Infectious Disease Specialist Dr. Sheryl Henderson
talks about COVID-19
Getting the Facts on COVID-19
|Dr. Sheryl Henderson, a specialist in pediatric infectious diseases,
completed a fellowship at Emory University, which is in proximity to the
U.S. Centers for Disease Control.
clinic appointments, those are not being scheduled now. All of this is in preparation for what we might anticipate in terms of numbers of individuals either seen at
clinics or admitted overall. Everyone is putting in a lot of extra hours. When I think about healthcare and how everyone is impacted in terms of getting prepared,
that goes all the way from the healthcare administrators to physicians, nurses and respiratory therapists and people who are working directly in contact with
patients to custodians who are doing extra work in terms of cleaning to the first responders who are really the first people who might be in contact with someone
with the virus. I think everyone is putting in extra time in thinking about our responsibilities in a different way because we’re all working with something that we’re
still learning about.”
In some ways, COVID-10 is a stealth disease. You don’t know it’s amongst you until perhaps a week later when someone in your group begins to exhibit the
symptoms. People infected with the coronavirus may not exhibit symptoms for up to 14 days after the virus caught on to a person. And so that may lead many
people to believe they are not infected and socially mix — and spread the disease — for up to two weeks before they visibly become sick.
“One way to look at how this virus is spreading is to realize that people who are getting severely ill now were likely infected 1-2 weeks ago or the chain of people
got started a long time ago,” Henderson said. “So if you look forward, you could think, ‘Okay, so if there is a transmission that occurs today, however that happens,
and if those transmissions occur with someone who is at higher risk for severe disease, that person may not become severely ill for another 1-2 weeks later. We’
re trying to stop that from happening. Today, there is one person who doesn’t know they are sick who goes out with friends and maybe infects two people. And then
they disperse and then one of those two people goes and a few days later, infects someone else or goes to a large gathering and infects three people so that the
consequence of that initial infection may not show up for 2-3 weeks on someone whom they don’t even know who ends up in the hospital. If we go forward from
today, if people are socially isolated, hopefully we will, begin to see that the rate for the infection starts slowing down. That’s the whole purpose.”
With all of the conflicting information coming out of the federal government and Washington, D.C., it is important to remember the difference between a treatment of
a disease — something that helps you recover from the disease — and something that prevents you from getting the disease in the first place.
“Vaccines are prevention. If there is a way to prevent this from spreading within the population, the vaccine would be the best. But the vaccine has to be
developed safely. It’s going to take time to do that. It needs to be tested out. But there are lots of people working on it quite aggressively right now. A cure is more
about how do you treat someone who has it. There are a lot of treatments being evaluated right now. There are different things out there that try to assist people
who are ill with the virus in recovery. There are not any treatments today that are FDA approved for the purpose of coronavirus. There are drugs that have received
FDA approval for other conditions, which means they are accessible. But one really needs to look at the clinical trials and the studies to really have a true
understanding of how effective they are.”
In other words, while “treatments” like hydroxychloroquine that are used to treat malaria and lupus — treatments it was originally approved for — it doesn’t mean
that hydroxychloroquine is effective against COVID-19. Drugs like hydroxychloroquine impact all like tissues and cells in the human body and not just the ones that
it has been improved to impact. Hydroxychloroquine can be a poison to some people while it effectively — in prescribed doses — treats other diseases like lupus.
While some may use drugs “off-label” — uses other than what the FDA has approved them for — it is important to realize that clinical trials are needed to ensure
that the cure isn’t worse than the disease. For example, hydroxychloroquine has killed people who took it in unrecommended doses.
While humankind hasn’t dealt with a virus like this for over 100 years, it is important to remember that everyone is in this together and that the measures that we
take impact all of those around us. It’s not just about me.’
“I just want to endorse what everyone is hearing of the importance of preventive measures,” Henderson said. “What can we control, if anything? It’s really up to
everyone working together to change their mindset and increase that handwashing. You should wash your hands when you come in from somewhere like grocery
shopping. Wash your hands or use hand sanitizer much more than you would think you would need to. Wash hands before preparing food or playing with animals.
Think about washing hands even when you wouldn’t think about washing hands. You see people wiping down door handles that have multiple touches if there is
more than one person in the house with disinfectant wipes. I know that with social distancing, we think about standing six feet away or not gathering in groups of
more than five people. But one thing to think about with the group thing — and I think this where the safer at home comes from — some people are thinking, ‘Oh, I
can still get together a group of five people and we’ll have dinner. And then tomorrow night, I’ll go to the other part of the family, another group of three people.’ That’
s moving the virus. I realize there is such a tension between trying to prevent the virus and the economic needs. I’m busy thinking, ‘Stop the virus,’ about how it
passes from one to another and how to stop it. But the creativity and the support that people have shown for people who can’t do the social distancing as
effectively it is great to see.”
And we have to be aware that even though we think we are not infected — we are too young or we are too healthy — we may be the next Typhoid Mary who
spreads the disease unknowingly to many other people and keeps the pandemic going because we are asymptomatic.
“We can impact people whom we don’t even know,” Henderson emphasized. “I was reading something about people being isolated. It was one of these scenarios.
The teenager sneaks out to be with her boyfriend who then goes to his house who then has a grandmother who lives there. This could happen. You may think it is
an innocent thing with two healthy, young people. But…’ You have to think about the broader picture.”
Just like every sector of our society, the COVID-19 pandemic is having a huge impact on how people go about their business today and in the future. Procedures
and processes that were just thought of as being futuristic are now becoming people’s everyday reality.
“Just in terms of preparation, people, in general, are becoming more aware that there is also a move to telemedicine,” Henderson said. “Part of the whole social
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By Jonathan Gramling
Dr. Sheryl Henderson, a pediatric infectious disease specialist with the UW-Madison
School of Medicine and Public Health, has been in the field for over 25 years and did
a fellowship at Emory University in Atlanta where she got an understanding on how
the U.S. Centers for Disease Control — also based in Atlanta — tracks diseases
looking at the large-scale in how transmission occurs.
Henderson and the staff at UW Hospital and the medical school have been putting in
extra time as they treat present cases and prepare for any eventuality during the
COVID-19 pandemic, which is new for everyone.
“Health professionals are working more hours, I would say, to first understand what
is going on and to prepare,” Henderson said. “In general, there are a lot of things
being done right now that are probably pretty obvious now. Hospitals and clinics are
really focusing only on urgent and essential cases, so that if people have routine
distancing, trying not bring people into clinics if they can help it, would be
making telephone calls and follow-up or moving people to be more digital if we
can with interacting with patients during this time. There was a huge movement
towards telehealth anyway prior to this. There are people who live two hours
away from the clinic who need to be seen. So a lot of the infrastructure has been
in place, which was good. But now it is just ramped up. We can interface with
people in ways other than risky face-to-face meetings with the coronavirus.
Everyone is having meetings online. Yesterday, I think I had 4-5 nearly back-to-
back meetings. We just converted our face-to-face meetings. And then others
had to do with just getting ready for the coronavirus.”
COVID-19 is a civilization-impacting occurrence. It is only the smart — and
scientific — society that shall survive.