March 19, 2020

As COVID-19 pandemic evolves, Mayo Clinic experts explain when to seek care, who is at greater risk

By Susan Murphy

By Mayo Clinic News Network

In response to the progression of COVID-19 (coronavirus), Mayo Clinic is committed to helping you stay informed. Here are some of the ways our researchers, physicians and staff are working relentlessly to mitigate the impacts of this pandemic, and steps you and your family can take to stay healthy.

What to do if you suspect you may have COVID-19

COVID-19 symptoms can mimic the flu. Dr. Clayton Cowl, chair of Mayo Clinic's Division of Preventive, Occupational and Aerospace Medicine, says symptoms can come on rapidly. These symptoms can be especially dangerous for people over 70; immunosuppressed people; and those with underlying conditions, such as lung disease, heart disease and diabetes.

Dr. Cowl says that many people who contract the disease will have mild or no symptoms. But if they develop symptoms, when and how should they seek medical help? Should they get tested? Read more.

What patients with cancer should know

Older adults and those with serious chronic medical conditions, such as heart disease, diabetes and lung disease, are at higher risk of developing serious complications if infected with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

But what about patients with cancer?

Cancer patients may be at a higher risk of infection and more severe symptoms, though temporarily, due to weakened immune system from cancer treatment. "However, we have very limited information at the present time," says Dr. Rafael Fonseca, a hematologist and interim executive director of the Mayo Clinic Cancer Center. Read more.

Kids and COVID-19: Why they are not getting as sick

Children are not immune to COVID-19. They are getting infected with the disease and can spread it, but they do not get as sick as adults. Dr. Nipunie Rajapakse, a Mayo Clinic pediatric infectious diseases specialist, offers some insight as to why.

"There is some interesting information about kids and this new coronavirus," says Dr. Rajapakse. "Theories about why kids are not getting as sick have to do with their exposure to other coronaviruses, such as the common cold, and their immune systems."

"Kids who have been found to be infected seem to be having mild, if any illness at all, related to the infection.," says Dr. Rajapakse. "One theory is we know that there are other coronaviruses that circulate in the community and cause the common cold. And because kids frequently get colds, there is some thought that maybe some of those antibodies are providing them with some protection to this coronavirus."

Read more.

Older adults have higher risk of serious illness

Adults over 65 are more at risk of getting seriously ill from COVID-19, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

"So there are two major factors that cause the aged immune system to be much more vulnerable to new threats, such as COVID-19," says Dr. Jessica Lancaster, a Mayo Clinic immunology researcher. "First, as we age, we start to produce less new immune cells that are able to respond to new sorts of infectious disease."

"Secondly, as we age, the immune system has a delay in its ability to coordinate itself. There is a delay in the communication among all the different types of immune cells, and, so, the aged immune system is much more slow at clearing an infectious disease."

Mayo Clinic Q&A podcast: Long-term care facilities take precautions against COVID-19 (coronavirus)

Long-term care facilities are taking steps to prepare and respond to the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic. With guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, long-term care facilities are restricting visitors in most cases.

The Mayo Clinic Q&A podcast features Dr. Brandon Verdoorn, a Mayo Clinic geriatrician. Dr. Verdoorn is also medical director of Charter House, a continuing care retirement community in Rochester, Minnesota, that is affiliated with Mayo Clinic. Dr. Verdoorn explains how staff are taking steps to keep residents safe and prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

Mayo Clinic deferring elective care

As part of Mayo Clinic’s response to COVID-19, we have carefully evaluated the readiness of our facilities, personnel, capacity and supply availability, and assessed community transmission within our regions.

Based on this review, Mayo Clinic will defer all elective care that can be deferred for eight or more weeks. This will include both elective surgeries, procedures and office visits.  Semi-urgent, urgent and emergency care will continue in clinic and hospital settings. This deferment will be effective March 23 at all Mayo Clinic locations nationwide, including Mayo Clinic Health System. Read more.

Your questions answered

How does the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 enter the body?

"COVID-19 disease is spread through respiratory droplets. So what that means is that if someone with the infection coughs or sneezes, they generate droplets. These are generally large droplets so they can spread about 3-6 feet from the person that generates them. That's pretty close contact that's required. If those droplets land on a surface and you touch that surface and  then you touch your eyes, nose or mouth, then you are at risk of becoming infected as well," says Dr. Nipunie Rajapakse, a Mayo Clinic infectious diseases specialist.

What are the symptoms of COVID-19?

According to the Centers for Disease Control, reported illnesses have ranged from mild symptoms to severe illness and death.

The following symptoms may appear 2-14 days after exposure.*

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath

Learn more

Check the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website for additional updates on COVID-19. For all your COVID-19 coverage, go to the Mayo Clinic News Network.

Join the conversation

For more information on the Mayo Clinic Center for Individualized Medicine, visit FacebookLinkedIn or Twitter at @MayoClinicCIM

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