I'm a Virus Expert and Most People Catch the Virus This Way Now
It's vital for the public to be aware of the dangers of SARS-CoV-2 because it is a highly infectious virus with a high death rate and there are still questions about whether and when future variants will emerge. Using the Spanish Flu as a parallel, it devastated the world for approximately two to three years; then, the population developed some immunity, not perfect immunity but some immunity, with the influenza we have now. The same thing will eventually happen with COVID-19. So, if you fast forward 100 years, we will still have the coronavirus in some form as it will have continued to mutate. Still, we will have better natural immunity, better preventative measures and better therapeutics.
Over time we may improve on vaccines and develop good therapeutics, but much like influenza, we will deal with COVID-19 to some degree forever. Therefore, the more we know, the better we can protect ourselves from the next big outbreak. Read on to find out more—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.
You're Not Vaccinated
The number one factor that puts people at risk of getting COVID is not getting the vaccine. Many point to the fact that people who have been immunized against COVID are still getting the virus as their reason for not getting vaccinated. It is true that because the vaccine we are still using was explicitly developed for the original virus in December 2019 and COVID has continued to mutate, the vaccine has become less effective. The vaccine was 95% effective and is now 60% or less. However, it still offers a level of protection that should not be discounted and getting vaccinated provides greater protection to others since the vaccine helps reduce the spread of COVID-19. Each new variant of the virus has been much more infectious than the original. We should do all we can to protect ourselves and those around us, mainly the elderly or those with underlying medical conditions such as obesity, cardiovascular disorder, respiratory disorder, etc. Their level of risk is much higher and they need to take precautionary measures based on their medical circumstances and risk tolerance.
You're Not Wearing a Proper Mask
COVID is an airborne illness and it is surprisingly easy to prevent, which leads us to the second habit that puts people in danger of getting COVID, not wearing a mask or wearing it improperly. While nothing is 100% effective, the N95s offer the highest level of protection against infection of COVID-19 at a rate of 90% to 95% effectiveness. If you don't have access to an N95 mask, it is important to wear the most protective mask possible. If it is a cloth mask, you should wash and dry it daily to keep it clean. It's also important to remember to wear masks properly. They should fit well by completely covering your mouth and nose and fit snugly against the sides of your face leaving no gaps. Masks should not be pulled low on your nose, below your nose, or below your mouth.
You're Attending Large Inddor Gatherings
The third habit that puts people in danger of getting COVID-19 is not limiting our time in large groups and enclosed spaces, especially when not wearing masks. COVID-19 is an airborne disease and the very fine droplets and particles dispersed from an infected person coughing, speaking or singing will spread through the air in a room and accumulate. These particles can also linger in the air even after the infected person leaves the room. Having large gatherings outside or bringing fresh air indoors by opening windows and doors will decrease the risk of infection but not 100%.
Here's What to Do if You Get Infected
We should be self-aware that our behaviors put our family and those we encounter in danger of getting COVID-19. It's crucial that if we have been infected with COVID-19 or have any symptoms that could be attributed to COVID-19 that we get tested but more importantly, we stay home for at least five days, according to the CDC. Too often, people are afraid or unwilling to miss work or a special occasion; however, we risk inadvertently spreading the virus by choosing to ignore symptoms. This behavior becomes even more dangerous when we are around the elderly, those with an underlying medical condition, or those who are immunocompromised.
Follow the "Gold Standard"
Testing is not just for your protection but also for the protection of those you encounter daily. No two people infected by COVID-19 will have the same symptoms; they can range drastically, nor will they present in the same order for each person. Half of those infected may be asymptomatic, meaning they have no symptoms, while others may have flu-like symptoms or lose their sense of taste or smell. It is essential to be tested if you encounter someone infected with COVID-19 or have any symptoms. An effective way to screen for COVID-19 is with inexpensive, do-it-yourself rapid tests. In about 10 minutes, it's able to answer, "Am I infectious and a risk to others?" Over the last two years, the incubation period for COVID-19 has been shortened. The time between a person getting infected and becoming contagious can be as short as 24-hours. While PCR tests are still considered the "gold standard" in COVID-19 detection, the turnaround time can be two to three days. The rapid test is preferred if you have symptoms or have been around someone infected with COVID-19 because it's essential to know as quickly as possible if you've been infected to protect your family and others with whom you may have been in contact.
Protect Yourself And Your Family
The best way for someone to protect themselves against COVID-19 is by following the prescribed precautions – getting vaccinated, limiting time spent in enclosed spaces or large crowds and wearing a mask. We are at the point where people are beginning to realize there has been a paradigm shift from "we only have to do this until the virus goes away" to "this virus will always be around in some form, so we have to change our outlook" and with that comes the understanding that these precautions are things that we must always adhere to or risk infection. I'm not saying that mask mandates will not go away or that we should never go to another concert or sporting event; I am saying that we will have to choose to make these layered precautions a part of our lives or know that we risk getting COVID-19. It is the same decision we make every year with the flu; we understand that getting vaccinated and wearing masks decrease the infection rate, but it's not a choice everyone makes.
The Final Word From the Doctor
There is a psychological dimension to COVID-19. We can't ignore what has happened over the last two-plus years and believe that COVID-19 is just going away. Instead, we must develop new health behaviors and recondition ourselves to new habits. We must shift the way we think about how we interact daily. Each person will have to weigh the risk of a COVID-19 infection against long-term changes in behavior by limiting the amount of time spent in large groups or enclosed spaces, wearing a mask, etc. We will also have to make these decisions knowing that our behavior will affect the most vulnerable populations among us. And to protect your life and the lives of others, think twice, exercising new health behavior when you visit any of these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.
Emil Tsai, M.D., Ph.D., M.A.S is a scientist, professor at UCLA School of Medicine and the founder of SyneuRx.
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