What to Do If You Think You May Have Coronavirus

For many people in the United States, the reality of the new coronavirus is really starting to hit home. The World Health Organization (WHO) announced on Wednesday that the new coronavirus (the infectious disease also known as COVID-19) is now officially a pandemic, which means that sustained spread of the virus is occurring in many different areas of the globe. The number of COVID-19 infections in the U.S. has been steadily increasing as well. The first potential case of community-associated spread (meaning that people were getting the illness without a clear source) was announced in California on February 26, and experts believe the infection has likely been spreading in the U.S. since the first case was diagnosed in Washington on January 20. At press time, 938 cases of the new coronavirus have been confirmed in the country, with 29 deaths.

Unfortunately, this number is likely an underestimate, as testing is only beginning in most areas and not everyone who has symptoms of the new coronavirus (fever, cough, and shortness of breath) is being tested. We expect the case numbers to grow rapidly at this point, which means it’s time to prepare for the likely possibility that you—or someone you know—may get COVID-19.

Call your doctor before going anywhere for testing.

One of the tricky things about the new coronavirus is that some of the symptoms can be mild and feel similar in some ways to having the flu or the common cold. For infectious disease experts, it’s tough to strike a balance between making sure people get the testing and monitoring they may need and having everyone rush to their doctors’ office or hospital the moment they cough, which could potentially overwhelm the health care system at such a crucial time.

So if you’re starting to experience symptoms like a fever and cough, don’t immediately head to the doctor or a hospital for testing. “At this point, I recommend to self-quarantine at home and call [your primary care physician’s] office and ask for advice,” Dr. Watkins says. (You can also see if your state has a COVID-19 hotline to call.) “The situation is rapidly changing due to the increasing availability of testing for the virus,” Dr. Watkins says.

There are reports of people with symptoms having a hard time getting answers about testing, which I know must be incredibly frustrating and scary. For now, though, much of the testing is being limited to the most serious cases. Plus, there are no antiviral treatment options available for COVID-19. That means that even if you are confirmed to have the illness, if your case is mild, your doctor would likely suggest doing the same thing as if you thought you had the illness but couldn’t get tested. That’s not to say there’s any excuse for how confusing and limited testing has been, but that if you think you have COVID-19, are otherwise healthy, and are only dealing with mild symptoms, it’s best to seek a health care provider’s guidance before leaving your home to get testing.

Stay home unless it’s absolutely necessary to leave.

Specific guidance on what to do if you have COVID-19 varies state by state, but Dr. Bhadelia notes that most states are asking people who are diagnosed with the new coronavirus to isolate themselves in their homes. (This would also apply if you thought you had the illness but couldn’t get diagnosed.)

“Restrict activities outside the home,” Dr. Watkins says. “Do not go to work, school, or public areas. Using public transportation, ride-sharing, or taxis should be avoided.”

This is much more feasible for some people than others. Not everyone is easily able to stay home from work or school even in the worst of circumstances, whether because they need the money, because they have no leave available at their jobs, because they live in abusive or unaccepting households, or any other number of reasons. But it’s incredibly important that anyone with the new coronavirus or with a suspected case of it tries to stay home and away from other people if at all possible.

The only major exception to this rule is if your symptoms progress to the point where you need to see a doctor, like if you have significant trouble breathing. Then it would be necessary to leave so you could receive care. There have been conflicting reports as to what constitutes a “mild” versus “severe” case of the new coronavirus, so the point is really to listen to your body: If you’re concerned and having major issues like shortness of breath, seek medical care.

If you need to leave your home for care, tell your doctor or the emergency room that you have COVID-19 before you arrive.

If you get diagnosed with the new coronavirus, public health personnel might be in touch with you. How regularly that happens will likely depend on where exactly you are and may become less frequent as the COVID-19 caseload increases. Both experts agree, it’s really important to monitor your symptoms closely (which you’d probably do anyway, but it’s good to put it out there just in case).

If you’re dealing with symptoms like increasing shortness of breath, Dr. Watkins suggests seeking medical care, like by calling 911, going to the emergency room, or going to your doctor’s office.

If you or your caretaker call 911, be sure to notify the dispatch team that the emergency involves a case of diagnosed or suspected COVID-19, he says. It’s the same situation with going to your doctor or a hospital: Call ahead, let them know you have a laboratory-confirmed case of COVID-19 (or think you have it) and your symptoms are getting worse so you need treatment.

“This will help [them] take steps to keep other people in the office or waiting room from getting infected,” Dr. Watkins explains.

If you have the new coronavirus and are older than 60 or have chronic medical conditions like heart disease (or both), you’re more vulnerable to complications, according to the WHO. (In fact, the chances of COVID-19 becoming severe actually start increasing at around age 40.) If any of this applies to you, it’s especially important for you or whoever is taking care of you to be extra observant of your health. “If [you or your] caretakers notice any distressing symptoms such trouble breathing, high fevers that don’t resolve with medications, any new chest pains, or anything else that seems out of the ordinary, a medical provider should be contacted,” Dr. Bhadelia says.

Isolate yourself from other people and animals in your home if you can.

“As much as possible, those ill with COVID-19 should stay in a specific room and away from other people in the home,” Dr. Watkins says. “Also, they should use a separate bathroom, if available.”

Dr. Bhadelia stresses again that some of the guidance on how to protect anyone you live with from the new coronavirus will vary between states. “For those sharing a home with someone sick, health officials may need to assess if it is possible for the sick to recover in their own bedrooms [and] whether there are caretakers at home who can assist and are equipped appropriately to protect themselves,” she says. “Public health officials will have guidance on next steps as people you live with may also need to be quarantined.”

If someone you live with is caring for you in this time (or if you’re caring for someone with the illness), there are various guidelines it’s really important to follow to reduce the risk of transmission. Those include maintaining some distance when not providing direct care, using gloves or masks when handling materials that may contain body fluids, frequent handwashing and disinfecting, and not sharing household items. This is one of the few times public health experts actually recommend using those surgical masks too—it’s a smart idea for anyone with the new coronavirus to wear one when around other people. It can be hard right now to find supplies like surgical masks and gloves, so consider asking a health care facility or whichever medical personnel you’ve been in touch with if they can help, Dr. Bhadelia says.

It’s also a good idea to curb your contact with pets while dealing with the new coronavirus, Dr. Watkins says. We don’t know yet how likely it is that pets could get COVID-19 from humans or vice versa. As of right now, there’s no concrete evidence that this is possible, the WHO notes. Still, with the news that a dog tested “weakly positive” for the new coronavirus and with how much is still undiscovered about the illness, keeping your distance from pets as well as family members is smart, just in case. (You should wash your hands after being around animals if isolating yourself from them isn’t really possible—now isn’t the time to potentially get sick from your pet. It’s rare, but still.)

Follow your doctor’s recommendations for relieving your symptoms.

Because there’s not yet an antiviral treatment available for the new coronavirus, treatments are solely symptom-based and include what you’d use for other respiratory illnesses like the flu: rest, drink fluids, use fever-reducers like acetaminophen, take painkillers such as naproxen or ibuprofen for body aches, and try cough expectorants like guaifenesin (these meds break up mucus so it’s easier to cough up) and suppressants like dextromethorphan if you need them.

“Check with your doctor whether it is safe to take these medications if you have other medical conditions, as this may impact the dose and whether you can use them,” Dr. Bhadelia says.

Don’t resume your regular life until you get your doctor’s okay.

Preventing the spread of the new coronavirus is essential in trying to get a handle on this epidemic. If you have a confirmed case or are pretty sure you have it, for the sake of the greater good, you should keep following the above directions unless a doctor says you can resume your regular life (as much as possible right now, anyway).

Dr. Bhadelia cautions that data are evolving on how long the contagious period lasts, and many states are still developing or updating their related policies. However, for now, Dr. Watkins points to the CDC’s three key criteria for lifting in-home isolation for someone with the new coronavirus: their fever going away without the use of fever reducers; general improvement in signs and symptoms; and at least two consecutive negative government-approved COVID-19 test results from multiple nose and throat swabs collected at least 24 hours apart. Obviously, that last one needs to happen in consultation with a health care provider who can help to arrange testing. Given how much of a mess COVID-19 testing is in the United States right now, this is another part of managing the epidemic that is much easier said than done.

Bottom line: If you feel ill, stay home, steer clear from other household members as much as possible, and call a health care provider or COVID-19 hotline to see if you can get answers about testing. This disease will require us to work together to reduce the harm and impact of the illness.

The situation with coronavirus is evolving rapidly. The advice and information in this story is accurate as of press time, but it’s possible that some data points and recommendations have changed since publication. We encourage readers to stay up to date on news and recommendations for their community by checking with their local public health department.

Source : self.com
Previous Post Next Post