84ºF

Haley’s Health Inbox: Could I have had COVID-19 in early February?

Haley Hernandez
Haley Hernandez

KPRC Channel 2′s health reporter Haley Hernandez has been answering some of your emailed questions regarding the impact of COVID-19 here in the Houston area.

We are answering a few of the top questions each day. You can scroll down and read questions and answers from previous days.

April 6, 2020

Could I have had COVID-19 in early February?

Actually, some doctors think yes. One UT infectious disease doctor thinks there was community spread of the illness before we ever realized it. The good news for you is that the majority of people recover without complications and some people don’t get sick at all. So, you can contact your primary care doctor but I assume they’ll tell you you’re OK and it’s passed. There’s no good test right now to determine if you ever had it.

“I was extremely sick 5 weeks ago. I had a dry cough, headaches, pain in my chest, fever and night sweats. The meds he gave me was a Zpac and Azythromicine. This finally killed the fever after three days. I still have some sharp pain in my chest. Since I was never tested for coronavirus, I only have the suspicion that I had it. Has anyone ever shared how long their side effects are lasting? Also, I understand the FDA approved a test for antibodies... who would I call to get that info? If I had it and recovered, I would love to be able to help in some way.”

This is a good question and one I’ve actually gotten a lot. Some doctors think the virus was going around before we had confirmation of community spread. Therefore, according to them, you might have had it. There have not been any studies to show the symptoms last longer than 14 days, but this is still considered a new virus so that information may change. There are blood tests in existence to evaluate if you’ve ever had a certain type of virus before (its called a serology test) but they don’t have one readily available yet for Coronavirus. The good news is, one is on the horizon.

Does the Coronavirus affect those with Fibromyalgia differently?

Just last week the CDC released information on underlying conditions and Coronavirus. Fibromyalgia was included in neuro conditions and only 7% of hospitalizations were patients with these kinds of conditions. Here’s the info: https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/69/wr/mm6913e2.htm Also, here’s a helpful article from NFA on reducing flare-ups right now.

Is a lost sense of smell a symptom of COVID-19? What should I do if this happens to me?

Just last week we detailed the strange symptoms some people with COVID-19 are experiencing. Loss of smell is one of them. Increasing evidence suggests that a lost sense of smell, known medically as anosmia, may be a symptom of COVID-19. This is not surprising, because viral infections are a leading cause of loss of sense of smell, and COVID-19 is caused by a virus.

Still, loss of smell might help doctors identify people who do not have other symptoms, but who might be infected with the COVID-19 virus — and who might be unwittingly infecting others. But, this could also be a sign of allergies. Either way, you should tell your doctor right away if you find yourself newly unable to smell.

April 3, 2020

Last week had body aches and feeling feverish. Feeling a lot better now. The problem now I can’t go back to work. Can I get tested without a fever?

You probably wouldn’t be approved for testing since you don’t have a fever. Doctors are screening patients before they are allowing tests. You could call your doctor and get work clearance that way? Another option is that you could buy your own at-home testing kit, but that may take longer to get results.

I had a negative COVID-19 Test. Is there a chance I took the test too early and it just didn’t give the right results?

If you test negative for COVID-19, you probably were not infected at the time your specimen was collected. However, that does not mean you will not get sick. It is possible that you were very early in your infection and that you could test positive later, or you could be exposed later and then develop illness. In other words, a negative test result does not rule out getting sick later.

Should you have separate clothes and shoes to wear in public?

If you’re in healthcare or working closely with the public, it’s advised that you have clothes and shoes you wear at work and don’t bring them into your house. It’s not a guarantee this will make you sick, it’s just being extremely cautious during these uncertain times.

A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine showed coronavirus can live on cardboard for 24 hours and on stainless steel and plastic for up to three days. It can live on soft surfaces for even longer. It’s possible the virus can survive on synthetic materials for as long as five days.

Are people with disabilities considered “higher risk” for getting Coronavirus?

The CDC says most people with disabilities are not inherently at higher risk of becoming infected with or having severe illness from COVID-19. Some people with physical limitations or other disabilities might be at a higher risk of infection because of their underlying medical condition. You should talk with your healthcare provider if you have a question about your health or how your health condition is being managed.

April 2, 2020

I heard there were new guidelines for who is considered recovered from the coronavirus?

Yes, on April 1, the CDC changed the guidelines for who is considered “recovered” from COVID-19. The CDC used to say a person who had or thought they had coronavirus was considered recovered only after symptoms disappeared after two negative tests at least 24 hours apart. Now the CDC says those who have or may have coronavirus may also be considered recovered if they are fever-free for three days without the help of fever-reducing medication and if it has been at least 7 days since symptoms first appeared.

The CDC warns some patients may be contagious for longer than others. The test-based strategy is preferred for patients who are hospitalized or severely immunocompromised or being transferred to long-term care or assisted living facility.

What is a good hand cream to put on your hands to prevent redness itchy skin from washing your hands numerous times daily?

Handwashing strips natural oils so your hands may be super dry. Consider using hand creams to help relieve dry skin (instead of lotions). For sensitive hands, opt for fragrance-free products that may have dimethicone, polyuronic acid or shea butter. Hand cream suggestions include Aquaphor Healing Ointment, Neutrogena’s Norwegian Formula Hand Cream or just good ole Vaseline.

Another note: Choose a tube over a tub. Dipping your fingers into a tub of lotion may just spread germs.

Can I get coronavirus from food?

You might be worried about produce or other items that someone else could have touched before it got to you. The CDC, the Food and Drug Administration, the Department of Agriculture, and the World Health Organization say that food is not known to be a route of transmission of the virus. The information available from outbreaks of SARS and MERS, caused by coronaviruses similar to the one that causes COVID-19, is reassuring. The evidence showed that those illnesses were not transmitted by food.

It’s still a good idea to practice good food safety habits including washing your hands, wash fruits and vegetables and don’t eat raw dough or batter.

April 1, 2020

How many tests does someone need to be deemed virus-free?

We asked Harris County Public Health when a patient is deemed fully recovered. There are several steps for that criteria. First, the patient has to be free and clear of any symptoms. Then, the patient has to have a negative result for the virus and then be tested again in 24 hours. After the patient tests negative both times, they are considered recovered. However, tests are not easy to come by at this time.

My son does not drive. What if he gets sick from the virus? How can he get a test?

Just last week an at-home test became available for people in our area. There’s lots of other “start-ups” across the country too but I think this one is already available. It’s expensive, $135, but it might be the best option if a loved one is unable to get to a testing site. If someone is very sick and needs immediate help, you should call 911.

We keep hearing about some people with “mild” cases. What symptoms are they having?

We are learning more about the virus as more cases of coronavirus show up in our area. So, it’s worth revisiting this. We are seeing about 80% of coronavirus cases are non-severe. These mild symptoms include sniffles, coughing, sore throat and a low-grade fever. Basically, a rough cold. Either way, don’t hesitate to contact your doctor if you have questions. Telemedicine services are now provided with most heath insurance plans.

We have a vaccine schedule, should I try and take my kids in for their vaccines right now?

This may depend on many factors and you should call your doctor and ask what they think. Experts agree for children older than two years, waiting for scheduled vaccines is probably fine. (However for some children with special conditions you might not want to get behind on the schedule.) For babies and toddlers, consult your doctor. Also consider that a trip to the doctor may expose them to COVID-19 so there is that to think about too.

March 31, 2020

If my family or friend has quarantined for two weeks as I have can we then see each other in person?

It depends. Was the person sick? When a person with COVID-19 becomes sick they must quarantine. Then, they must wait until they go three days without any symptoms before then starting a 14-day quarantine. After that period of time, the person can be in contact with other people. The usual six feet social distancing rules still apply. Just yesterday we heard from a woman who is almost fully recovered from COVID-19. While she does feel better, she still has to wait for her symptoms to completely disappear before she can then start the 14-day quarantine.

How many total numbers of tests are done and how many came positive and how many come negative?

As of Monday, 35,880 tests have been conducted in Texas. Texas reported 325 more cases of the new coronavirus Monday, bringing the total number of known cases to 2,877. Nearly half of the state’s 254 counties have reported at least one case.

Seth Christensen, a spokesman for the Texas Division of Emergency Management, said on March 26 the state received 15,000 test kits from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and another shipment of 15,000 test kits came in on March 28. Each kit can test one person.

What amount of time is expected when getting COVID results? My husband Is a first responder and I am 37 weeks pregnant with twins. It’s been 6 days.

Each individual testing center has different turn around times. The most accurate timetable would come from the testing center. But right now, we’re hearing the average is 4-7 days. Other centers are indicating 7-10 days. With the influx of testing, the tests only go to a few labs for results and these labs are backlogged.

March 30, 2020

How does COVID-19 compare to H1N1?

The number of flu deaths is higher because the flu is more common. However, the coronavirus kills a larger percentage of people infected, so the fear is if it becomes as common as the flu, it could kill a lot more people. It could certainly crowd our hospitals.

That’s why you see strict measures being taken to stop the spread.

One tip I keep seeing is to clean all “highly touched” surfaces. What are some examples of this?

It is recommended to clean and disinfect high-touch surfaces daily in household common areas. These areas include tables, hard-backed chairs, doorknobs, light switches, phones, tablets, touch screens, remote controls, keyboards, handles, desks, toilets and sinks.

My family is staying home and being very careful. Still, I’m terrified one of us will get sick. Is there anything else I can do besides the obvious things to stay healthy?

We understand this is such an unknown time and there are so many questions. Part of feeling safe is knowing that you have a plan. It may sound simple, but have you come up with a family plan for just in case one of you gets sick? This will make you feel more in control of the situation because you know what you would do. Some of the family planning guidelines include creating a household checklist, preparing a quarantined area just in case and keeping in touch with neighbors.

March 27, 2020

If you get coronavirus once, can you get it again? Do you get any immunity from this virus that could keep you safe from getting another infection?

Dr. Laila Woc-Colburn explains when you get infected you developed antibodies. They take 3-6 weeks to be generated. As patients recover their antibodies generate a high level of immunity. This is the concept behind the use of convalescent plasma. What we don’t know is how long the immunity lasts. It might be like influenza which is during a short period of time. This is why a vaccine would help.

What do I do if someone in my house gets sick with coronavirus?

If someone in your home gets sick, there is a guideline for what you should be doing in your home. Part of the advice recommends having the person stay in one room away from people. If possible, have them use a separate bathroom. Avoid sharing household items and wear facemasks. You’ll want to clean all surfaces that are touched each day and use gloves while doing laundry. Follow the usual handwashing guidelines.

Are people with asthma more susceptible to getting the virus?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says people with asthma may be at higher risk for getting very sick from COVID-19. This is because COVID-19 can affect your respiratory tract (nose, throat, lungs). This can cause an asthma attack and possibly lead to pneumonia and acute respiratory disease.

March 26, 2020

I’m pregnant and worried. Can COVID-19 be passed from a pregnant mother to a newborn?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is working to find answers about this. Here is what they say about it: We still do not know if a pregnant woman with COVID-19 can pass the virus that causes COVID-19 to her fetus or baby during pregnancy or delivery. No infants born to mothers with COVID-19 have tested positive for the COVID-19 virus. In these cases, which are a small number, the virus was not found in samples of amniotic fluid or breastmilk.

Can pets carry the virus on their skin and fur?

At this time, there is no evidence that the virus that causes COVID-19 can spread to people from the skin or fur of pets. Talk to your veterinarian about the best ways to care for your pet. There is no reason at this time to think that any animals, including pets, in the United States might be a source of infection with this new coronavirus that causes COVID-19. The CDC has not received any reports of pets or other animals becoming sick with COVID-19 in the United States.

March 25, 2020

I have masks I can donate, where do I take them?

People can go to www.texas.gov/covid19 to sell or donate PPE to the state’s effort.

What about our daily mail delivery? Even if the carrier is wearing gloves, can’t the mail be carrying the virus? How should we handle our mail delivery?

The chance of paper/cardboard carrying the virus is very low. Imagine all that has to happen for the virus to get on the exact mail you open and then make you sick. When I’ve asked doctors about it they address it like an extremely hypothetical situation.

If you want to take all the precautions that you can, take a look at this demo.

March 24, 2020

Why is coronavirus worse than the flu?

The number of flu deaths is higher because the flu is more common. Coronavirus kills a larger percentage of people infected, so the fear is if it becomes as common as the flu, it could kill a lot more people. It could certainly crowd our hospitals. That’s why you see strict measures being taken to stop the spread.

The measures being taken to stop the spread are a prevention to keep the hospitals from being overwhelmed/ to keep healthcare workers safe from illness so they can save lives. We know it can happen and have seen it happen in China, Spain, Italy.

I know of a hospital that closed down. Why can’t we use the empty building for the coronavirus outbreak?

That might already be in the contingency plans for our leaders but they’re not at that point yet. Right now, they say, the number of Coronavirus patients is manageable in our hospitals or at home. Here are more details on the hospital’s current capacity: https://www.click2houston.com/health/2020/03/21/as-coronavirus-cases-in-the-houston-area-surge-will-the-healthcare-system-be-able-to-handle-it/

Do people need to change their home A/C filters more often with concerns about coronavirus?

There is no data on a/c filters and the coronavirus, according to Dr. Ronald Walters, President of Harris County Medical Society.

If someone is in isolation, can they spread illness throughout the house via air ducts?

The major ways the virus is transmitted is through touch and droplets, according to Dr. Ronald Walters, President of Harris County Medical Society.

March 23, 2020

How do people apply for government checks? Is there an online form?

You should not have to apply. They will use your tax return from 2018 to determine how much you will get, unless you already filed for 2019 and then they might use that tax return. Keep in mind, you could get taxed on this later: Read more.

I have a CPAP machine that funnels air to me during the night. In the absence of a ventilator would this help coronavirus patients at all?

From the American Academy of Sleep medicine, “It is unclear whether CPAP could make the Coronavirus worse. But using CPAP could increase the risk of spreading the virus to others around you. Talk to your medical provider about your treatment options for sleep apnea.”

Why can’t you tell me more about the patients? The public deserves to know.

I understand your frustration. Local leaders disagree about what is needed to know.

Coronavirus test results are reported to the city or county health department and then that information is made public. Those departments are not required to give us more information about the patients, they claim privacy laws as the reason why we can’t know more about them.

How does being tested help the person that is clearly sick?

Then you know for sure you have it. Then you take isolation VERY seriously and do not come in contact with anyone. Then you know if your symptoms worsen, go to a hospital.

There is no cure for a virus.

True but there are drugs being fast tracked to market and have been given to the sickest patients. Here’s more on that.

March 20, 2020

If someone recently had pneumonia are they more susceptible to COVID19?

Not exactly. The current data only shows people with an underlying reason they developed pneumonia such as immunodeficiency or a history of structural lung disease like COPD, could make someone more susceptible to COVID19 infection but not simply having previously had pneumonia, according to Dr. Jill Weatherhead from Baylor College of Medicine. Lung damage and COPD can put individuals at risk for all respiratory viruses.

Does your blood type make you more susceptible to COVID19?

If you’ve questioned the validity of this rumor, you were right to do so!

There is no recommended screening criteria based upon blood type, said the President of the Harris County Medical Society Dr. Ronald Walters.

All the advice about how to clean and what to clean but what about your cell phone?

Yes, you should regularly disinfect your cell phone. Despite previous warnings that harsh chemicals can damage the screen, Apple says now that disinfectants are OK to use on their products. If you’re concerned, they recommend a screen protector or case to cover the phone.

Will COVID cases go down during summer like the flu does?

That’s a good point that I bring up here, which basically says there’s hope the heat will kill the virus (the virus is not very heat resistant) but there’s no confirmed data yet.

People are encouraging take-out food but what if the handler is sick? Isn’t that dangerous?

While the chances of that exact order having the virus on food is still low, these are the steps to keep food safe, according to CNN Dr. Sanjay Gupta:

-Have person put food at your doorstep, you not taking it from their hand

-Take the container out of the bag

-Put the food on your plate

-Microwave food for 30 seconds would kill the virus

-Throw all packaging away

-WASH YOUR HANDS

(helpful hint: microwaving food for 30 seconds is also recommended to kill bacteria that could give you GI issues.)

March 19, 2020

Should I social distance from my spouse?

The U.S. Dept of Health and Human Services says kissing is likely the easiest way to spread the virus but it is not sexually transmitted. Therefore, they advise people to still practice social distancing at home but I understand how unrealistic that can be. Just be aware that if one of you got Coronavirus the other would be at a greater risk of getting/having it and you would certainly need to self-isolate if you tested positive.

My favorite guide on how to self-isolate is here.

Can we kill it by inhaling boiling water stream? Like in India they use this during flu and cold or cough.

The WHO says this will not work to kill a virus that’s already entered your body.

Myth-busting: Which of these DIY home remedies for coronavirus are actually effective?

Will ibuprofen worsen the virus?

There was a lot of concern after the French Minister of Health tweeted to avoid anti-inflammatory medications because they might worsen an infection. However, the World Health Organization told NBC News they are not aware of data that’s true.

If you are concerned, experts say you can take acetaminophen to control a fever, one of the main symptoms of the virus.

With all that is going on, I have not heard anything on helping the homeless.

The CDC is advising that people in shelters sleep head to toe and use temporary barriers, like curtains, between beds. Click here for more details on how this is impacting the homeless population.

How many people have been tested? Why don’t you say how many people test negative instead of just how many do have it?

By law, providers (hospitals, physicians, etc.) are only required to notify Public Health of POSITIVE results.

However, Montgomery County did let KPRC 2 know they’ve received 27 negative results, there are six positive cases and 102 pending tests. Not all of the counties provide this information.

March 18, 2020

Once you have coronavirus, will you have it forever?

The American College of Physicians found it takes 5-12 days for symptoms to show. They said more than 97% of people will show symptoms within 12 days. This fits the CDC recommended 14-day quarantine to show symptoms and then take time to recover from illness.

How do you know someone is recovering from coronavirus?

According to Harris County Public Health, the patient has to be free and clear of any symptoms. Then, the patient has to have a negative test result for the virus and then be tested again in 24-hours. After the patient tests negative both times, they are considered recovered.

Can I still get my car serviced right now?

There are only restrictions for businesses where people congregate. Other organizations may recommend closing to keep people from gathering but there are no government orders to shut down across the state.

Do the closures include gyms?

The White House said states with evidence of community transmission should close bars, restaurants, food courts, gyms and other indoor and outdoor venues where groups of people congregate. Now online workouts are on the rise.

What about placard and car registration renewals?

Governor Greg Abbott said to help keep people healthy and out of the public, he's also waiving vehicle registrations, titles, and placard renewal rules. People can still renew their registration online.

I have a mammogram, sleep study, dental visit, etc. should I reschedule?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention encourages the people in our community most vulnerable to Coronavirus to stay home as much as possible, avoid crowds and reschedule nonessential doctor appointments. The vulnerable population includes people 60 and older, people who have weakened immune systems and people with underlying health conditions such as heart disease, lung disease or diabetes.

For them, the CDC said appointments like general physicals, check-ups, follow-ups for a stable condition or an elective procedure can be rescheduled, or make the appointment virtual instead, meaning they encourage calling a telemedicine doctor from home.

As for dental visits, check out this report.

March 17, 2020

Can bugs and or insects carry the virus?

COVID-19 is new and there are a lot of unknowns. However, the health department said they do not believe insects will carry this virus. They make this prediction based off of how other viruses in the Coronavirus family act. Examples of other Coronaviruses include SARS and MERS.

Are we here in Texas the only ones experiencing the closing of schools, bars, clubs, are others having issues with grocery stores?

The entire planet is currently affected or worried about Coronavirus. Currently, countries such as China and Italy are on lockdown. San Francisco has taken the most extreme measures to protect people against the virus.

What is happening to Meals on Wheels recipients?

Meals on Wheels is still working, according to their website.

What are the hospital CEO’s doing to provide beds ... will they be ready if there is a spike of coronavirus patients?

That’s exactly why these drastic measures are being taken. When you hear “flatten the curve” it is because leaders need to bring down the number of potential coronavirus cases (below the curve) to a number that hospitals can handle. This entire “hype” is because of hospital beds. We see this happening in other countries and it’s the reason China has a high number of deaths. There were not enough hospital beds and there may not be enough in America either. Click here to learn more about flattening the curve.

Paper money/coins can still be used even though they’re dirty. What should I know about paying during the coronavirus crisis?

According to the Federal Reserve, the lifespan of certain bills can be up to 15 years, giving cash a lot of time to accumulate germs but with new concerns around the coronavirus, new questions are being raised over how you should pay for things without contracting or spreading any illnesses.

When it comes to cash, the World Health Organization did not issue any warnings over using cash but they do say it’s important to remember to disinfect after handling it. Part of the reason using cash isn’t any more dangerous than other forms of payment is because according to doctors, if you stick to contactless payments but don’t wash your hands after touching your phone, credit card or a payment terminal, you are still at risk of contracting a potential infection. If you or the person handling your form of payment is wearing gloves, make sure to change them often and continue to wash your hands, otherwise, you’re just spreading germs with your gloves instead of your hands.