Saturday, 21 March 2020

Coronavirus Symptoms and Advice

Over the past week, we’ve both had a mild headache, a sore-throat and fatigue. These symptoms were intermittent, with occasional hot flushes. Mostly we just felt under the weather. We took our temperatures and found that they were normal. We didn’t have a cough or any breathing difficulties. So we put this down to a strange seasonal cold that persisted without really developing. We took it easy and carried on with our social distancing.

Two days ago, T found (quite by chance) that the previous week she had been in contact with a person who was now at home with the same symptoms. However, the week before, this person had come into contact with several visitors from France and Spain. This person didn’t have a cough or fever, but had been advised by NHS 111 to self-isolate for a week as a precaution. We were shocked. Did we all have covid-19? None of us knew. We certainly didn’t have the key symptoms. But, disturbingly, there was no way of finding out. The NHS wasn’t going to test any of us unless we became seriously ill.

There are already high levels of stress and anxiety about the coronavirus, and the great uncertainty about whether we are (or were) positive has added significantly to ours. Importantly, if we had lived just 30 miles south of here (in the Republic of Ireland) we would have been tested and, if necessary, our contacts traced.

The Government coronavirus advice focuses on those who have moderate symptoms (fever and persistent cough). A fever is defined as a temperature of 100 degrees F or higher, which means you will be feeling very unwell. Under these circumstances, you are going to want to stay at home and be in bed anyway, because you won’t feel able to do much else. Thus, the Government advice seems to be targeting an extreme minority of people who consider that it might be sensible to go out into the world with a high fever.

The Government coronavirus advice pays no real attention to mild symptoms. These mild symptoms are not described, nor is any advice given about what to do in the event of getting them. The only comment that is made is that most people will only get mild symptoms.

Why doesn’t the Government advise people who have mild viral symptoms of any sort to self-isolate for a week? This failure, allied to the lack of community testing, generates an extremely serious problem. People with mild viral symptoms are still infectious. Indeed, these are exactly the people who are more likely to try and carry on with their normal lives, and in so doing come into contact with plenty of other people.

From a medical perspective, you focus on the most unwell and pay little attention to the less afflicted. However, from a public health perspective, you also need to consider the impact of those you are not focusing on. In an epidemic, neglecting those with mild symptoms will surely lead to the coronavirus spreading more widely and rapidly.

Because it has been a week since the symptoms first appeared, we no longer need to self-isolate. We feel okay, but the worry hasn’t gone. In fact, given the news from Italy, it looks like it’s all going to get a whole lot worse before it gets any better.

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