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posted: 3/13/2020 5:20 AM

What’s a mild case of COVID-19 feel like? Similar to a cold or flu, experts say

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  • Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said "not touching your mouth and your nose and your eyes" was good advice in light of the coronavirus risk, then minutes later wiped his nose with his hand.

    Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said "not touching your mouth and your nose and your eyes" was good advice in light of the coronavirus risk, then minutes later wiped his nose with his hand.
    Washington Post video frame grab

  • Several people have been treated for COVID-19 at Northwest Community Hospital in Arlington Heights. For healthy individuals who contract the coronavirus, the experience has been compared to cold or the flu.

    Several people have been treated for COVID-19 at Northwest Community Hospital in Arlington Heights. For healthy individuals who contract the coronavirus, the experience has been compared to cold or the flu.
    JOE LEWNARD | Staff Photographer

  • Randy Orr

    Randy Orr

  • Brian Stein

    Brian Stein

 
 

Have you powered through a head cold or case of flu recently? That experience is what many individuals in good health should expect if they contract COVID-19, experts say.

"It could be anything from symptoms of a bad cold or a mild cold to flu-like symptoms," Rush University Medical Center physician and professor Brian Stein said. "The great majority of people will have mild to moderate symptoms."

Those run the gamut of fever, runny nose, sore throat, fatigue, coughing, muscle aches and sometimes chills.

That's not to downplay the highly contagious infection, which can cause pneumonia and lead to death. Adults 60 and older or people with underlying medical conditions are at higher risk of suffering serious illness if infected, the Centers for Disease Control cautions.

However, a university student in his 20s who caught the virus in Italy and received treatment at Rush "was not significantly ill," said Stein, a specialist in pulmonary and critical care. "We just wanted to observe him to make sure he didn't get any worse. He was in good spirits."

Public anxiety is rising with sports leagues postponing games and St. Patrick's Day parades being canceled, to name a few precautions emerging this week.

Such actions aren't meant to incite angst but to prevent an avalanche of cases at once, say health professionals, who anticipate a majority of Americans will contract COVID-19 in the coming months.

"The goal is to slow the spread (of coronavirus) down so that we don't overwhelm our hospitals and health systems from a resources standpoint," Stein said.

Bouncing back from COVID-19 isn't just a scenario for young and healthy individuals.

"Even some of the middle-aged and older folks are going to have mild cases," said physician Randy Orr, medical director of pulmonary critical care at Northwestern Medicine Lake Forest Hospital.

However, "the older we get, the more medical problems that we have, the more likelier it is to get deep down into the respiratory tract and cause pneumonia," Orr explained.

There's no vaccine or cure for coronavirus yet, but mild cases can be treated with typical off-the-counter medication used in cases of cold or flu.

If you suspect you have coronavirus, call your health care provider and describe your symptoms, authorities say.

One gray area is whom to consult if you don't have a doctor. The Illinois Department of Public Health suggested those individuals should "contact their local medical facility in advance so they can take proper precautions only if they are exhibiting symptoms so that the flu and other illness can be ruled out."

The fight against COVID-19 was somewhat hamstrung earlier in 2020 by delays ramping up COVID-19 testing, Orr said. He requested tests on two seriously ill patients but was rejected because those cases didn't meet the threshold.

"The threshold was so high to test because we only had so many tests (in Illinois). When that's the case, the downside of that is we're going to miss a lot of cases."

"It seems like we're starting to meet the need now," Orr added.

Regarding whether warm weather will reduce cases of COVID-19, the CDC said it's not known yet.

Orr noted that "history is helpful on what we've seen with other coronaviruses; they don't tend to like the warmer weather. Odds are, that's going to lend itself to the cases flowing down, so the sooner warm weather comes, the better. But I don't think anyone can say it with certainty."

Stein notes, "we want to respect this virus and be cautious -- but we're going to make it through this."