With the coronavirus outbreak spreading across the US, fears of catching the new illness have spiked — but coming down with a fever and cough doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve been infected.
So how can you tell if you have the virus? And when should you see a doctor?
Symptoms of the coronavirus — fever, cough, runny nose — are similar to those of the common cold or the flu.
If you’re experiencing those symptoms but feel like you can manage them with over-the-counter drugs from the comfort of your home, experts say that’s what you should do.
“If you feel well enough that if it weren’t for coronavirus you wouldn’t see a doctor, don’t see a doctor,” Lauren Sauer, an assistant professor of emergency medicine at Johns Hopkins Medicine, told The Washington Post.
If your symptoms are more severe — a fever that won’t go away, shortness of breath and lethargy — then it’s time to call your doctor.
However, most cases of the coronavirus — officially known as COVID-19 — have been mild, so if all those with a common cold flood emergency rooms, it’ll make it tougher for professionals to treat critically ill patients.
Plus, you could also pick up the virus at a hospital if you don’t already have it. If you don’t have a fever, you probably don’t have the coronavirus.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also suggests seeking medical help if you are showing symptoms, and you’ve been in contact with a person who has COVID-19 or you’ve traveled to or live in an area with an outbreak.
Your healthcare professional will work with your state’s health department and the CDC to figure out whether you should be tested for COVID-19.
Older people and those with underlying health conditions like diabetes, heart disease or chronic lung disease are more at risk for severe illness. If you fall under those categories and feel seriously ill, you should seek medical attention.
If you or someone you’re caring for is in dire condition — such as very short on breath, minimally responsive or unresponsive, looks blue or ashen or has low blood pressure — then call 911, said Amesh Adalja, an infectious-disease expert at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.
Otherwise, call your doctor. If you do decide to go to the emergency room or your doctor’s office, make sure to call ahead so they can be ready to protect other patients when you arrive.
Importantly, to prevent getting sick at all, the CDC recommends avoiding people who are showing symptoms; avoiding touching your eyes, nose, and mouth; and washing your hands thoroughly and frequently. This means washing with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.
It is not necessary to wear a facemask if you are not sick. Facemasks should be used by people who show symptoms of the coronavirus to help prevent the spread of the disease to others.
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