What to do if you think you might have Coronavirus
While there has been a lot of coverage about the Coronavirus and I have written about preparing for it, many people are still not sure what to do if they think they have the disease. This article provides information about what to do if you think you might have Coronavirus or were exposed to it.
Some people I know have started getting symptoms that could be Coronavirus and had no idea what to do. In the mainstream media, the focus has focused on snippets of information rather than comprehension details. The government and health websites also only provide fairly sparse information.
You should be prepared beforehand in case you get the disease or need to be tested. Here are some things to get before you get sick. They are not vital but can help.
Surgical masks don't stop you getting the disease, but they can reduce the chance that you transmit the disease through coughs, sneezes and breathing. You don't need many, just a few so you can go out to the doctor or important things.
Surgical masks help prevent you spreading the virus to other people
A P2/N95 mask, can reduce, not prevent exposure to the disease. This can be useful for others in your household to wear if you suspect you might have Coronavirus.
Soap. Good old fashioned soap is a great way to make sure people's hands don't pick up and carry the disease. It also means you can wash your hands if you cough or sneeze into them.
Household cleaners can be used to cleanse every surface in your house, especially kitchen and bathrooms where viruses are most likely to linger.
Alcohol hand cleansers are also good to keep on hand. They are not as good as soap, but useful when you can't wash your hands.
A medical thermometer is useful as a way to check one's temperature. Some days you feel a little sick, but you don't feel like you have a temperature. The best way to check is with a medical thermometer.
Gloves. Surgical gloves are best, but any sort of cheap plastic glove will work.
Your go bag ready in case you need to go into quarantine or to hospital.
Yes, it is also useful to have a couple of weeks supply of household items in case you need to self isolate at home. Remember, you are still able to get deliveries, and if you are told to self-isolate, you will be given regular support.
Signs, symptoms & exposure
The most basic symptom of Coronavirus is a headache and a fever. You probably realise that this is the symptom of a large number of diseases including the common cold through to bubonic plague. Another common symptom is a cough, though for some people it might also include shortness of breath, sneezing and a running nose. Diarrhoea is also common. Yes, you would have these same symptoms from many other diseases as well, but if you get them, even mildly, you should consider asking about testing.
Another issue is whether you have been exposed to the disease. Maybe you have been on a flight with people from infected countries or been to a location, such as a school, public place etc, that had a Coronavirus incident. If you had the exposure and have symptoms, then it is even more likely you have Coronavirus.
Remember, the biggest issue with COVID-19 is that many people only get very mild symptoms. A doctor in Melbourne had what he thought was a mild cold on a flight back from the US. The next day he was recovering so he didn't even meet the criteria for testing. But as a doctor, he could order a test just in case. Turned out, he had Coronavirus.
Many other diseases have the same symptoms as Coronavirus, so there is a good chance you don't have it. If you do have it, then there is close to a 98% survival rate, with younger people having an even higher survival rate. Remember, around 25% of people who get the disease will show severe symptoms, which need to be medically treated. So don't panic, but take it seriously.
If you think you have the disease, isolate yourself from others in your household. If possible use a separate bathroom and shower. If not, it can be useful to clean those areas after they are used. Wear gloves and a face mask while you, or someone else, does the cleaning.
Don't race out to the shop to buy supplies or other things like that. These days you can easily have your local supermarket deliver, and if you go out, you could be spreading the disease. People who are told to self-isolate will be supported by health services.
Check updates through your state's health department
At the time of writing this, health departments around Australia are being criticised for not providing clear coordinated information. I am writing this article because there is not enough clear detailed information about what to do if you think you have the Coronavirus.
However check the information for your local state authority. They may provide information, updates and guidelines on what to do for people who feel that they might have been exposed to the Coronavirus. This is likely to change over time and be subject to a updates as the situation evolves and additional systems are put in place.
Your local GP can often be your first point of call
Don't just go to your GP. Instead, call them and say what your situation is. They will advise you on what to do. There are rules for testing and they can't just test anyone who is worried. The reason for this is that testing everyone will put a huge strain on the health system and delay tests for people who do need the test. So they can do the basic screening beforehand.
They might advise that you come in for a test and explain the process for the that. It is also possible that they will ask you to self-isolate and they will arrange a mobile test. They will test everyone who meets the minimum criteria for the test. This testing is free for everyone, include people who don't qualify for Medicare. After all, it is cheaper to prevent the spread of the disease than it is to deal with additional cases.
It will also be possible that you might not meet the criteria for testing. Of course, if your symptoms or situation change, then contact them again.
If you or a loved one has severe symptoms, which remember can include pneumonia and multiple organ failure, then you might be considering going directly to emergency. Once again you should contact them first to ensure quarantine procedures are followed. Just turning up at emergency could expose the whole team to Coronavirus, who will then need to be isolated for weeks.
Visiting your GP or testing centre
Your local GP or testing centre will either ask you to come in or suggest another service where you can get tested. If you go in, wear your surgical face mask to reduce the spread of the disease. If you don't have one and don't have someone who can buy them for you, they will provide one when you arrive. They might also put you in a vacant room to isolate you from other patients.
To ensure that your face mask is effective at stopping the disease from spreading, once you have put it on, avoid touching your nose, mouth or just your face in general. You see, your breath will make the mask damp, and when you touch the mask, you will pick up the water droplets and once on your hands you can spread them to other surfaces. Also, in general, avoid touching surfaces with your hands unless you have to.
Most importantly, you should follow whatever direction health authorities give to you. The disease can spread easily and so the controls are fairly stringent.
The testing process
Because Coronavirus is a respiratory disease, they can obtain a sample by taking swabs, usually of your mouth and nasal cavities. If you have a cough, then they might also ask for a sputum sample. This is what you cough up from your lungs, and can often provide the best samples for testing. While I understand there is also a blood test for the virus, it is generally not used. This is great news for people who don't like needles.
Photo of a COVID-19 sample collection kit courtesy of Photo of a COVID-19 sample collection kit
They then put the sample in cool storage and send it to a testing lab via a dedicated pathology courier. Most people will get their results within 24 hours, and you may even get your results on the same day. Over the last 20 or more years, the family doctor has transformed into medical clinics that provide a range of services, including pathology. If you don't have a regular doctor, then look for a clinic that includes both GP and pathology services in the one place.
While you wait
You will be advised about what to do while you are waiting for the test results. If you just have exposure to the disease, you are most likely be asked to self isolate to avoid spreading the disease. You may also be sent to quarantine, or if your symptoms are severe, referred to a hospital or dedicated isolation clinic. This is why having a go or hospital bag is helpful.
Retesting is done for people who have been exposed, but are not showing symptoms. As the standard incubation period for the disease is a few days to two weeks, someone who has been exposed might need to be retested before they are cleared to leave quarantine or isolation.
Yes, this can be difficult for many people who might need to stop working for several weeks. Many companies will make work from home arrangements, otherwise, if you are a permanent staff member, this will come out of your sick or annual leave, though some companies are providing Coronavirus leave. Many people who are working on a casual basis will have no income. Most people won't qualify for Centrelink Payments for a forced 2-week break, but someone in financial hardship may be able to get assistance. The rules may change over time.
An important note is that knowingly spreading a disease is a crime, especially a serious disease. If the government imposes emergency powers, then ignoring isolation requirements would be taken even more seriously.
If I test positive
75% of people who get the Coronavirus recover on their own. Symptoms can range from a mild cold or even no symptoms, through to the worst cold you have ever hand. Also, 25% of people need some sort of medical intervention to deal with severe symptoms, and around 5% end up in intensive care. Which means you are likely to be hospitalised or at least quarantined.
This is why you should have a go-bag or hospital bag ready or, even with you when you get tested. This would be different from a normal evacuation bag in that you won't need water or food (snacks are never a bad thing though), but you might want to include any medications you are on, pyjamas, change of clothes, phone charger, e-book reader or books, laptop etc. Basically things to make your hospital or quarantine more comfortable.
It is also important to provide an accurate list of people who might have been exposed to you. This helps health authorities to track down people who need to be tested. This could be easy if you just went from home to work by car, and impossible if you took public transportation or went shopping.
Self-isolation at home might be required for many people. Which is the reason why having two weeks of supplies is useful, though not essential. Remember, you can still get food items delivered. You can live off Uber Eats and Deliveroo for the entire isolation period if you want to.
Yes, Australia is starting to see the Coronavirus spread throughout the community. It is a disease that is difficult to stop because it spread very easily and people can have very mild symptoms and not even know they are infected. We can all play our part in controlling the disease through learning as much as we can, cooperating with authorities and do what we can to avoid spreading the disease ourselves.
If there was a vaccine for this there would be no more risk of this spreading than the flu except the flu can be different strains in different countries. A friend of mine went overseas a few years ago and caught a different strain of flu than she was vaccinated for in Aust. We hear very little about flu outbreaks interstate or overseas. People aren't panic buying only toilet paper. There is also a shortage of some canned foods - including Baked Beans in some supermarkets in Adelaide.
This & your other article are excellent, informative & well written.
However, the chemists i've visited twice a little while ago to purchase one had zero N95/P2 masks nor any anvailable online (was during Feb while we we were still getting bush-fire smoke & reason). Their sites still show "out of stock"
My local small chemists had/has a limit of one per person of the standard surgical mask, as i believe some (many?) other chemists do