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Sick babies and teens in ICU: Houston doctor gives inside look at COVID-19 fight

Right now, Dr. Bela Patel said Memorial Hermann is treating 191 patients with coronavirus across all of their hospitals in Greater Houston.

HOUSTON — On the front lines in Houston, there are doctors who are fighting the coronavirus everyday. KHOU 11 got a rare inside look from one of the leading physicians at Memorial Hermann UTHealth.

“We were only seeing a trickle a few weeks ago, but I would say in the last seven days, we are seeing a steady rise,” said Dr. Bela Patel, Executive Director of Critical Care for Memorial Hermann and the Vice Dean of Healthcare Quality at the McGovern Medical School, UTHealth. “We’re seeing babies who are sick, we’re seeing teenagers that require intensive care, we’re seeing healthy 20-year-olds and 40-year-olds, we’re seeing pregnant women.”

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Right now, she said Memorial Hermann is treating 191 patients with coronavirus across all of their hospitals in Greater Houston.

“In the ICU, they are requiring lots of management, moment to moment changes on their ventilators," she said.

Dr. Patel said most of the cases she’s seeing are community spread.

“People are getting it from each other, people are getting it from people who are sick, and people are getting it from contacting surfaces from someone who had been there recently," she said,

With the number of cases rising in the Houston area, there is concern about the number of hospital beds. However, Dr. Patel said right now, there are available beds.

“I would say at least we have 50 percent capacity at this time to accept all those patients," Dr. Patel said.

She said because patients aren’t allowed visitors, they’re giving them more attention.

“We try to spend more time with patients, because we may be the only human contact they have," she said.

It's a grim reminder of why this doctor says social distancing is so important.

“I know at times it gets tiring for families to be cooped up inside, but at times, it’s life and death," she said.

Dr. Patel said Memorial Hermann now has a test that produces results in five minutes. They used to be waiting several days, and she said this is a gamechanger.

Coronavirus symptoms

The symptoms of coronavirus can be similar to the flu or a bad cold. Symptoms include a fever, cough and shortness of breath, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Some patients also have nausea, body aches, headaches and stomach issues. Losing your sense of taste and/or smell can also be an early warning sign.

Most healthy people will have mild symptoms. A study of more than 72,000 patients by the Centers for Disease Control in China showed 80 percent of the cases there were mild.

But infections can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and even death, according to the World Health Organization. Older people with underlying health conditions are most at risk for becoming seriously ill. However, U.S. experts are seeing a significant number of younger people being hospitalized, including some in ICU.

The CDC believes symptoms may appear anywhere from two to 14 days after being exposed.

Human coronaviruses are usually spread through...

  • The air by coughing or sneezing
  • Close personal contact, such as touching or shaking hands
  • Touching an object or surface with the virus on it, then touching your mouth, nose or eyes before washing your hands.

Help stop the spread of coronavirus

  • Stay home when you are sick.
  • Eat and sleep separately from your family members
  • Use different utensils and dishes
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with your arm, not your hand.
  • If you use a tissue, throw it in the trash.
  • Follow social distancing

Lower your risk

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.
  • If you are 60 or over and have an underlying health condition such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes or respiratory illnesses like asthma or COPD, the World Health Organization advises you to try to avoid crowds or places where you might interact with people who are sick.

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