Q: Do you think Mississippi's relatively low population density slows the spread of contagion or does it make residents more inclined to disregard the suggested restrictions?
A: Areas with lower population density should fare better than patients with higher population density when it comes to social distancing if residents of those areas follow recommendations. Whether or not people that live in less densely populated regions will follow suggested restrictions remains to be seen.
Q: We've read that warmer weather helps slow the spread of the virus, but that humidity helps it live longer. Is this true and if so, where does that leave the coast with the approach of our hot, humid season?
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However, for a novel virus like this with a non-immune population, we cannot count on weather alone to make it go away.
Q: We've heard conflicting reports on the length of time that the virus can stay alive on surfaces. Can you please give us some basic guidelines?
A: It is more accurate to discuss the length of time of virus can be detected on a surface rather than "stay alive," since viruses themselves are not technically living creatures. So there are many studies on this virus and other viruses that give conflicting results of being discovered on surfaces from 1 to 3 days.
However, it is important to understand that they test for the genetic material of the virus. This does not, then, tell us if that virus is what they call "viable," or capable of transmitting infection for that length of time. Generally speaking, even if a virus can be detected via genetic material days later, it would be much less contagious and possibly not even capable of transmitting disease the longer it stays on that surface.
Rather than focusing on how long the virus can stay on any particular surface, my recommendation is to focus on disinfecting possibly contaminated surfaces frequently, especially during an outbreak like this.
A: It is important to realize that there are millions of viruses in the world, and comparatively a minuscule amount are capable of causing disease in humans. Many viruses have a "home' in a particular animal.
There are many strains of influenza, for example, that are found in birds and horses, but not all have found a way to "jump" to humans. Anytime a virus "jumps "from an animal to humans there is a chance it can cause new and potentially devastating disease in humans.
Again, using influenza as an example, a common way for it to get to humans is from birds or horses or through pigs. This is because the respiratory epithelium, or the surface cells in a pig’s mouth, nose and eyes, are very similar genetically to those of humans.
So with a virus confined to home in the throat of a pig, then it has a good chance of finding a home in the throat of a human. That is why several times in the last century you have heard the term "swine flu."
This still does not guarantee that the new virus will cause sickness in humans, or even if it does, that it will be easily spread from human to human. It is unusual for a virus to jump from an animal to human that has the potential to both make humans ill and spread easily from person to person. This coronavirus, however, seems to have achieved that.
Coronaviruses are relatively newly described viruses in the last several decades, and the animal where they are known to exist routinely is the bat, but sometimes camels and cats as well.
I know of no way to make one less vulnerable to infection after one is exposed to SARS-COV2. The variation in patient responses to infection with his virus most likely have to do with the genetics of the patient in the genetics of the virus and any underlying medical conditions of the patient. The healthier one is prior to being infected with this virus, as with most infections, would be advantageous.
Q: Considering where we are now, what's the main thing that we should be doing that we aren’t?
A: My hope is that people are doing what they can. That is, limiting their trips to the store and exposure to other people, not congregating in large groups, frequent use of hand-washing and hand gel, wiping down surfaces, and most importantly, self-isolating if they are ill, even away from other members of their household as much as possible.
Dr. Nicholas G. Conger an Infectious Disease specialist who practices with Memorial Physician Clinics in association with Jesse Penico, MD, at 1340 Broad Avenue, Suite 300, Gulfport. Dr. Conger earned his medical degree from University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston. He completed his residency and internship in Internal Medicine, and his fellowship in infectious diseases at Wilford Hall Medical Center, San Antonio. He is board certified in internal medicine and infectious diseases.