The news media is covering COVID-19 or coronavirus as much as the 2020 US Presidential campaign and a number of my friends and colleagues have asked me about the disease. Here is a little of what I know about it.
Coronavirus is a respiratory illness that is spread much like influenza. This strain was first identified in China, but has made its way across the world. Italy has quarantined 50,000 people near Milan. New York City discovered its first case of a woman who had recently traveled to Iran.
While there are cases in the United States, coronavirus is not currently spreading rapidly in this country. Experts are not entirely certain about how contagious COVID-19 is compared to other diseases that spread from person to person. For example, measles is very contagious. Organizations are putting out guidance about limiting or cancelling business travel and in larger population instances, are asking people to use technology like Skype or FaceTime to meet.
There are many ways to protect yourself from this disease. Interestingly enough, they are similar to the ways you should protect yourself during flu season. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) if you are feeling sick, stay home and rest. Cover your cough or sneeze and frequently clean and disinfect any objects or surfaces you come in contact with. The best ways one can limit exposure are by:
Avoiding people who are sick
Avoiding touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands
Washing your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds
Using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol if soap and water are not available
There is no vaccine for coronavirus, but the federal government is working with pharmaceutical manufacturers to create one. Vaccine development for COVID-19 is moving at a rapid pace, but it may be a year before we see a working vaccine. There is no specific antiviral treatment for COVID-19. If you are feeling flu like symptoms, you should visit your primary care physician. If you live in West Virginia, it’s probably not COVID-19, but you could have the flu. The quicker you get started on treatment, the better off you’ll be.
For full disclosure, I am not a clinician, much less an infectious disease specialist or an epidemiologist. I recommend everyone use reliable sources, such as the CDC or your primary care physician for further information and to prepare yourself. Much of the information I used for this blog post is from the CDC’s Coronavirus Disease 2019 What you should know site and can be found here: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/about/index.html.
The state of West Virginia works to stay above other states like Alabama and Mississippi in the bottom of most health rankings. Unfortunately, we have a lot of issues where the state ranks 50th out of 50 states. One of our bright spots is childhood immunizations. It is an area we rank number one. In fact, strong immunization laws have kept measles out of the Mountain State.
The year 2019 saw measles making a comeback tour across the United States. West Virginia was lucky in missing that comeback tour, or was it great planning? The West Virginia legislature decided many years ago to ensure children in school—public and private—were up-to-date on “their shots.” The exception to that law allows children with valid medical reasons, such as those in treatment for certain cancers or with allergies to vaccine ingredients, to be granted a medical exemption.
Every year, a vocal minority advocates for what they misguidedly call healthcare freedom. Usually offering pseudo or debunked science as a reason, they don’t want to vaccinate their children before they go to school. A well-known, now infamous, United Kingdom physician, Andrew Wakefield, lost his license to practice medicine for falsely reporting injuries from vaccines. Well-meaning parents receive bad information. In today’s social-media-filled environment, they run with whatever they have.
With certain exceptions, vaccines are safe for the person taking them. Vaccines work with “herd immunity,” which keeps the incidence of disease to a minimum. Vaccines are effective when the herd immunity is in effect. Vaccines prevent diseases like measles mumps and rubella along with certain types of cancer.
The best advice someone can get when looking for information is from the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The CDC gives patients and providers information about what vaccines to take and when. The information on the CDC website is scientific.
Nearly every public health or medical association has shown support for universal helmet laws. I understand the arguments legislators make for freedom, but we live in a society with laws meant to protect the public. As someone who has laid a motorcycle down while riding, I can share with you a small scar on my arm and leg that still show, but I didn’t taste asphalt or even have any long term headache due to a proper DOT approved helmet with a full face shield.
Last week, two pieces of legislation were introduced that are meant to seem innocuous and tourism friendly. Senate Bills 153 & 154 are aimed at repealing laws that require motorcycle riders wear helmets. SB153 will permit riders in West Virignia that have held a motorcycle endorsement on their driver’s license to ride or be a passenger on a motorcycle without wearing a helmet. SB154 permits riders from other states that permit them to ride without a helmet to do so in the Mountain State. It will be called the “Motorcycle Tourism Act of 2020”.
To understand the consequences of such legislation, one shouldn’t look much further than a state a little to our north, Michigan. The University of Michigan Injury Center has studied the repeal of a helmet law and its consequences. The Great Lake State’s legislature introduced a bill in 2012 that partially repealed its universal helmet law for motorcycle riders. The stipulations were for riders over the age of 21 that carried $20,000 in medical insurance and had their motorcycle endorsement for 2 years. Before the repeal, Michiganders’ statewide helmet use was a near perfect 99.4%. Shortly after, it noticeably dropped to 75%. The lowest rates of helmet use (45%) were those who were found to be intoxicated.
Motorcycle related head injuries increased following the repeal and affected 50% of crash-involved riders seeking trauma care, including a greater percentage with skull fractures. The need for neurosurgical procedures almost doubled. According to the UofM Injury Center, riding without a helmet doubled the odds of a head injury and fatality. They also studied the financial implications. Roughly 1/3 of riders involved in crashes have public insurance such as Medicaid , are self payers, or are uninsured. The cost for accident related health care for non-helmeted riders is about 35% more than those riding with a helmet. This means that taxpayers will be paying the unnecessary burden in a time when we cannot afford to pay it.
I am advising the members of the West Virignia Legislature to not support this bill. Will you contact your legislator to tell them to keep motorcycle riders safe?