So you’re not feeling well, and you’re afraid you might be infected with the new coronavirus disease, Covid-19. Given that the United States is now beginning to test widely for the disease, and more cases are popping up, that might be a reasonable suspicion.
Health officials are ramping up the response measures, advising people over 60 to “stay at home as much as possible.”
Though community spread in the US may still be low, you may have been exposed if you have traveled to a region with novel coronavirus transmission or if you’ve been in close contact with someone who has Covid-19 (who may not be showing symptoms).
Here are some signs you may have the illness:
The World Health Organization, fresh from a mission to China, where cases are finally declining, reports the illness can present in different ways, ranging from no symptoms at all to severe pneumonia.
Some symptoms are more frequently seen than others. Based on confirmed cases, the WHO says 88 percent of infected people experienced a fever and 67.7 percent had a dry cough. Less frequent symptoms include thick mucus from coughs (sputum) (33.4 percent), shortness of breath (18.6 percent), sore throat (13.9 percent), and headache (13.6 percent).
“Covid-19 disease usually begins with mild fever, dry cough, sore throat and malaise,” writes Megan Murray, a professor of epidemiology at Harvard Medical School, in an FAQ for the Abundance Foundation. “Unlike the coronavirus infections that cause the common cold, it is not usually associated with a runny nose.”
These symptoms emerge five or six days after infection on average, but can show up in as little as a day or as much as two weeks after exposure. A recent, yet-to-be-published German study found that some Covid-19 patients can present with the symptoms of an upper respiratory tract infection, similar to the common cold: runny nose, congestion, and sneezing. (The study involved a very small number of patients, however.)
If you have any of these symptoms, what should you do?
People in one of the high-risk groups — those who are over 60 years old; have diabetes, hypertension, or preexisting breathing problems; or are being treated for cancer — should seek immediate medical treatment. And let your health care provider know before you get there that you suspect you may have Covid-19. That way, the clinic can take appropriate precautions for your visit.
If you’re not in a high-risk group and have mild or severe symptoms, you should also call a health professional — a doctor, a nurse, or a public health official. They will work with your local health department and figure out whether you need to get tested or get treatment.
Doctors and health officials advise not to go to the emergency room if your symptoms do not appear to be life-threatening.
However, some cases develop pneumonia and require care or hospitalization.
If you have symptoms like cough, fever or other respiratory problems, contact your regular doctor first.
Do not go to the emergency room. ERs need to be able to serve those with the most critical needs.
— Public Health – Seattle & King County (@KCPubHealth) March 2, 2020
Also, don’t panic. Most people who get infected get better, often on their own with just rest, fluids, and fever medication. If you are advised to stay home, there are several other measures you should take, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The most important step is to avoid exposing other people to the illness, especially in the early stages of symptoms, when the disease is most contagious. That means staying home from school or work, avoiding public transit or ride shares, and separating yourself from the people and animals in your home. It also means avoiding sharing household items like towels, dishes, and bedding.
Cover your coughs and sneezes with a tissue over your mouth and nose. Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Clean the surfaces in your home that you come into contact with regularly, like counters, doorknobs, bedside tables, keyboards, and phones. “It is possible that some of the viral particles … end up on surfaces (door handles, subway poles, coins) where they might remain viable,” Murray writes.
When leaving your home, wear a surgical face mask to avoid spreading the virus — if you’re sick. Health officials say that masks do little to protect the wearer if they aren’t infected. Officials are also urging the public not to buy N95 masks because they are needed by health workers and are in short supply.
All the while, pay close attention to your symptoms. Call your health care provider if your symptoms get worse. If you have a health emergency and need to call 911, let the dispatcher know that you may have Covid-19 so responders can prepare.
These steps may seem tedious, but remember that they serve to protect not just you but also the people around you. Controlling an outbreak is everyone’s job.
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