Denise Hooks-Anderson, M.D.

Recently, one of our readers submitted an excellent question regarding the next steps for individuals who believe they may have the coronavirus. So much of the news has been focused on prevention and the current numbers of people infected. To be honest, coronavirus discussion has been flooding television, radio, and social media. However, in light of the situation, let’s review what we know.

The novel coronavirus infection is believed to have begun in Wuhan, China in December 2019 and has spread to approximately 100 locations internationally.

The CDC recommends the following to prevent infection:

  • Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly for at least 20 seconds. Use alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water aren’t available.
  • Cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Stay home when you are sick.
  • Clean and disinfect surfaces and objects people frequently touch.

The novel coronavirus infection, which is referred to as COVID-19, produces symptoms such as fever, cough, and shortness of breath. These generic symptoms also mimic symptoms of upper respiratory infections and influenza.  Sometimes COVID-19 causes respiratory problems or kidney damage. People with weakened immune systems and the elderly are most at risk.

Transmission rates in children have been low. However, this does not give license to young people to disregard the social distancing recommended by governmental agencies.

So what do you do if you have the aforementioned symptoms? Per the major health organizations, you should contact your health provider first over the phone. Staff or the provider will then direct your next steps. If your symptoms and your risk factors sound suspicious for the virus, staff should direct you to the health department.

Making the provider aware of any past travel to high-risk areas such as China or Italy in the past 14 days is also extremely important. This full-disclosure discussion will help reduce the disease burden in communities. Furthermore, if you believe you have been standing within six feet of someone with the virus, this information should also be shared with your provider.

Please do not just show up to the hospital or your doctor’s office if you suspect that you have been exposed to the coronavirus. Remember, the goal is to also prevent spread to others.

Call your health care provider if you are symptomatic to discuss whether you should be evaluated in person and considered for testing.

To be tested by the state public health laboratory, patients must meet the state's criteria, which evaluates a combination of symptoms and risk factors.

State lab results are generally available within 24 hours. Commercial labs take approximately three days.

For more details, the public can call the Missouri 24-hour coronavirus hotline by dialing 877-435-8411 or visit the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services' website at https://tinyurl.com/MO-COVID19.

As a primary care provider, I realize that this coronavirus pandemic has been stressful in numerous ways, such as school closings, arranging child care, job closings, and, simply put, fear of the unknown. Nevertheless, I recommend that we all remain calm and follow the rapidly evolving guidelines as they are released.

Denise Hooks-Anderson, M.D., FAAFP, is associate professor at SLUCare Family Medicine and medical accuracy editor of The St. Louis American. Email yourhealthmatters@stlamerican.com.

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