What to do if you feel sick or may have been exposed to coronavirus

By Updated: March 09, 2020 3:09 PM CT | Published: March 09, 2020 12:56 PM CT

Editor’s note: Due to the serious public health implications associated with COVID-19, The Daily Memphian is making our coronavirus coverage accessible to all readers — no subscription needed.

If you are feeling sick or suspect you were exposed to the coronavirus, your first step should be to call the Shelby County Health Department at 901-222-9000.


‘Do I have coronavirus or the flu?’ The answer is simple


If you have traveled to an area where there is an outbreak or have been exposed to someone who is a confirmed case, a health department worker will come to your house and will likely ask you to isolate yourself at home.

If you are going to your doctor’s office, please let the office know before you come in that you feel your case may be serious. It is definitely serious if you have recently traveled to an affected area or have been in close contact – even for 10 minutes – with a confirmed COVID-19 patient.

Symptoms appear in a broad range between 2 and 10 days after exposure and infection. If someone has not developed symptoms in 14 days from alleged exposure, it is deemed unlikely that they were infected.

It is unknown how long the disease lasts, but it is likely to vary considerably by age and by the state of your immune system.

Persons who are infected are considered infectious and can transmit the virus before they have symptoms, and may be able to transmit for some time after they have recovered.

If you have more serious symptoms – fever, cough and shortness of breath – it is best to go to the hospital. Call before you leave to let hospital officials know you are coming.

If you call 911, the Shelby County Health Department says it is important to let the operator know the case could be coronavirus.

“It’s important to note that fully 80% of people, particularly the young and healthy, may not have symptoms significant enough to seek health care,” said health department director Alisa Haushalter.

Your doctor will likely give you an influenza test. If you test positive for flu, it’s likely you do not have COVID-19.

If it looks like your case is more serious, your doctor will either swab your throat or have you cough up mucus from your lungs into a vial.

State and local health department officials will the help the clinic store and ship the specimen, including if the specimen is taken after hours or on a holiday or weekend.

It will be taken to the Tennessee Health Department in Nashville for analysis.

Right now, testing is only available through the Tennessee Department of Health. That is likely to change in the coming week when testing is expected to be more widely available, according to the University of Tennessee Health Science Center website, https://www.uthsc.edu/medicine/coronavirus/index.php.

Last week, the state health department said it had 85 testing kits in the state.

If the virus begins to spread more widely in Memphis, the process will likely change and diagnosis will take place in a variety of settings, including hospitals and perhaps some clinics.

For right now, all diagnoses are being made at the state health department in Nashville.

The UTHSC COVID-19 website notes that it is OK to receive mail from an affected area or country. It is very unlikely that the virus would withstand the shipping time and changes in temperature. The virus cannot be acquired from the air in popped bubble wrap or other inflated packaging from China or another country.

The novel coronavirus can be killed with normal varieties of soap, disinfectants and alcohol solutions such as hand gels. Special disinfectants are not needed.

The novel coronavirus can be killed on your hands or on other surfaces with normal varieties of soap, disinfectants and alcohol solutions such as hand gels. Special disinfectants are not needed.

Local stores such as Kroger may be, and have reported being out of hand sanitizers and are limiting how much customers can buy when they are in stock. Another option for consumers is to try and order such products online.

Frequently cleaning your hands and being very careful not to touch your eyes, nose, or mouth without cleaning your hands are the best prevention if you are in an outbreak.

Common surgical masks are probably modestly effective for a short period of time, but are not a reliable method for preventing infection, according to UTHSC.

The Shelby County Health Department has set up a hotline to call for information, including if you would like a speaker to address a group about the virus. The number is: 901-692-7523. Please check its website for details: http://shelbytnhealth.com/

There are four confirmed cases in Tennessee, including one in Memphis.

Topics

COVID-19 coronavirus uthsc.edu/coronavirus

Jane Roberts

Longtime journalist Jane Roberts is a Minnesotan by birth and a Memphian by choice. She's lived and reported in the city more than two decades. She covers healthcare and higher education for The Daily Memphian.


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