- If you think you have the coronavirus, call your doctor or local public health department.
- They will probably ask about where you recently travelled and with whom you came into contact.
- If the doctor determines you might have COVID-19, the illness caused by the new coronavirus, they might arrange for special transport to a facility that’s equipped with negative air-pressure rooms.
- Going to the hospital without calling ahead could expose more people to the virus.
- For the latest case total, death toll, and travel information, see Business Insider’s live updates here.
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The coronavirus is approaching pandemic level – it has spread to over 100 countries.In the US, a rising number of cases of “community spread” means that people are getting sick with no known exposure to the virus or travel history to countries where outbreaks have been reported.
“It’s fair to say that as the trajectory of the outbreak continues, many people in the United States will at some point in time, either this year or next, be exposed to this virus, and there’s a good chance many will become sick,” Nancy Messonnier, director of the National Centre for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said in a briefing on Monday.
If you think you’ve been exposed to the new coronavirus, the CDC and healthcare professionals have clear advice: Make a phone call before you head to the hospital.
“Stay at home and call your doctor,” Kim Leslie, an emergency-department nursing director at Swedish Hospital in Chicago, told Business Insider in early February. “If there’s no reason for you to seek emergency medical treatment, then stay at home and we will send you to the right place.”
On the phone, tell your doctor about your symptoms, any recent travel, and contact you might have had with someone who got the coronavirus. The doctor may arrange safe transport to bring you to the hospital without exposing others to the virus.
“It does seem to be more communicable than our typical seasonal flu, and because of that it’s important to try to minimise other people’s exposure to somebody who may be infected with this novel coronavirus,” Richard Martinello, an associate professor of infectious disease at the Yale School of Medicine, told Business Insider in early February.
While you’re at home, the CDC has a few other recommendations if you think you have COVID-19, the illness caused by the new virus:
- Separate yourself from other people and animals in your home. Use a separate bathroom if possible.
- Wear a face mask.
- Cover coughs and sneezes.
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
- Avoid sharing personal items like dishware, towels, or bedding.
- Clean surfaces like doorknobs, countertops, toilets, phones, and keyboards every day.
Call your doctor to determine whether you should visit a hospital
When you call a doctor, the first thing they will likely want to know is where you’ve been and what your symptoms are. That basic information will help them determine how at-risk you are for COVID-19.
Patients have reported symptoms similar to those associated with pneumonia, such as fever, coughing, chills, and difficulty breathing. Some patients experience gastrointestinal symptoms first: nausea, vomiting, or diarrhoea.
The virus can be transmitted between people through respiratory droplets such as saliva or mucus. It can be passed before a person shows symptoms.
If you have some of these symptoms and think you may have been exposed to the coronavirus, your doctor might swab your mouth and order testing. They will likely test for common illnesses like influenza before they request a test for the new coronavirus.
They will also ask about the severity of your symptoms to determine whether you should stay at the hospital.
Patients who raise red flags get an isolation room
In late January, Leslie said, a man came into the emergency department at Swedish Hospital saying he was sick and had recently visited China. Those were red flags.
CDC guidelines point to two main criteria for potential cases of the new coronavirus. The first is travel to China, Iran, Italy, Japan, or South Korea – where the most severe outbreaks are – in the last two weeks. Given the community spread of the virus, however, CDC testing guidelines have broadened, so recent travel and interactions with confirmed patients are no longer requirements for somebody to be eligible for a test.
The second important factor is symptoms: fever with respiratory issues like coughing or shortness of breath. If a patient has had contact with someone confirmed to have the virus, then any symptom at all is a concern.
Leslie’s staff gave the Chicago patient a face mask and ushered him into a “negative airflow” chamber that does not allow air to escape the room.
Many private doctor’s offices do not have these negative-airflow rooms, however, so potential coronavirus patients would probably get a room in the back, as far as possible from other patients. That’s what Martinello said his office did with one patient. The man’s condition wasn’t serious enough to be hospitalized, so the staff sent him home with a warning to stay in the house and wait for his test results. The test came back negative.
When treating the Chicago patient in the negative-airflow chamber, medical workers wore protective gear, including gloves, gowns, eye protection like goggles or a face shield, and an N95 respirator mask to protect them from virus-carrying droplets.
Infection-control experts asked that patient personal questions, Leslie said. Epidemiologists typically inquire about whether a potential coronavirus patient recently had sex with anyone (especially while travelling), which specific locations they visited, who they had contact with, and what they did in each place they went.
“After that scrutiny, [he] did not meet the criteria to be concerned. So we lessened his level of isolation, out of that room, and considered him just your basic average flu,” Leslie said.
As COVID-19 continues to spread within US communities and among people with no travel history, however, healthcare workers are treating patients with increased scrutiny.
If a person is confirmed to have the new coronavirus, there is no specific medication for it. So, much like the flu, doctors simply treat patients’ symptoms, ensure they get enough oxygen, and keep them hydrated.
This story has been updated with new information. It was originally published on February 5, 2020.
- Read more:
- What to do if you get the coronavirus, from transportation to ordering food
- How the ‘failed’ quarantine of the Diamond Princess cruise ship started with 10 coronavirus cases and ended with more than 700
- I survived swine flu as a teenager and it taught me one crucial lesson about life during an epidemic: Don’t panic
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