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Valley doctor answers questions, addresses rumors about COVID-19

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After the first coronavirus case was diagnosed in the Rio Grande Valley, local doctors are separating fact from fiction.

On Thursday, Cameron County Health announced a 21-year-old male from Rancho Viejo tested positive after traveling to Ireland and Spain between March 5 and March 12.

Dr. Jose Campo Maldonado, director of infectious disease at UTRGV at Valley Baptist explained after a travel related case, the Health Department conducts an investigation to see who the infected person came into contact with – not everyone who they did will contract the virus.

However, Maldonado says it’s important to take CDC health guidelines of hand washing and social distancing seriously, because there will be more cases.

“I think the likelihood of a community spread is very high, because it’s everywhere in the country,” Maldonado said.

Maldonado explained the most important thing people should know when it comes to COVID-19. “The form in which you’re more likely to get it would be either because you touched a surface or shake hands with someone who has the virus on their hands and put it on your face or your nose or because someone sneezing or coughing was very close to you -- usually for a prolonged time.”

The virus can live on a surface for “a couple of hours” or on some surfaces it could also be “a couple of days.” It depends on the surface material, and the level of exposure, Maldonado added.

He explains it’s important to clean frequently touched surfaces like door handles and cell phones.

When asked how long the virus can stay airborne, Maldonado explained it depends on the environment. “Outdoors, it’s less likely to settle because of wind and other elements.”

The rumor that people in warmer climates are less susceptible to the virus is not true, Maldonado explained. “We don’t know that. We think that people can get it in any climate.”

The virus is transferred through people, and stays alive on someone’s body because it has a regulated temperature, said Maldonado.

Maldonado addressed the rumor that ibuprofen could make COVID-19 symptoms worse. “Any medications that you use can cause adverse reactions, what I advise is that if you’re going to be taking medications over the counter or medications in general it should be at the advice of your healthcare provider.” 

Dr. Maldonado says that minimizes the risk of complications. “That doesn’t mean stop taking medications you need to control underlying health issues like diabetes or blood pressure – talk to your doctor!”

He adds it’s also important people don’t mask any symptoms like a fever and seek help from a doctor to be properly diagnosed.

Dr. Maldonado explained that it is possible for COVID-19 to be transferred through eating something prepared by an infected person. “If someone is coughing on your food or not using proper hand hygiene, you’re more likely to pick up whatever virus they have. That’s why it’s important to stay home if you are sick and cough with etiquette.

Is the covid19 strain morphing? Or can you get reinfected once you’ve already recovered from it?

When asked if the COVID-19 is morphing or if reinfection can occur after recovery, Dr. Maldonado said, “there’s not a lot of evidence.” He says so far there haven’t been any reports of that occurring yet. Maldonado says in areas short on masks and supplies for health care providers, healed people are being called on to handle possible coronavirus cases because of their assumed immunity.

Dr. Maldonado explains people should refrain from buying face masks and leave them for medical professionals because doctors don’t know how long the virus could last.

He also addressed the rumor that men could be more susceptible than women. “There’s going to be so many populations, some of them culturally are different and also the healthcare system is different.” Maldonado says it may be the case that men are just waiting longer to go to the doctor than women – so when they come in, their symptoms are worse.

While the importance of washing your hands is factual, washing them with extra hot water can in the long run can put people in greater danger of contracting disease – because it weakens the skin and can cause open wounds. Soap and regular temperature water is just fine, Dr. Maldonado said.

Eating garlic will not prevent or cure COVID-19, and neither will gargling bleach – that is harmful, Maldonado clarified.

He also says even though doctors believe the virus came from a bat-- there hasn’t been any documented transmissions from animals to people – so dogs or cats can’t give people coronavirus. 

Maldonado says right now, it’s still more likely that anyone who is feeling sick has contracted a virus other COVID-19, but that may change over time.

Maldonado says right now the U.S. doesn’t have enough tests to be flexible; doctors have to prioritize how they’re used. He adds anyone who may have been exposed to areas with high volume of coronavirus cases or have spent prolonged periods of time with someone who is infected contacts a doctor to asses testing possibilities.

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