WHAT TO DO:

Chicago Tribune (Sunday) - - FRONT PAGE - By Made­line Buck­ley mabuck­ley@chicagotri­bune.com

Ex­perts ad­vise res­i­dents what to do if they’re show­ing symp­toms.

You wake up with a sore, scratchy throat and be­gin cough­ing and sneez­ing.

It’s prob­a­bly a run-ofthe-mill cold, or it could be the be­gin­ning of a bout of sea­sonal flu. But with re­cent cases of the novel coro­n­avirus, which causes COVID-19, sur­fac­ing in Illi­nois, some peo­ple are bound to won­der: Could this be the coro­n­avirus?

More than 100,000 in­fec­tions have been re­ported world­wide, with sub­stan­tial out­breaks in China, Italy, Iran, Ja­pan and South Korea. More than 3,300 peo­ple have died.

Six peo­ple have tested pos­i­tive for the new coro­n­avirus in Illi­nois, the most re­cent a CPS em­ployee who had been on a cruise ship. Illi­nois is one of at least 21 states that have re­ported con­firmed cases of coro­n­avirus. At least 15 peo­ple in the United States have died from the dis­ease as of March 6, 14 of them in Wash­ing­ton state.

Here’s what ex­perts ad­vise for Illi­noisans who fear they are show­ing signs of coro­n­avirus.

Call first

If you are ex­pe­ri­enc­ing mi­nor symp­toms, don’t just show up at a clinic, doc­tors say.

“They should not see their doc­tor im­me­di­ately,” said Michael Ison, a pro­fes­sor of in­fec­tious dis­eases and or­gan trans­plan­ta­tion at the North­west­ern Fein­berg School of Medicine. “They should call their doc­tor first.”

The pri­mary care doc­tor will go over the pa­tient’s symp­toms by phone and de­cide what to do next. If the symp­toms are mi­nor, the doc­tor’s ad­vice will likely be to stay home to avoid spread­ing any type of virus and call back if the symp­toms get worse, Ison said.

Ex­perts still say the risk to av­er­age Chicagoans is low if they haven’t had known con­tact with an in­fected per­son or trav­eled to an area with an ac­tive outbreak.

The new cornon­avirus can cause a more se­vere ill­ness than a typ­i­cal cold, but it ini­tially man­i­fests with many of the same symp­toms, ex­perts say. So doc­tors are un­likely to ask for COVID-19 test­ing if some­one is only pre­sent­ing with cold and flu symp­toms and doesn’t have any other rea­son to sus­pect they may have it.

“It is hard to tell right now,” said Su­san Bleas­dale, an in­fec­tious dis­ease physi­cian at the Uni­ver­sity of Illi­nois Hospital & Health Sciences Sys­tem. “We’re still in the mid­dle of the flu sea­son.”

The state has a hot­line peo­ple can call with ques­tions or to re­port sus­pected cases at 800-889-3931. They can call the Of­fice of Con­sumer Health In­sur­ance at 877-527-9431 about their health in­sur­ance cov­er­age.

Get­ting the test

Af­ter speak­ing with a pa­tient, pri­mary care doc­tors will de­cide whether to co­or­di­nate with pub­lic health of­fi­cials to test for COVID-19.

They will con­sider fac­tors such as the sever­ity of the symp­toms, re­cent travel his­tory and con­tact with peo­ple sus­pected to be in­fected.

“The test­ing right now is pri­or­i­tized for peo­ple who need hos­pi­tal­iz­ing for se­vere pneu­mo­nia,” Bleas­dale said.

Pa­tients will also likely be tested if they are show­ing signs of a res­pi­ra­tory ill­ness and have trav­eled to cer­tain ar­eas such as China or Italy, or have had con­tact with an in­fected per­son.

Ev­ery­one else will prob­a­bly be told to stay home un­til their symp­toms sub­side, doc­tors say.

Pa­tients who will be tested for the virus will get a nasal swab, ex­perts say. Test­ing can only be done by pub­lic health of­fi­cials, so it is paid for by the gov­ern­ment. Doc­tors can­not or­der the test with­out co­or­di­nat­ing with the Illi­nois Depart­ment of Health, and it is not billed to in­sur­ance, Ison said.

In Illi­nois, tests are sent to one of three state-run labs in Chicago, Spring­field or Car­bon­dale, ac­cord­ing to state health of­fi­cials. If there is a pre­sump­tive pos­i­tive re­sult, spec­i­mens are sent to the Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Pre­ven­tion for con­fir­ma­tion.

Pub­lic health of­fi­cials here are also test­ing a ran­dom sam­ple of neg­a­tive sea­sonal flu tests for coro­n­avirus to learn if and how COVID-19 is cir­cu­lat­ing here.

What hap­pens next?

If a pa­tient is tested for the new coro­n­avirus, state and lo­cal health de­part­ments will take ac­tion to mit­i­gate the pub­lic health threat.

Health of­fi­cials will work with the pa­tient to map out re­cent ac­tiv­ity, try to iden­tify peo­ple the pa­tient has had con­tact with and, if nec­es­sary, test those peo­ple for COVID-19, Bleas­dale said.

Pa­tients may iso­late them­selves at home if they aren’t ex­pe­ri­enc­ing se­vere symp­toms. They may be hos­pi­tal­ized if the symp­toms are se­vere, she said.

“They would be guided by the Depart­ment of Pub­lic Health and health care providers,” Bleas­dale said.

As of Fri­day, about 220 peo­ple in Illi­nois had been tested for the virus. Of those, 180 have re­ceived neg­a­tive re­sults, and 35 were still pend­ing.

Doc­tors ad­vise peo­ple to take reg­u­lar pre­cau­tions against viruses of all kinds, in­clud­ing fre­quently wash­ing your hands, stay­ing home from work or school when sick and cov­er­ing your mouth when cough­ing and sneez­ing.

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