On coronavirus symptoms: 'Mild does not mean insignificant'

Don't underestimate the toll the virus can take.
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One of the oft-repeated statistics about the coronavirus is that the vast majority of cases, the symptoms are "mild."

This sounds reassuring, but it should be noted that the term "mild" covers a broad spectrum of severity.

Until now, it's been used to describe cases that don't require medical intervention, such as supplemental oxygen, which is probably why the terms "mild" and "moderate" are now being used to differentiate for those who don't require a hospital visit.

On Sunday, Minnesota Department of Health Infectious Disease Director Kris Ehresmann said that "mild does not mean insignificant."

"When we talk about mild illness, it's not so mild that you didn't know that it happened," she said.

"You have symptoms, you have fever, you have upper-respiratory symptoms. Mild is worse than a minor cold. It's fever, it's a cough, it's maybe pneumonia, but it doesn't require the use of a respirator."

The CDC says the most common symptoms are a dry cough, shortness of breath, and a fever, which appear 2-14 days after exposure, but the World Health Organization goes much further into the explanation, noting that tiredness and fatigue is also a common symptom, while some patients may have aches and pains, nasal congestion, a runny nose, a sore throat, or diarrhea.

And should the virus develop into pneumonia, even a mild case of it can keep you laid low for a while.

Typical symptoms for pneumonia includes a cough that can produce greenish, yellow, or bloody mucus, as well as fever, sweating, and shaking chills, rapid and shallow breathing, chest pain, loss of appetite, and confusion particularly in older people.

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Ehresmann is advising anyone displaying even mild symptoms of illness to stay home – even for the sniffles – noting that passing on coronavirus, or indeed another serious respiratory illness like influenza, can have a significant impact on vulnerable populations.

There has also been growing concern, for example in Massachusetts, that the virus is being spread by those whose symptoms either haven't presented yet, or whose symptoms are so mild they don't realize they're sick.

That is why the Minnesota Department of Health is advising that all Minnesotans should avoid large gatherings and even small gatherings in enclosed spaces, so carriers of the virus don't pass it on to others for whom the condition might be more serious.

"We have had more than 4,000 hospitalizations from influenza this season. Absolutely if you're sick you need to stay home," Ehresmann said.

"Many people at high risk from COVID-19 will also have a devastating experience if they develop influenza. Anybody who is sick needs to be staying home."

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