Is it allergies, a cold, influenza or COVID-19?
In addition to COVID-19, with the change of seasons comes another thing for some people to fight – spring allergies. But just how does one determine whether they have allergies, a cold, influenza or coronavirus? According to Dr. Nikkiah Forbes, director of the HIV and AIDS and infectious program at the Ministry of Health, there’s no real objective way to know.
“There’s no way to know that because a lot of the symptoms have overlapped, so, that’s why we’re encouraging people to keep their space between other people,” said Forbes.
If you’re coughing or sneezing, she says, you should have on a mask and use respiratory hygiene – cough into a tissue, throw it into a bin and wash your hands right away. If you don’t have a tissue, cough into your sleeve. Keep your hands off your face. And if you’re sick, keep your distance from people.
The most common symptom of coronavirus, the doctor said, is a fever with more than 95 percent of people. Other symptoms, she said, could be a runny or stuffy nose or sore throat. She cautions that not everybody will have a fever and that some people will also have atypical symptoms.
Classic symptoms, she said, that could be indicative of coronavirus, would be if a person has a fever and cough, which could worsen to shortness of breath in some people.
However, Forbes said not everybody has such a moderate to severe presentation and that some people can be asymptomatic, or have milder symptoms and won’t feel sick at all.
“We know that, to some degree, there can be transmission when some people are asymptomatic even though you’re probably more infectious if you’re having high fever and coughing and sneezing and so on.”
As the pandemic evolves worldwide, Forbes said information they are now getting about the disease is that it could also entail gastrointestinal symptoms, affecting the belly and digestive organs, and people may experience fever and nausea or a feeling like they ate wrong; or abdominal pain that can include vomiting and diarrhea.
“In a study that came out just a few days ago, just under half, 48.5 percent of people, did have these so-called GI (gastrointestinal complaints),” she said.
The infectious disease specialist referenced an article from ear, nose and throat specialists that she read on Sunday that spoke to some people experiencing changes in their taste and not being able to taste their food. She also said they may have changes in smell and could suddenly not be able to smell.
“With that being said, it’s really hard to tell the difference between someone who has the mild symptoms that could be compatible with allergies,” said Forbes.
She encourages people feeling relatively well to practice social distancing. Those that feel a bit sick, she said, should stay at home and self-isolate in a room in a house with open windows to allow for ventilation. She said they should not have visitors at their home and not leave their home if they’re sick and having symptoms.
Where possible, the doctor discourages anyone sick from sharing a bathroom with others. When not possible, she said the sick person should be the last person to use a shared bathroom, and ensure the bathroom is cleaned properly after they’ve used it. She said bleach and water is appropriate for the cleaning.
“Practice all those good cough hygiene tips as well as frequent handwashing; clean down frequently touched surfaces in the home; and keep all your trash and waste in a room, double-bagged in a garbage bag – those would be some of the things that the person could do.”
When suffering with a cold or flu, doctors usually prescribe lots of rest and lots of fluid intake. With research ongoing in the search for a COVID-19 vaccine, Forbes said people with mild coronavirus symptoms are encouraged to comfort care just as they would when they have a cold or flu.
“At this time there’s a lot of research going on about if there are any medications or drugs that could help make COVID better faster. We don’t have that information back yet as a scientific community, so we’re saying that for people who have mild symptoms, it’s exactly what you do when you have a cold or flu – you do comfort care or supportive care – cough drops, cough medicines. You drink lots of fluid and you get rest. If you have a fever, use Panadol; we don’t recommend other pain medications at this time. But if you’re getting worse…feeling shortness of breath, lightheadedness, you’re feeling particularly unwell, then you should call and get guidance. But in terms of the medical community, there is no best practice or evidence-based guidelines for treatment right now, but we are watching everybody’s experiences in the field.”
The COVID-19 hotline is 376-9350 (8 a.m. to 8 p.m.) or 376-9387 (8 p.m. to 8 a.m.) for further advice.
There are four confirmed COVID-19 cases in The Bahamas. Worldwide there are 362,019 confirmed cases. It has killed 15,495. There have been 100,471 recovered cases.
Forbes encourages people to stay at home, especially if they feel ill, which means no gatherings of any kind. In allergy season, she said, if people think their symptoms are just allergies they may continue as if it’s business as usual when it’s not.
Because they don’t definitively know, Forbes said that’s why they encourage social distancing and people maintaining between three feet, but preferably six feet between themselves and other people.
“Even though you’re reasonably well, you could be spreading this to people who are going to take it home and could spread it to other people who are at risk of getting really sick and dying. A lot of people might die because there’s no natural immunity. And that’s why we want people to understand that this is a big deal. We know this infection can spread easily between people in close contact with each other, so key is we need everyone to stay home now as far as possible so we can make sure that our country stays as safe as possible.”
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