Infectious disease expert answers WGN viewers’ COVID-19 questions

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Dr. Robert Murphy is a professor of infectious disease at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine and the executive director of The Institute for Global Health.

He joined the WGN Morning News to answer viewers’ questions about the COVID-19 outbreak.

Charles asked:

Experts say 95% and even 98% will recover and, further, the few percent that don’t, are elderly and also have other comprising conditions. This is typically exactly what happens with the elderly every flu season. So then why is everything being shut down?

Dr. Murphy:

"That’s a very good question, but it brings up the whole issue of the overall number. With the flu, 99.9% of people get better. And the infection is all over. That’s only .1% of people — one in a thousand — actually die from the flu.

Here we have maybe one in a hundred to three in a hundred. So, if you do the math, that’s 10 to 30 times more dangerous and fatal than the flu. If you add that on top of the flu, that’s a lot of people requiring healthcare and that’s a lot of people dying from an infection.

We have to find out how many people really are infected before we figure out what the mortality rate is. We don’t know. It’s likely to come down, but it’s still going to be more than the flu. Even if it’s the same, it depends how many millions of people are infected.

If you look at the paper that came out yesterday from Imperial College London about the modeling that they’ve done — its quite impressive. If 200 million get infected in the US — which is one of the models — that’s a lot of people who are going to expire from this disease."

Ginger asked:

Can you get this virus more than once?

Dr. Murphy:

"Probably not. But there have been a couple cases that are thought to be relapses — in other words — they got better then they got worse again.

Its not known whether they really got infected a second time. In general, you’re not going to get it a second time. You’ll develop immunity and then you won’t get it again."

Christina asked:

I have a cold and am losing my voice. Should I be concerned and/or stay home?

Dr. Murphy:

"A little controversial answer from me here. Yes, you should be concerned. Because some of the people with coronavirus have very, very mild symptoms. And now that the testing is more available — which is another issue altogether — everybody with a respiratory symptom should be checked for coronavirus.

This is going against the policies of the public health people, but as a clinician who takes of patients: anybody with a respiratory infection needs to be checked. I’ve seen too many people on television giving the interview how they tried very hard with these symptoms to get tested, they can’t get tested because they don’t meet some crazy criteria. We don’t want just the tip of the iceberg."

Melissa asked:

I was diagnosed with several autoimmune diseases and on immunosuppressant drugs, should I wear a mask when I go out?

Dr. Murphy:

"I’m very sorry about your underlying condition, but let me tell you this: A mask is not going to help you. The mask actually does not help prevent getting this disease. If you have a respiratory infection and you go outside for whatever — you should wear a mask. But to prevent the disease the mask does not work. Its a waste of time.

On the other hand, if you are immunocompromised — you have a disease that you’re taking some kind of immunosuppressant medication, even if you’re an older person, just a risk over 60 years of age, what the recommendations are now is that you should not be going out."

Mike asked:

Of the confirmed cases of the virus in Illinois, how many of those required hospitalization? Also, does that number of confirmed cases include people who had it and are now free of the virus?  If so how many?

Dr. Murphy:

"All I know is that 105 people have been confirmed. Two of them have completely gotten rid of the virus and are cured from the disease. The other three are 'active cases.' Some of them are in the hospital, most of them are not."

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