The "5th Vital Sign" That Might Prevent The Spread Of Coronavirus

mbg Editorial Assistant By Abby Moore
mbg Editorial Assistant
Abby Moore is an Editorial Assistant at mindbodygreen. She earned a B.A. in Journalism from The University of Texas at Austin and has previously written for Tribeza magazine.
Unrecognizable Women Traveling in a City

While implementing travel bans might not protect people from infectious diseases, commentary published in Annals of Internal Medicine said talking about where you've traveled could have protective effects. 

In the new report, researchers discussed a potential change to patient evaluations that might improve infectious disease detection and help prevent the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19). 

The authors from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center said doctors should ask patients their travel history when they're getting a checkup. Researchers are calling it the "fifth vital sign" since the extra step might be as imperative as assessing temperature, heart rate, respiratory rate, and blood pressure. 

There are certain countries the CDC advised against visiting (like China, Iran, Italy, and more), as well as cities in the U.S. that have been affected by COVID-19.

Visiting one of these countries or cities could potentially expose a person to dangerous germs and might even lead to infection. Since the symptoms are so similar to influenza, without knowledge of those travels, doctors might easily misdiagnose a patient. 

How did they come to this conclusion?

Researchers looked at past cases of coronavirus, including SARS, MERS, as well as the Ebola outbreak, and realized how important travel history is in early and accurate detection of globally infectious diseases. 

The authors included an example from 2014 in the midst of the Ebola outbreak. A patient who returned from Liberia visited a Dallas hospital for what seemed like minor symptoms (fever, stomach pain, dizziness, nausea, and a headache), which later turned out to be Ebola. Had the travel history been discussed, doctors could have put his symptoms in context. 

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How severe is coronavirus?

According to infectious disease specialist Sandra Kesh, M.D., the severity of coronavirus and influenza might be the same, but coronavirus seems to be more infectious. 

According to the paper, the number of COVID-19 (aka coronavirus) infections exceeded the number of SARS and MERS infections after just six weeks of the first known case. 

Since there's currently no treatment for coronavirus, adding this extra screening method can help indicate the severity of symptoms and allow doctors to take more cautious and effective measures. 

If you do plan on traveling somewhere, be sure to take proper precautions, like good hand hygiene, avoid touching your face, and stay 6 feet from visibly infected people. 

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