Winter is coming which will bring along the usual increase in the number of people with a common cold or flu. Everyone will wonder whether they’ve become infected with the new coronavirus as the symptoms are so similar and many people will want to be tested. However, in any country in the world, there are just not enough resources to test everyone for COVID-19 if they have signs of an upper respiratory tract infection.
The National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) has issued specific criteria for testing for the new coronavirus. There are also guidelines which you should follow if you do develop symptoms of an upper respiratory tract infection – a cough, fever, sore throat, shortness of breath.
At this stage, testing for COVID-19 will only be done if you have had a sudden onset of fever of 38 degrees C or higher, cough, shortness of breath or a sore throat, and have, in the last 14 days:
travelled to a high-risk country. The list is constantly being updated and you can check for updates on the NICD website
had face-to-face contact at home or work with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19 or for whom the test is still inconclusive
worked or visited a healthcare facility treating people with COVID-19.
Also, persons who are admitted to hospital with pneumonia (severe lung infection) for which the cause is not clear, will be tested.
If you develop the abovementioned symptoms and meet any of the above criteria, call the SA Coronavirus Hotline on 0800 029 999 between 08:00 and 16:00. You can also call the hotline if you are at all unsure or if your symptoms become worse and you need medical attention. You will be questioned and advised on what to do.
Facilities for testing have been made available at public hospitals. Most people who are infected with COVID-19 are less sick than is generally the case with influenza viruses and symptoms clear within about four days. If you do wake up feeling sick with the usual symptoms of a cold or flu and don’t meet the above criteria, stay at home and isolate yourself for two weeks.
To help contain the spread, avoid visiting the clinic or your medical practitioner in case you are possibly infected with the new coronavirus. Rest, drink plenty of fluids and use the same medicines you would for a common cold or flu. You can call your pharmacist or medical practitioner for advice and a prescription which someone can fetch for you.
You might wonder why, if most people only become mildly ill from COVID-19, the government declared a national disaster and implemented such strict measures. The reason is to try and stop the widespread infection in its tracks.
The new coronavirus spreads about 10 times more easily than seasonal influenza and no-one has any immunity against it yet. About one in ten people who become infected with COVID-19 develop severe lung disease that can lead to death.
If, as in some other countries, tens-of-thousands of South Africans become infected our health services will be unable to cope with the numbers requiring hospitalisation and intensive care. Furthermore, the social and economic consequences will be far worse than those of the restrictions currently in place.
Each one of us can help by taking the recommended personal measures to avoid infection, keeping ourselves informed, teaching others, and willingly complying with the legislated restrictions.