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COVID-19: What to do if you think you've caught it

COVID-19: What to do if you think you've caught it

Stay calm

Text: Redzhanna Jazmin


Image: Unsplash
Image: Pexels

Feeling a little under the weather and horrifically worried because there's a pandemic happening worldwide? Here's what to do

Hi there. Things are stressful and everything is looking bleak, but we assure you that panicking will do nothing but make things worse. So, the first course of action is to stay calm.

The situation at hand is scary, unfamiliar and stressful, but the widespread panic-buying and spread of misinformation has done nothing but lead to overworked healthcare professionals and the depletion of our finite resources (at the expense of our vulnerable communities). The only way we can get through this, is to work together, stay home and stay calm.

If someone you live with or have come into contact with has been diagnosed with COVID-19, self-isolate for at least 14 days and see if any symptoms appear.

Self-diagnosis

First things first, you'll have to look out for any of the giveaway symptoms such as cough, fever and shortness of breath—here's an infographic to help you self-diagnose.

If you have any of the above symptoms, you may have COVID-19. Again, not to panic—if your symptoms are mild, you are likely to recover and the best course of action is to self-isolate at home and wait it out.

If you need advice, call your doctor. Do not go into the hospital—if you are infectious, this puts everyone else in the waiting room at risk, especially the vulnerable elderly and immunocompromised. Plus, it's likely to be a wasted trip as you'll probably be advised to go home and self-isolate anyway.

While recovering, monitor your symptoms to see if they worsen. You can leave self-isolation under these conditions:

If you're not going to be tested for the virus

  • You haven't had a fever for at least 72 hours without the use of fever-reducing medicines
  • Other symptoms have improved
  • At least seven days have passed since your symptoms first appeared

If you are going to be tested for the virus

  • You don't have a fever without the use of fever-reducing medicine
  • Other symptoms have improved
  • You've received two negative tests in a row, 24 hours apart 

Disclaimer: This is not a substitute for medical advice. These are just guidelines administered by the CDC—in all cases, please consult your healthcare provider for your individual case.

If your mild case worsens and becomes more severe, you may need to be admitted to a hospital. Specifically, if you develop the emergency warning signs including breathing difficulties or shortness of breath, persistent pain or pressure in your chest and bluish skin from the lack of oxygen, you should call your doctor immediately. Explain that you may have COVID-19 and await their advice—this gives them time to prepare to protect themselves and other patients.

Treat Yo' Self (at home)

COVID-19 is a novel coronavirus, meaning that it doesn't have a vaccine nor a cure, so your recovery depends on how strong your immune system is. As a result, a lot of the treatment is just symptom management. So, while you're at home recovering, you can manage your symptoms by:

  • Getting lots of rest and sleep
  • Keeping warm
  • Staying hydrated
  • Taking paracetamol to treat the symptoms*

*Avoid taking anti-inflammatories like ibuprofen or cortisone as it is a potential factor in worsening a COVID-19 infection, according to the BMJ.

Stay Home...

...and stay away from your grandparents! As mentioned, there is no cure and no vaccine for the virus, recovery is entirely dependent on the strength of the immune system. This means that the elderly and those with existing respiratory and immune problems are super vulnerable, so the best thing you can do for them is to stay away (and self-isolate).

Only leave your home to get medical care and please, please do not visit any public areas (and that includes using public transportation, taxis and ride-shares). Don't forget to wear a face mask when you're out and about either—anything that stops the droplets will help stop the spread of the virus.

If you can't find a face mask (in this economy?), make sure you stay at least six feet away from everyone else around you.

Stay Clean

You've heard this one on repeat in the last couple of months, but it's more relevant than ever now—wash your hands thoroughly and regularly with warm water and antibacterial soap. Alternatively, use a hand sanitiser with at least 60% alcohol.

As always, cover your coughs and sneezes! There's nothing worse than a aerosolised spray of viral baddies, so make sure you catch those bad boys either in a tissue or a mask. On that note—any tissues should be thrown into a lined bin and bedding should be washed regularly (along with your hands).

While you're at it, make sure your caregiver disinfects any high-touch surfaces in common areas such as phones, remotes, doorknobs, keyboards—whatever you can think of. 

In addition to that, do not share dishes, cooking utensils, drinking cups, towels or bedding with others. If you're wondering why, it's because the virus lasts on surfaces for an alarming amount of time (see infographic below):

Plus, if you are living with other people, make sure that you seal yourself off from them. Stay in a specific "sick room", away from your housemates or family and (preferably) use a different bathroom. The only person who should be allowed in your space is your caregiver, and while they are in there, you should wear a mask—if you are unable to use a mask because it causes breathing difficulty, your caregiver should instead.

While you're at it, limit the contact you have with your pets too. Although there have been no cases so far of pets contracting COVID-19, we don't have enough information to be conclusive. So, for the meantime, get someone else to care for them.

Where to get a test done

Here is the Malaysian Health Ministry's official list of designated hospitals for COVID-19 screening and admission. This test is a Real-Time Reverse Transcription Polymerase Chain Reaction (rRT-PCR) and takes 24-72 hours for results to show; you'll be swabbed in the nose and throat to test whether the virus is present in your body.

Do note: Before you can get tested at these centres, you'll have to be classified as a contact (as in, you've come into close contact with someone with COVID-19 or you've travelled to an affected country in the last 14 days), a PUI (patient under investigation) or a sporadic case. This is because staff and resources are stretched thin due to the high number of patients.

For those of you who aren't eligible for screening but still want to take a test for peace of mind, you can use the Rapid Test Kit (RTK). It's a finger-prick blood test that doesn't reveal the presence of the virus, but does detect antibodies in the body that show up 5-8 days after infection.

Do note: It is not recommended for early diagnosis of COVID-19.  If you are interested, here are some private companies who have collaborated with the Health Ministry to provide home (RTK) and drive-thru (swab) tests:

How much does it cost to get tested?

The test is free at government hospitals, but again, you have to be classified as a COVID-19 patient first. With regards to private healthcare, the cost is considerably higher, ranging anywhere between RM650-RM700. Here are the available prices for a few of the centres:

Service Provider Price
DoctorOnCall/Qualitas Medical Group Sdn Bhd home testing kit RM 700
Pantai Hospitals drive-thru swab test RM 650
Gleneagles Kuala Lumpur drive-thru swab test RM 650
LifeCare drive-thru swab test RM 650
SMCV walk-in or drive thru swab test RM360

While you wait for the results, you must remain quarantined from others and treat yourself as above. If you're tested negative, you must stay in isolation for another 14 days to complete the incubation period until you have your second test on the 13th day. If you're tested positive, you will be admitted to the isolation ward and treated.

For more information and help, call the Crisis Preparedness and Response Centre hotlines at 03 8881 0200, 03 8881 0600 ad 03 8881 0700.

For more stories on COVID-19, click here.

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