The first case of COVID-19 in the Memphis area was confirmed in early March 2020. Several months later, the virus is still present in our community.
Dr. Jeff Mullins is a Family Medicine doctor with Methodist Medical Group Primary Care who has been treating coronavirus patients in the Mid-South. In this article, he addresses many of the critical questions he often gets from patients and staff members.
How do I know I have COVID-19?
The simple answer is you can’t — at least not without some help.
We're in the midst of the Fall allergy season and we're on the doorstep of the cold and flu season. Mixed into that is the onset of viral gastroenteritis season (a.k.a the "stomach bug") — as well as the ever present Mid-South sinus infection — which means it can be difficult for even a seasoned physician to tell whether you have COVID-19 or one of many other illnesses.
This is where testing is vital. However, there are many questions about the test and there are those who don’t necessarily trust the test so let’s address the trust issue first.
How do I know the test I have taken is accurate?
All tests have false positives and false negatives. This means the result of the test you took may or may not be accurate. Human error, unfortunately, can make the test inaccurate.
Here is where some common sense can be a big help.
If you have symptoms that could be COVID-19 and you test positive, I think it’s a good idea to assume you have the disease.
If you have no symptoms and test negative, there’s a strong likelihood that you’re negative.
If you have definitely been exposed and test positive, then for your safety and the safety of others, I would advise you to trust the test.
Beyond these situations, I would say this: If you test positive, you need to trust the test until proven otherwise by further testing.
Who needs to be tested?
If you have symptoms that could be COVID-19, you need to be tested (We'll cover more on symptoms later).
If you have had prolonged contact with someone who tests positive within 1-2 days, you need to be tested.
If the contact was not prolonged or it occurred more than a few days ago, I would suggest erring on the side of caution and get tested.
If you have prolonged contact with a symptomatic patient (coughing or sneezing), you really need to be tested very soon.
The bottom line is this, if you believe you may have been exposed, either talk to your healthcare provider or go get tested.
By the way, the negative test you took a week ago means nothing if you have symptoms. So if you develop symptoms, you need to have a current test.
How can I tell if I have symptoms of COVID-19?
The following are all symptoms of COVID-19 which should concern you:
Fever, particularly over 100 degrees
Loss of taste and smell, either total or to a great degree
Cough which is persistent and/or severe
Shortness of breath
Diarrhea, with or with our nausea and vomiting
If you have any one of these symptoms with a fever of 100 or greater, then you need to assume you have COVID-19 until proven otherwise!
How do I tell the difference between COVID-19, allergies, common cold and flu?
Allergies can cause runny nose, sore throat and cough, but typically they don't cause fever.
The common cold can cause runny nose, sore throat and cough — as well as fever in some cases. I predict many with colds this year will test negative for COVID-19 because they have so many of the same symptoms.
Influenza can cause all the symptoms of COVID-19; and while uncommon, it can even cause stomach upset and diarrhea.
Viral stomach infections may cause fever, but they do not generally cause cough, runny nose, etc.
Sinus infections generally don't cause stomach symptoms but can cause headache from pressure in the sinuses.
Given all of the information in the last section, you might find yourself in a position where you have potential symptoms of COVID-19 but you aren't sure it’s something else. We'll run through a number of scenarios to make sure you know what to do.
I have some of the symptoms, what do I do?
If your symptoms are mild, the first thing you need to do is isolate yourself from others. Warn those you live with and do not go to work or leave your home unless it is for testing.
Your next step should be to get tested. Until the test comes back negative, continue to isolate yourself from others and stay home!
I tested negative, what do I do?
If the test is negative and you need medical help, call your provider and let them know you are negative, along with where you were tested. It is a good idea to have the test results sent to your provider or have a copy yourself.
Your provider may then decide to treat you over the phone, through telehealth or at their office.
I tested positive but I'm not very sick, what do I do?
First and foremost, isolate yourself. It is your responsibility not to infect others. You need to set strict rules and make sure others around you follow them.
Notify your healthcare provider. He or she will tell you what to watch out for, when to be re-tested and when you can end your isolation.
Use medications to control your symptoms, particularly fever, and stay hydrated, especially if you are losing fluids through sweating or diarrhea.
In general, there is no reason to be re-tested unless your symptoms have completely.
I have COVID-19 and I'm quite sick, what do I do?
Call your healthcare provider if your cough is becoming severe, if you feel short of breath or if your diarrhea is severe. You also need to call them if you are becoming too weak to get out of bed.
Your provider will likely tell you to go to the ER. If the only person who can take you is at high risk for getting seriously ill from COVID-19 or if there is no one to take you to the ER, call 911 and they can send an ambulance.
A final word...
If you protect yourself by limiting exposure to others, use hand sanitizer frequently, wear a mask in public or around those who have been in public, avoid gatherings (particularly indoors), you are not likely to contract COVID-19 or any other contagious disease.
Following the rules from now to the end of the year will not only protect you from COVID-19, but it could result in a very mild cold and flu season.
There will likely come a time when COVID-19 may not be an issue. Until that time, just be careful, particularly if you are elderly or have serious pre-existing conditions.
If we follow this guidance, the vast majority of you will be fine.
Coronavirus Resource Center
For updates from MLH facilities, community resources, COVID-19 FAQs and much more, visit our Coronavirus Resource Center