Coronavirus Perspective from an HK Flu Survivor

COVID-19, Health & Wellness


The most physically ill I have ever been in my life occurred as a young lad when I was struck with the Hong Kong (HK) flu.   The HK pandemic that overtook more than 1 million lives peaked between November 1968 and January 1969.  For me, that November morning started out normally.  Living in NYC, I remember our field trip to the SPCA where over the course of just a few hours, severe muscle aches, weakness, chills and fevers set in with my temperature rising above 104° F  (40° C).   While the HK flu and the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) epidemic are vastly different, features shared by both include high fevers and severe weakness.  Other common COVID-19 symptoms are dry cough and shortness of breath.  If you are experiencing a new fever (over 100.4° F (38° C), chills and weakness or shortness of breath, you should contact your health care provider.  Fortunately, most cases (~80%) of COVID-19 are mild and can be treated at home with fluids, a Mediterranean Style diet, medications to reduce fever/inflammation and stress reducing therapies.  Hospitalization may be required if breathing becomes difficult and labored or dehydration sets in (signs/symptoms include dizziness, extreme thirst, dark yellow urine).

Listed below are some helpful tips to prevent COVID-19:

  1. Greet with elbow-to-elbow bumps rather than handshaking or fist bumps.
  2. Wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds (sing “Happy Birthday to you” twice) after exposure to any object touched by the public, such as door handles and inanimate objects including mail and other packages because the virus can last up to ~4 hours on these surfaces.
  3. When washing hands, include washing between fingers (interlace fingers between digits) and over/beneath your nails.
  4. Be especially diligent in public bathrooms because the virus is transmitted by fecal matter. Toilet seats should be covered and hands washed after leaving bathroom due to potential contamination on door handles.

Verily Life Sciences, a sister company of Google is currently working on a website to help identify who should be tested for COVID-19 and will soon be scheduled for trial testing on the West Coast.  In the meantime, if you believe you have been exposed to COVID-19, you should contact your physician to discuss and possibly arrange for testing.

Fortunately, widespread testing for COVID-19 (the most successful tool to curb infection rates in South Korea) will become more readily available thanks to makeshift drive-up centers to be installed across  shopping lots of Walmart, Target, CVS and Walgreens.

Self-quarantine and mask wearing should be reserved for those with a positive COVID-19 test, as well as for those displaying symptoms suggestive of COVID-19 or in other high-risk individuals following discussion with your primary care provider.

Overall, significant advancements have been made since my experience with the HK flu more than 50 years ago.  We are in a much better position to reduce transmission and infection rates of COVID-19 through common sense practices and by following CDC recommendations.   If you are interested in monitoring day-to-day activity, check out this link from Johns Hopkins.  I am confident that the temporary sacrifices we need to make as a consequence of the intensive (and appropriate) steps taken by our leaders in  government, private sector and entertainment industries will place a stranglehold on COVID-19 and restore normalcy by late Spring.

Michael Miller, MD is Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland  and author of Heal Your Heart: The Positive Emotions Prescription to Prevent & Reverse Heart Disease” published by Penguin Random House.

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