• April 2, 2020

Doctor: No immunity yet to coronavirus - Odessa American: Health

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Doctor: No immunity yet to coronavirus

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Posted: Monday, March 23, 2020 5:47 pm

The flu and coronavirus are similar because they are both respiratory illnesses and are spread from person to person in a common fashion.

“The differences would be like in the case of corona, it’s a new virus to us and so people have not had an opportunity to develop immunity worldwide,” said Dr. Timothy Benton, professor and chair of the Department of Family and Community Medicine at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center in Odessa.

 “Although the flu virus changes rapidly, there is at least some immunity throughout the population in general, or broadly. This virus, since it has not circulated through the population, there is not any developed immunity,” Benton said in a phone interview. “The other thing, of course, is we have vaccines for flu. Another difference is the pathophysiology within the lungs of the coronavirus is different in that the coronavirus itself can cause a more intense damage in the lung, whereas often the flu virus weakens the respiratory tract which allows for other infections to come — secondary infections, bacterial pneumonia. But in the case of coronavirus, it’s more directly damaging to the respiratory tract. That can happen with any infection in the lung where the body response to injury of any kind is scarring. And even what we would consider routine pneumonia can potentially result in lung scarring. But corona, at its advanced stages, can be more diffusely damaging to lung.”

Benton said what he means by diffusely damaging is in common, or classic, bacterial pneumonia “that may be located within say one lobe of the lung, which there are multiple lobes, but coronavirus can be throughout multiple lobes.”

Testing is prescribed by following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines. The guidelines are available to the public online.

And Benton said there are testing centers set up.

“A physician’s role is to bring the patients through the provided CDC guidelines and then recommend to the testing center, which then is also under the guidance of the local health department,” Benton said.

Emily Holeva, of the Texas Tech health sciences communications and marketing office, said the health departments in Odessa and Midland are taking the lead on that.

“They are who we’ve been told to direct questions to,” Holeva said.

Benton said the Texas Tech clinics and physicians are still seeing patients. They are seeing respiratory patients separately.

Holeva said a screening process and policies are in place so that respiratory patients are not exposed to general patients who may have come in for their yearly check-ups.

“We plan to have telemedicine options for visits soon. The governor's declaration of a state of emergency also directed the Texas Medical Board to relax rules for telemedicine options for all providers,” Benton said.

Asked if access to telemedicine is an issue for patients he sees, Benton said they are looking at a platform where it can be conducted on desktop computers and possibly phones.

“So it would depend … on the patients’ access to that sort of technology, but that seems to be pretty widespread,” Benton said.

As for students who were on spring break the week of March 16, the university has canceled classes and will offer online instruction March 30 until further notice, the Texas Tech website said.

“But our students with the health sciences center have clinicals. They work in labs; they work with patients; it’s not necessarily that our students are in a classroom 24/7 situation, so it’s still in the process. We’re still working on that,” Holeva said Tuesday.

She added that they are still trying to come up with the best plan for their students given that the break could last longer.

“Part of our mission as an academic institution is also a health care provider and our health care will continue forward. Patient care certainly continues to go on as needed in a pandemic. We will continue in our health care service, no matter the situation,” Benton said.

He added that students will continue to be involved in the patient care setting to some extent.

“Students are at various stages of being a student,” Benton said.

He added that this is certainly something very few of them have seen in their medical careers.

Benton said he went through a similar process with H1N1 flu in 2009.

“Times like this we have to provide care and we will. I will; till I’m quarantined,” Benton said.


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