Ask Dr. Nandi: Answering your questions about the coronavirus

Posted at 2:45 PM, Mar 23, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-23 18:28:18-04

(WXYZ) — As coronavirus cases and deaths continue to mount here in Michigan and around the world, many viewers continue to ask questions.

Our Chief Health Editor Dr. Partha Nandi is answering some of them.

Our first question comes from Jane Arnett, she asks, “Why are we shutting everything down and staying in our homes when we don’t do that for the flu? Is this that much more contagious?”

Yes, the coronavirus is absolutely more contagious than the flu. One person with the flu will spread it to 1.3 new people. Whereas a person with the coronavirus has been estimated to spread to two to three other people.

So it’s roughly twice as contagious as the flu. Now remember the flu has a vaccine, it’s been around for a while and we have some partial immunity to it. But we don’t for the coronavirus and the death rates tell us that we really have to take it seriously.

Next questions is from MarieLynn Ryall, she asks “What’s more important the mask or washing hands?”

By far washing hands. Yes, the coronavirus can be spread through coughing and sneezing, but it’s more likely to land on a surface and live for hours.

So if you touch contaminated surfaces and don’t wash your hands, you can pass it to other objects or end up infecting yourself by touching your face.

So please wash frequently with soap and water for a good 20 seconds.

Last question is from Mr. DeAngelo who asks, “Is the virus itself killing people or is it coupled with the medical conditions that people already have that are killing people?”

Well, the coronavirus is a respiratory virus and when it enters your body, it immediately starts attacking. This triggers your immune system to kick in and start battling it. And if your immune system works correctly, it’ll contain the virus.

But, there are a few things that can go wrong for some folks.

First, if you have a problem with your immune system, meaning you’re immunosuppressed and your immune system is blocked, then your body can’t really fight it as well.

Secondly, the coronavirus likes to target the lungs. And people whose lungs aren’t as healthy, like smokers or folks with lung disease, like COPD, well, their body cannot keep up with it. And they can end up with severe pneumonia, where the air sacs fill with fluid or pus.

Also in some cases, the immune system can overreact. It starts killing off everything, including your healthy cells in your lungs. This makes it harder to breathe.

A small percentage of people will develop ARDS, acute respiratory distress syndrome and need a ventilator for oxygen. If they don’t get enough oxygen, they can end up with organ failure and death.

Additional Coronavirus information and resources:

Read our daily Coronavirus Live Blog for the latest updates and news on coronavirus.

Click here for a page with resources including a COVID-19 overview from the CDC, details on cases in Michigan, a timeline of Governor Gretchen Whitmer's orders since the outbreak, coronavirus' impact on Southeast Michigan, and links to more information from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, the CDC and the WHO.

View a global coronavirus tracker with data from Johns Hopkins University.

Find out how you can help metro Detroit restaurants struggling during the pandemic.

See all of our Helping Each Other stories.

See complete coverage on our Coronavirus Continuing Coverage page.