Red Eye Chicago

Showing symptoms? What to do

- By Madeline Buckley

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

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

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.

The COVID-19 virus 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, 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.

Patients will also likely be tested if they are showing signs of a respirator­y illness and have traveled to certain areas, 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 at first could only be done by public health officials, and was paid for by the government, but some private hospitals and medical testing companies now are performing the test, and the state’s largest health insurers have said people won’t be charged for testing.

In Illinois, tests originally were 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.

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.

 ?? NATIONAL INSTITUTES OF HEALTH/AFP ?? A scanning electron microscope image of SARS-CoV-2 (round gold objects) emerging from the surface of cells cultured in the lab. SARS-CoV-2, also known as 2019-nCoV, is the virus that causes COVID-19.
NATIONAL INSTITUTES OF HEALTH/AFP A scanning electron microscope image of SARS-CoV-2 (round gold objects) emerging from the surface of cells cultured in the lab. SARS-CoV-2, also known as 2019-nCoV, is the virus that causes COVID-19.

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