Cold: Why you must test for COVID-19 at once

People considered to be in vulnerable groups are likely to get prioritised for COVID-19 testing. But in this report by SADE OGUNTOLA, experts insist that individuals with mild flu-like symptoms like cold and catarrh should also be tested for COVID-19 unless otherwise instructed by the relevant medical practitioner.

WHEN the coronavirus pandemic first emerged, public health officials told the world to watch out for its telltale symptoms: fever, dry cough and shortness of breath.

But as the virus spread across the globe, researchers are getting a better understanding of how these symptoms: headache, chill or sore throat, are common to lots of illnesses expressed in the general population and not necessarily in hospitalised patients.

COVID-19 has many symptoms. Some of these symptoms are highly distinctive and a strong indicator of an infection. Others, like headaches, chills or sore throat, are common to lots of illnesses.

Results from a new study indicate that people with cold-like symptoms, such as a cough or a runny nose should be advised to test for COVID-19 immediately because in many countries, community transmission of the virus has been established.

By minimising the delay in getting tested, the researchers argue that up to 80 per cent of new transmissions might up the risk of a second wave of COVID-19 transmission and therefore should be avoided.

Testing is only an effective solution if it is carried out swiftly at the first symptom as opposed to waiting for a doctor to determine whether or not a test would contribute to the treatment or care of a patient.

“If you have a persistent cough or sore throat that is enough to make you have a feeling of unwell, that may just be the sign to seek attention and then if necessary schedule for a COVID-19 test,” says Dr Pelumi Adebiyi, a public health expert at the College of Medicine, University of Ibadan.

But not every cough, catarrh or sore throat is suggestive of COVID-19. By seeking attention early, medical experts after questioning and examination will be able to tell if it is necessary to have a COVID-19 test.

Dr Adebiyi added “that should increase the index of suspicion so that people will get tested. The more we test for COVID-19, the more we are confident that there is nobody transmitting it within the community.”

He declared that individuals living in areas where many cases of COVID-19 had been recorded should not ignore any symptom such as tiredness, muscle pains or diarrhoea that is more than 48 hours, even if it looks negligible.

“Persistent body weakness, headache or sore throat that is more than two days should prompt medical attention in another person that comes in from Kano. Those are the kind of things that we are talking about,” he said.

Dr Adebiyi, however, said such people after taking the test should also self-isolate while awaiting the result.

Self-isolation is voluntary seclusion at home by those who have or are likely to have COVID-19 and are experiencing mild symptoms of the disease in contrast to those who are severely ill and may be isolated in a hospital.

Dr Yemi Ojo, Press Liaison Officer, Risk Communication and Social Mobilisation Pillar of the Oyo State Emergency Operation Centre, stated that in Oyo State the presence of respiratory symptoms like cough, runny nose, shortness of breath and catarrh are enough indication to be tested for COVID-19.

He added that “in Oyo State, loss of sense of taste was the only thing that a person complained of when he came for the test.”

However, she added that individuals that feel that they might have been exposed to the infection because they had been in contact with a known infected person also need to be tested.

Dr Ojo, however, declared that many people have a wrong perception of COVID-19 tests and would not come out to be tested even when they have such symptoms as cough, catarrh, unremitting fever, abdominal pain and diarrhea.

Moreover, difficulty in breathing or shortness of breath, unremitting fever, weakness or lethargy could be signs of pneumonia, which is common in severe cases of coronavirus infection.

Sadly, perception of testing in many communities is poor in Nigeria and for many reasons. According to Dr Ojo, “a lot of people do not want to go for testing because they feel that coronavirus is not real; they think that it is a trap by government to just pick people up and tell them that they are positive for the infection.

“Some, because of stigmatisation, don’t want to be tested whether by health workers at home or even at the Adamasigba walk-in or drive-through test centre. Some don’t want to hear that there are health workers around them. They push them away because they feel they can infect them with the virus.”

Two kinds of tests are available for COVID-19: viral test and antibody test. An antibody test may not be able to show if one has a current infection because it can take between one and three weeks after infection to make antibodies which are important to help fight the infection.

In Oyo State, there is a drive-or-walk-through testing centre at Adamasingba Stadium for the general public. Also, officials of the Emergency Operation Centre (EOC) go to take testing samples of individuals that are very sick at their homes.

The EOC has four telephone lines that the public can call in. They will explain how to go about it. A link is sent to the person’s phone to fill a form online to generate a code. Individuals can also be helped to fill the form at the EOC call centre.

If a test result comes back positive, it is almost certain that the person is infected. A negative test result is less definite. An infected person could get a so-called “false negative” test result if the swab misses the virus, for example, or because of an inadequacy of the test itself.

Emerging science indicates that for COVID-19 the time from exposure to symptom onset (known as the incubation period) is thought to be three to 14 days, though symptoms typically appear within four or five days after exposure.

Also a person with COVID-19 may be contagious 48 to 72 hours before starting to experience symptoms. Such is also more likely to spread the virus to others during the 48-hour period before they start to experience symptoms.

“We realise that a lot of people in the country just live normally, but they should ensure that they use their face masks to reduce transmission as well as maintain physical distance of at least six feet,” she added.

She stated that even when an infected person is with no symptoms, such can still spread the virus to other people if they stand too close to them or refrain from behaviours that prevent the spread infections.



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