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Health Team

6 of your latest coronavirus questions, answered

Posted March 13, 2020 7:19 a.m. EDT

— CNN readers are asking smart questions about coronavirus every day. So each weekday, we'll select some of the top questions and get you the answers.

Here are some of the most popular recent questions:

Q. If I get a pneumonia vaccine, will that help protect me from coronavirus?

Some cases of coronavirus do lead to pneumonia. But the pneumonia vaccine won't help.

"Vaccines against pneumonia, such as pneumococcal vaccine and Haemophilus influenza type B (Hib) vaccine, only help protect people from these specific bacterial infections," according to Harvard Medical School.

"They do not protect against any coronavirus pneumonia."

It's similar to why antibiotics won't help treat coronavirus or any other virus.

Scientists are working on a vaccine for coronavirus, but it will be more than a year before it could become available.

For now, health officials say everyone over age 6 months should get a flu vaccine (unless you're allergic to its ingredients).

The flu shot does not protect against coronavirus, but it does help protect against a massive and unnecessary burden on hospitals as health care workers tackle coronavirus.

According to the CDC, an estimated 20,000 to 52,000 Americans have died from the flu since October. About half of Americans don't get vaccinated -- including most children who die from the flu.

Q. Why can't we make a drug to treat coronavirus faster?

An antiviral drug must be able to target the specific part of a virus's life cycle that is necessary for it to reproduce, according to Harvard Medical School.

"In addition, an antiviral drug must be able to kill a virus without killing the human cell it occupies. And viruses are highly adaptive."

Q. Why is the US so far behind other countries with coronavirus testing?

South Korea has tested more than 230,000 people for free and set up drive-thru testing weeks ago.

The US vice president and the Health and Human Services secretary said this week they don't know how many Americans have been tested. But members of both parties say there aren't nearly enough tests available.

There are a few factors, said Dr. Rob Davidson, an emergency room doctor and executive director of the Committee to Protect Medicare.

"The public health infrastructure and the response to outbreaks and the National Security Council have been gutted by this administration," Davidson said.

Two years ago, the CDC stopped funding epidemic prevention activities in 39 countries, including China, after the Trump administration refused to reallocate money to a program that started during the government's response to the Ebola outbreak in 2014.

At that time, former CDC director Dr. Tom Frieden said the move "would significantly increase the chance an epidemic will spread without our knowledge and endanger lives in our country and around the world."

Another factor involves the tests themselves -- including malfunctions, shortages and delays in availability.

In the first few weeks of coronavirus in the US, the CDC was the only facility in the country that could confirm test results.

"We had the ability about five weeks ago to use a WHO -- World Health Organization -- approved test that's been used in other countries that was available, and that was rejected so we could use a test that was developed here," Davidson said.

After test kits were later sent across the country, some were flawed. "So they go back to the drawing board," Davidson said. "It put us behind by about four or five weeks."

Listen to Dr. Sanjay Gupta's podcast 'Coronavirus: Fact vs. Fiction'

Q. Can I have the flu and coronavirus at the same time? If I test positive for the flu, does that mean I don't have coronavirus?

Many readers are asking this, since it's difficult to get coronavirus testing in many areas.

But there's no reason why you can't have both the flu and coronavirus. So a positive test for the flu doesn't mean you can't have coronavirus as well.

The flu and coronavirus do share some common symptoms -- especially fever and cough. But many coronavirus patients suffer from shortness of breath.

Of course, some people with coronavirus have no symptoms at all. And asymptomatic people can still spread coronavirus to others.

One big reason why health officials are worried about this novel coronavirus is because it only emerged in humans over the past few months. That means no one had antibodies to fight off the virus.

Q. Should I start keeping extra food and supplies?

Yes, because you or a family member might suddenly have to quarantine. But it's a good idea to always have extra food and medication anyway.

"Consider keeping a two-week to 30-day supply of nonperishable food at home," Harvard Medical School says. "These items can also come in handy in other types of emergencies, such as power outages or snowstorms."

In addition, try to keep at least a 30-day supply of prescription medication and any needed over-the-counter medication.

Q. Will spraying yourself or your children with disinfectant help?

A viral video from CNN affiliate WHBQ showed a man spraying a student with what appeared to be disinfectant spray after school.

But spraying alcohol or chlorine all over your body "will not kill viruses that have already entered your body," the World Health Organization says.

"Spraying such substances can be harmful to clothes or mucous membranes (i.e. eyes, mouth). Be aware that both alcohol and chlorine can be useful to disinfect surfaces, but they need to be used under appropriate recommendations."

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