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Billings doctor describes COVID-19 symptoms

Posted at 9:22 PM, Mar 12, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-13 16:38:29-04

A Billings doctor says about 80 percent of the people who come down with COVID-19 will make it through just fine.

While there is no medication, about 20 percent may need to see a doctor, said Dr. Michael Bush, St. Vincent chief medical officer and emergency room doctor.

A temperature of 101 and a half degrees is a possible symptom of COVID-19, he said.

“The COVID virus, what we’re seeing, is it attacks the lower respiratory system,” said Bush. “You do get a cough and then as it gets more severe. People experience shortness of breath. Fever is very common. Muscle aches are another thing that have been reported with some frequency but that’s kind of the gamut of symptoms that we see with this new coronavirus.”

No cases have been reported in Montana (one Montana woman tested positive in Maryland while out of state), and one case has emerged in Wyoming in Sheridan. As of Thursday, 1,663 cases have been reported in the United States, according to Johns Hopkins University, along with more than 128,000 worldwide.

“I treated my first patient in 1980,” Bush said. “The 2009 Swine Flu, the Ebola concerns that we had but this is the first worldwide pandemic in 40 years of treating patients.”

If you do have symptoms, Bush has some recommendations on whether you should come to the emergency room or do something else.

“If you are feeling that you are very sick, high fever, feeling short of breath, then those are patients that might potentially need the resources of the hospital,” he said. “For patients that don’t have those types of symptoms but are worried, we would recommend contacting your primary care doctor.”

There is a procedure for determining what the patient has.

“Once you do show up in the emergency department, we would be putting a mask on you, limiting contact,” Bush said. “We’d be testing for influenza because that’s far more common, even today, than is the COVID virus. We’d be looking for other respiratory problems. And then consider testing for the COVID virus.”

Bush expects that a vaccine or anti-viral medication is 18 months away.

“The treatment for this virus is symptomatic treatment,” Bush said. “So it’s supportive treatment, we’re providing oxygen if you need oxygen, helping maintain fluid status and those sorts of things.”

And St. Vincent has some restrictions to limit the spread of COVID-19.

“We’re asking people under the age of 18 not to come to the hospital,” Bush said. "We’re asking people that have any upper respiratory symptoms, cough cold fever, any illness not to visit the hospital.”

He also recommends fist and elbow bumps and to avoid hand shakes.

“Bump arms,” Bush said. “Wash your hands, cover your cough, stay six feet away and make sure that if you’re going to a group function, it’s something that you really should be going to.”

Bush expects COVID-19 to show up in Montana in a few days.

He said it will likely be what has happened in nearby states, with some getting the virus while traveling.