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Get the Facts on Coronavirus (COVID-2019) with Dr. Peter Lin

The new Coronavirus (COVID-2019) is causing no small amount of stress and fear as new cases arise daily around the world. In Canada, a patient who had been to Iran (not China) recently tested positive after flying from Montreal to Vancouver, generating concerns about the potential spread here at home.

But what do we actually know about the illness?

Dr. Peter Lin is a family physician in Toronto and a CBC News medical contributor. In this new video, he shares information about what this novel Coronavirus (COVID-2019) is, how it works, who is most at risk, and how you can protect yourself.

(Accessibility note: You’ll find a transcript below the video.)


Dr. Lin: “So we need to get the facts straight. How does this virus work? How does it transmit? Where does it want to go? And let’s protect ourselves.

I’m Dr. Peter Lin. I’m a family physician in Toronto, Canada. The Coronavirus is a family of viruses that can cause as mild things as just the common cold all the way up to SARS or MERS.

What is Coronavirus?

Dr. Lin: “These are these bad pneumonias that we’re talking about. Basically, what these viruses are… they look like a tennis ball with all these spikes sticking out of it. And depending on the type of spike, it allows that virus to attach to certain places. So some viruses, they have this spike that attaches to your nose. So basically, you just get a common cold, but the SARS virus and this new virus that we’re talking about have the spike that allows it to attach to the cells in your lungs.

And when it has hatches there, it puts in information to make photocopies of itself so it uses our equipment to make more viruses.”

WHO Representative: “I’m declaring a public health emergency of international concern over the group outbreak of novel Coronavirus.”

How did the spread of COVID-2019 start?

Dr. Lin: “Most of the coronaviruses live in animals. In this particular case, it was from Wuhan—there was a fish market where they were selling live animals—and the thought is, is that the virus was in a live animal, then it crossed into a human.

But then what we found was that people were getting sick, in terms of healthcare workers nad in terms of family members that were looking after them, which now meant that the virus can pass from human to another human.”

How does COVID-2019 spread?

Dr. Lin: “Just like all viruses, it needs to reach a target, which is your lung. And it has to get there with your help. It has no feet and no wings. So, therefore, it needs us to move it there. So that’s why we keep saying don’t hang around sneezy people because you’re going to breathe it in.

And don’t touch your face because that’s how the virus is going to get in. The masks are helpful, but they’re not necessary because they’re leaky. The ones that you and I buy basically have pockets here so therefore the virus can get in. What the masks really do is they stop us from touching our face. If you’re sick, we tend to mask you so you’re not spewing out the viruses to other people sitting around you. The people that have the real masks are N95—those are sealed, and these are for the doctors that may be caring for the patients.”

What are the symptoms of novel Coronavirus or COVID-2019?

Dr. Lin: “So in the beginning, the coronavirus will cause kind of like flu-like symptoms or a cold. So people just get the stuffy nose, that kind of thing. But you’ll understand that as soon as that virus starts manufacturing in your lung cells, they’re producing all these copies of the virus and all of a sudden, now you kill the lung cells. So now you can’t exchange oxygen.

And that’s why one of the early symptoms is people get very short of breath, and they tend to have a difficult time breathing and that’s why they end up in the hospital.”

How is this Coronavirus treated?

Dr. Lin: “Currently, unfortunately, we don’t have a direct treatment for the coronavirus so we don’t have a medication that can kill it off. And so care is really supportive. In other words, the patient can’t breathe, so we give them oxygen help them to breathe. They can’t drink so, therefore, we give them fluids to support them. Their kidneys begin to shut down; we help them with all those things. So it’s a very supportive process.

This is a new virus that we’ve never seen before. So our immune system, our army, are having a hard time figuring out what to do. Usually what we have to do is we make something called antibodies. These are things that can grab on to the spikes that we see on the virus, and it will get rid of the virus for you. And that will actually bring you back to good health.

The elderly may have a worse outcome. And of course, the young children and the babies, their immune system is not so good either. So they may not make those antibodies as well.”

What should I do if I think I may have COVID-2019, the Coronavirus?

Dr. Lin: “Just remember, your hands may be with virus. The virus cannot hurt you because it can’t get through the skin. But the moment I do this, now I brought the virus right to where it wants to go. So let’s remember not to touch our hands to our face.

So let’s say you think that you might have been on a plane or you might have bumped into somebody that has it. What should you do? So the first thing is to contact the healthcare worker to tell them that potentially you have it. If you’re feeling symptoms and you’re going to go into a facility, call ahead. Whether you’re calling the paramedics, or whether you’re calling the hospital or your doctor just mentioned that you were on a flight.

If you don’t have any symptoms, then what we do is a little bit of a self-quarantine. In other words, we can just keep you away from other people. And so you don’t go into parties, don’t go with your friends, don’t go into public transportation. So we can contain it very easily by making sure that you do a self-confinement sort of speak for let’s say, seven to 14 days is the longest incubation time. So after that, if you’re feeling well, then you don’t have anything to worry about.

If we get the facts right, then we don’t have to be overly worried. But we do the right things so that we don’t get the virus ourselves, and that we don’t pass it on to others.

And if we look after each other in this way, this virus will have nowhere to go. It needs us to move it. It needs us to make copies for it. And if we don’t help it, then the virus will stop.

We have the power to do that right now.”

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