So you think you may have Covid-19. What now? Will you be hospitalised immediately? Will you have to be quarantined all by yourself? The most common symptom of infection has been fever, reported in 90% of cases.
The most common symptom of infection has been fever, reported in 90% of cases.
Let’s put this disease into perspective. While it’s undoubtedly serious, it is important to note that the vast majority of people who contract the virus will make a full recovery, though in severe cases this may take several weeks. In very few cases, Covid-19 progresses rapidly, leading to acute respiratory distress syndrome, multiple organ failure and sometimes death. Although it is not yet known how many infected people could die, the number is estimated to between 0.5 and 4%.
Some 80% of patients suffer mild symptoms, around 15% develop severe symptoms while 5% become critically ill (with respiratory failure, septic shock and/or multiorgan dysfunction).
So far, the most common symptom of infection has been fever, reported in 90% of cases. However, only around 44% of patients admitted to hospital were found to have a fever.
Other common symptoms include a cough (68%); fatigue (38%), sputum production (34%); shortness of breath (19%); muscle or joint pain (15%); sore throat (14%); headache (13.6%) and chills (12%). Nausea or vomiting (5.0%) and diarrhoea (3.8%) appear to be uncommon.
Your first stop is your primary healthcare clinic which has been equipped to assist. The procedure there will be much the same as with a visit to a private doctor. You will be asked questions, swabs might be taken and if you have mild symptoms, you will be sent home to self-isolate or sent to a designated isolation centre.
Regardless of whether you visit the clinic or your doctor you will be asked some questions about your habits and the symptoms you have experienced over the previous two weeks.
These questions could include: Are you short of breath? Is your heart rate increased? Are you coughing? Is your throat sore? Do you have a fever? Were you in close contact with a confirmed Covid-19 case? Have you recently travelled to an infected area? Have you worked with people who have Covid-19 or attended a health care facility where such patients are treated? These questions will provide your medical advisers with vital clues.
If the medical team suspects you may have the virus, the following measures will be taken:
- You will get a surgical mask
- You will be separated from other patients or placed in an area where a 1 – 2 metre distance is kept
- You will be told to cough and sneeze safely (by covering the nose and mouth with a flexed elbow or tissue) after which you sanitise
- Swabs of your nose and throat will be taken.
Please do not panic if you experience these symptoms. Remember that this might not automatically mean you have contracted Covid-19. South Africa is entering its flu, sniffles and bacterial pneumonia season now too. So, other samples – like blood – might be taken as well to determine exactly what your diagnosis is.
Unless you are really ill, you will be sent home. Even if test results (which take several days to analyse) show that you have Covid-19 but your symptoms are mild, you will be told to self-isolate and self-medicate at home. You will also be given emergency numbers to phone and told what to do if you begin to feel worse.
Indications of a mild case include:
- Taking less than 25 breaths a minute
- Blood oxygen levels of more than 95%
- Heart rate of less than 120 beats a minute
- Temperature between 36-39°C
- No mental confusion or disorientation
For tips on how to self-isolate effectively, watch the video below:
Don’t be alarmed by the fact that the medical staff taking samples and treating you are wearing full personal protective gear – this is both for your safety and theirs.
If your symptoms are severe you will be directed to either a quarantine hospital or a hospital dealing with Covid-19 cases. You will undergo X-rays, CT scans and whatever other diagnostic procedures the medical team feels necessary. You will be isolated from other patients and will be put on oxygen therapy should you need it. The type of therapy you receive will be determined by the seriousness of your symptoms. You will be kept in hospital until your samples show negative readings.
Patients can be de-isolated 14 days after the onset of their symptoms in mild cases, or 14 days after achieving clinical stability, as determined by a medical team, in moderate to severe cases.
Reference: Clinical management of suspected or confirmed COVID-19 disease Version 3 (27th March 2020)
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