By Anaridis Rodriguez

BOSTON (CBS) – Coronavirus can affect people in different ways. Shortness of breath is one common symptom and in severe cases a red flag.

“What we’re learning about COVID pneumonia is that people can get very sick and their oxygen levels can drop very fast and they may not realize it,” said Dr. Richard Levitan.

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Dr. Levitan practices emergency medicine in northern New Hampshire and believes pulse oximeters could make a difference in early detection.

“You turn it on with one button and it very quickly tells you your oxygen saturation as well as your pulse,” said Dr. Levitan of the tiny device that fits on your fingertip. He says using the instrument is an easy way for people to screen their oxygen levels as soon as they start feeling sick and prevent complications like respiratory failure and the need for a ventilator.

Dr. Richard Levitan with a pulse oximeter (WBZ-TV)

“When we see low oxygen readings, we would bring patients in we would treat them with oxygen. And a variety of positioning maneuvers where we lay people on their stomach,” Dr. Levitan said. “We monitor their blood tests for inflammatory markers and we would reach many more patients earlier in the disease.”

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Pulse oximeters can be found anywhere from pharmacies to stores like Wal-Mart or Target. And can cost as little as $25.

Dr. Levitan says the tool should be in everyone’s home “the same way we have thermometers.”

The physician, who’s been involved with airway education and research since 1994, says his recent experience in New York City makes him confident the screening works.

Last month, he worked 10 days at Bellevue Hospital – the city’s largest public health care institution.

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“The heroes in this disease, I think, are new York City front-line health care workers,” said Dr. Levitan. “The information they’ve learned is going to help America prepare for this virus in a much better way.”

Anaridis Rodriguez