath. But if you develop these symptoms, it’s still unlikely that you’re infected with COVID-19.

“It’s important to recognize that, right now, we’re in respiratory virus season. The symptoms of COVID-19 will be similar to all the symptoms that you’d experience from other respiratory viruses,” explains Alon Vaisman, an infectious disease expert with the University Health Network in Toronto.

“The highest risk individuals are those who’ve travelled recently or been exposed to somebody who is confirmed to be infected.”

Vaisman notes that most hospitals and community centres in Canada are still only testing those who have recently travelled abroad or had direct exposure to someone diagnosed with COVID-19.

“If you’re experiencing respiratory symptoms or fever, you’re most likely explanation is not COVID-19. However, the likelihood of that will change depending on what happens in Canada and whether we start seeing increases in community transmission.”

What are the chances of dying from COVID-19?

We still don’t know exactly how deadly this disease is. Globally, about 3.4 per cent of reported COVID-19 cases have died, according to the World Health Organisation’s briefing on March 3. But the actual mortality rate may be much lower.

“Most of those numbers are coming from Hubei Province, where they were overwhelmed with this. And so their mortality rate is artificially high,” says Michael Gardam, Chief of Staff at Humber River Hospital.

Because symptoms can be mild and many cases are likely going undiagnosed, experts believe the real mortality (or death) rate is closer to one per cent. South Korea, for example, rolled out a mass public testing programme, with as many as 10,000 new tests conducted per day. The mortality rate there has remained below one per cent.

Italy has seen a mortality rate closer to five per cent, but it also has the oldest population in Europe, with about a quarter of its residents aged 65 or older.

Who is most at risk?

“The older you are, the more likely you are to have a rougher course with this infection,” says infectious disease expert Isaac Bogoch.

In Italy, for example, the average age of those who have died was 81, according to Italy’s national health institute on March 5. And many of the victims had preexisting health conditions.

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