Local infectious disease doctor talks COVID-19

Dr. Aisha Thomas. [Photo: Kaila Jones]

The Sebastian River Medical Center says it, “continues to monitor the national and global situation of coronavirus disease 19 (COVID-19) and is prepared to support our community and safely care for any patient.”

What that specifically means here in the early days of March, however, is impossible to say.

Dr. Aisha Thomas, an infectious disease specialist at Sebastian Infectious Disease Care, explains why.

“The CDC [already] has some pretty decent interim guidelines,” says Thomas, “but these are evolving. Daily.

“I’ve seen how [COVID-19] has spread through countries and the issue of this virus in particular is that with SARS and MERS, people were getting very sick and the mortality rate was very high. With this one, you’re having people with asymptomatic spread. They don’t really know they’re ill, they don’t really know they’re sick,” so they go about their normal routines and may very well be spreading the virus as they do so.”

Meanwhile, Thomas admits that an effective vaccine for COVID-19 probably won’t be available anytime soon. “I’m hopeful for [within] a year to be honest,” but she also acknowledges that the vast majority of vaccines take close to a decade to be developed, tested and approved.

Pausing briefly, Thomas adds, “I think for this one, we can’t rely on the vaccine to stem this pandemic or epidemic” in the immediate future.

If you’re someone who gets their news and health information updates from Twitter or Facebook, you’re looking in the wrong places.

Thomas suggests that if you’re looking for reliable updates on COVID-19 try the CDC website (cdc,gov), the National Institutes of Health’s site (nih.gov) or the Infectious Disease Society of America’s website, (idsociety.org).

Meanwhile, seniors, according to Thomas, should be extra vigilant of COVID-19. “People with co-morbidities, especially respiratory and lung problems and age, as well as those receiving chemotherapy, should be extra careful.”

The most current data indicates this COVID-19 enters the body primarily through the eyes, nose, mouth and even the gastro-intestinal tract, and that the fatality rate for people over 65 is approaching 10 percent or more.

One ‘ounce of prevention’ seniors can take, says Thomas, would be to get a 90-day supply of any medications you may be taking, get your anti-histamines, get your Tylenol, get enough water at home and stock your pantry with enough canned foods. Prepare yourself for a two-to-three-week quarantine just in case. And stay away from crowded areas, because COVID-19 [seems to] spread most efficiently in crowds.

Will those recommendations change?

Probably.

COVID-19 is a nascent virus. Not only is it not fully understood, it is also likely to change or mutate over time.

As the Occupational Safety and Health Administration says, “Alert your healthcare provider immediately if you think you may be infected with COVID-19, including if you have been exposed to someone with the virus and have signs/symptoms of infection.

“Your healthcare provider can determine if your signs and symptoms are explained by other causes, or if there is reason to suspect you may have COVID-19. If laboratory testing is appropriate, your healthcare provider will work with health officials in your state, who in turn will work with CDC, to collect and test any clinical specimens for diagnosis.”

Dr. Aisha Thomas is an infectious disease specialist and a member of Steward Health Care Network. Her office, Sebastian ID Care, is at 7955 Bay Street, Suite One in Sebastian. The phone is 772-388-9155.

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