By Louisa Moller

BOSTON (CBS) – Boston health care providers are pleading with the public to seek medical treatment if they are suffering from illnesses unrelated to the coronavirus.

“Because when it comes to your health, time can be the difference between life and death,” Brigham Health trauma surgeon Dr. Stephanie Nitzschke says in a new public service announcement released by area hospitals.

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Doctors say they have seen a dramatic decrease in the number of stroke, heart attack, and other patients who would normally fill emergency departments.

“My center and a number of others in Boston estimated a reduction of about 25 percent. In some cases, as much as 50 percent,” said Dr. Lester Leung, the Director of the Comprehensive Stroke Center at Tufts Medical Center.

Those patients who do show up are coming much later and with serious symptoms.

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“A number of our patients were arriving four days later or a week later after the onset of symptoms which is far too late,” Leung said. “They sat on their symptoms and just hoped it would get better because they were afraid to come to the hospital.”

Doctors fear there could be a sub-epidemic of people suffering at home.

“Every minute that passes for a stroke there is more and more damage to the brain,” Leung said.

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That is why they are trying to make it clear that hospitals are clean and non-COVID-19 patients are treated separately from COVID-19 patients.

Louisa Moller