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More people are testing positive for the coronavirus each day in Maryland and across the country, and most remain quarantined at home to recover. Others may have mild illness but won’t be tested until labs have more capacity.
In either case, it’s important to keep your distance from others, said Dr. Arsalan Sheikh, chief medical officer at Grace Medical Center in Baltimore, the former Bon Secours Hospital. He explains what symptoms to look for, how to take care of yourself if you are ill, when to call for help and how to protect your family.
What are the first symptoms you should look out for, and what is the likely progression of symptoms for COVID-19?
The symptoms one should start looking for are a dry cough, fever, aches and pains, and fatigue. In addition, people may start to develop difficulty breathing. The three main symptoms to focus on are cough, fever and difficulty breathing.
What has been seen is that most develop symptoms within a week of catching the COVID-19 virus (this is called the incubation period), but overall that can be from 2 to 14 days. As more data is available this may change.
Is this comparable to getting the flu?
The flu has similar symptoms such as fever, dry cough, aches and pains, and fatigue but does not usually include difficulty breathing. Also, the incubation period for the flu virus, on average is faster, usually within 2 days, but can be from 1-4 days. Whereas with COVID-19, we see a longer incubation period.
When is it time to call (and not go to) the doctor to report possible COVID-19 infection?
If you have been exposed to someone with COVID-19, and developed mild symptoms, meaning that you are okay to do daily activities and eat, then can call your doctor and notify them that you may have COVID-19.
The key is not to walk into the doctors office to get testing as you may spread it to other people. One should separate oneself from others, try to use a single bathroom, clean surfaces, wash your hands frequently, cover coughs or cough into a napkin and throw it away and then wash your hands.
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If you live with others and have only a one-bedroom apartment and one bathroom, then you need to keep a distance, stay at opposite ends of the room and disinfect surfaces as you use them.
As remote testing sites are set up, your doctor may refer you to these testing sites. If you do need to go to see your doctor, then call ahead and let them know and wear a face mask. If do not have a face mask, notify your doctor, then the doctor’s office can provide it and keep you in a separate room to prevent exposure to others. Try not to use public transportation.
If you start having difficulty breathing, especially even at rest, or are getting worse, please call 911 and go to the nearest emergency room.
Who decides who is tested and how does that happen?
At this point, we are testing those with symptoms and health care workers with potential exposure. As we develop more testing sites across the country, hopefully we can test more people, even those with no symptoms but with possible exposure.
About 80% of cases are mild to moderate and treated at home, so how sick is that?
Yes, most people have a mild to moderate infection, which means that they will have fevers, cough and some mild difficulty breathing, in which they may not be able to exercise because they get short of breath.
If you are having difficulty breathing even while sitting still, then you should go to the hospital or call 911.
What medications are best? Is Tylenol safe? What about anti-inflammatories such as Advil?
There is no specific medication for the treatment of COVID-19. The key treatments are supportive care: rest, plenty of fluids and using medication such as Tylenol or anti-inflammatories (such as Advil) for fevers. There is no evidence to show that anti-inflammatories are not safe.
How long does illness usually last? And how long should quarantine last?
The illness can last up to 14 days, possibly longer. During this time, if you are stable, it is important to stay away from family and friends and the public in general. Also, keep washing hands frequently and disinfect surfaces that you touch.
What should family members do to stay healthy? Should they be taking their temperatures?
The best thing to do to stay healthy is to avoid exposure to the virus, thus not being in groups and staying at home. Keep washing hands frequently and avoid rubbing eyes, nose and touching your face.
If you develop a cough or are feeling tired, then you should check your temperature. If you are feeling well and have no symptoms, at this time it is not recommended to check temperatures, but this may change as we learn more.
Any other advice for self-care?
Be calm, relax, meditate, do not panic, hand wash and have alone time!
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