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What to do if you think you have COVID-19?

If you suspect you have COVID-19, get a correct diagnosis, look after yourself, and stop the virus from spreading to those around you. Remember that panicking is not going to help anyone, least of all you.

The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) mostly affects your respiratory system: your nose, your throat, and your lungs. The symptoms are similar to those of flu and colds, and it can be difficult to tell the difference. You could also feel dizzy, nauseous and have a runny nose.

Symptoms can vary greatly between people, depending on their age, state of health, and some environmental factors.

Here are some things you should do if you think you might have been infected:

  • First, find out if you really have COVID-19. It’s best to be sure, especially if you know you have been exposed to the virus. The presence of the virus can be detected by means of laboratory tests or antibody test kits. These are not yet available everywhere. Warn the doctor before your appointment so that sufficient precautions can be taken, advises the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
  • Stay at home. If your symptoms are mild, you can treat yourself at home, much as you would if you had the flu. Don’t go to school or to work or to public places where you could spread the virus to other people. Don’t use public transport.
  • If you have COVID-19, tell the people with whom you have been in contact. Contact friends and co-workers with whom you have had close contact in the preceding two weeks – they need to know if they should look out for any symptoms, or take precautions not to infect those around them.
  • Stay away from the other people in your home. Stay in a specific room and use a separate bathroom if you can. If they come into your room, they should wear face masks. Don’t touch your pets, the CDC advises – we don’t know everything about how this disease spreads yet.
  • Wash your hands. This will not help you if you already have been infected, but it will reduce the chances that you will spread the virus to the other people around you. The World Health Organization (WHO) stresses that proper washing with soap and water or alcohol-based hand rub will kill the viruses that may be on your hands. Wash for at least 20 seconds, especially after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing. Much of the transmission of this virus happens by means of hand/face contact.
  • Wear a mask. This stops you from spreading the virus by means of coughing or sneezing onto other people. Masks must be disposed of in a clean bin, otherwise, they can be a source of infection. Never re-use a mask, and make sure there are no gaps between your face and the mask. Also, get into a habit of covering your mouth and your nose when you sneeze or cough.
  • Watch what you do with the stuff you throw away. Throw tissues and masks and into a lined rubbish bin. This should not go into a communal bin in the kitchen, but directly into the outside bin inside the bag.
  • Don’t share utensils/other items. Avoid sharing plates, cutlery, bedding or towels with anyone who lives with you. After you have used any of these, they should be properly washed separately from the stuff used by other people living in your home.
  • Drink and eat properly. Avoid becoming dehydrated, and eat properly, as your body needs proper and regular nourishment to fight this virus. Make use of food delivery services if you have not stocked up.
  • Follow your doctor’s instructions. Do what you have been told, and take medication as directed. Use the pharmacy’s delivery services.
  • Watch out for worsening symptoms. One of the biggest risks of having COVID-19 is developing pneumonia. If this happens, you might need to be hospitalised. If your fever increases or your coughing gets worse, or you start feeling very weak, contact your doctor at once.

Visit the NICD website at for further information. For medical/clinical related queries by health care professionals only, contact the NICD Hotline +27 (0) 82 883 9920 (for use by healthcare professionals only). For laboratory-related queries call the Centre for Respiratory Diseases and Meningitis (011-555- 0315/7/8 or 011-555-0488).

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