Coronavirus: what to do if you're worried you have Covid-19
We explain when to self-isolate, when to call a doctor and if you can ask for a test
Coronavirus has spread across the globe in only weeks. Efforts to contain it have been successful in some countries but not in others, and Europe has become the new epicentre of the pandemic.
The closure of schools, flight restrictions and work-from-home directives are credited with containing the virus in a number of countries, including the Emirates, where the government said there were 153 cases as of Monday, March 23.
But the virus will continue to spread globally until a vaccine is found, so it's important to know what to do if you feel unwell.
Here we break down some of the advice set out by health authorities and doctors:
What are the symptoms?
Just because you don't feel well, it doesn't mean you have coronavirus. At this time of year, much of the Northern Hemisphere's population has a runny nose and a bit of a cough.
There are two key symptoms to be aware of:
Continuous dry cough – this is not the need to clear your throat but repeatedly coughing for no reason throughout the day, and without mucus coming up (which is common with a cold).
Fever – this not simply feeling overheated but having an internal body temperature of above 37.7C (100F).
If you don't have a thermometer, one indicator is your chest and back will feel hot if another person touches it.
Some patients have described having a terribly dry throat.
When shouldn't you worry?
If you are sneezing, have a runny nose and a headache, you may be sick – but it's probably the same common cold you would get at this time of year. You should keep an eye on your condition, but not panic.
It is important to know the symptoms – 90 per cent of people with Covid-19 have a fever, 70 per cent have a dry cough and 30 per cent have trouble breathing. Runny noses are only found in 4 per cent of cases.
But if you're not sure, tell your employer and stay at home as a precaution. Below, we'll explain more about the virus's incubation period. Hospitals and doctor's surgeries are being inundated with people who have colds and are panicking for no reason.
You've just returned from travelling abroad – and feel fine
When you arrive at any UAE airport, you will walk past thermal scanners that detect raised body temperature. About 90 per cent of Covid-19 patients have a fever – the back and chest, not just the head, are hot to the touch. That could show up on a scanner but is not medically conclusive.
If it does detect a raised temperature, you will be sent for a check-up by airport medics and potentially sent to hospital for a test. If you show no signs, you can continue on your way. But it's important to follow the advice above if you start to feel ill in the following few days.
Travel restrictions are changing daily - from March 25 all inbound, outbound and transit flights will be cancelled for two weeks.
If you are coming from any country with a significant outbreak, you must self-quarantine for 14 days, Dr Hend Al Awadhi, a public health specialist at Dubai Health Authority, said in a video message this week.
That means work from home, limit social interaction and only leave the house to buy essential goods. This has moved from advice to become mandatory in recent days.
The average patient shows symptoms within five days - and 97 per cent within 12 days
Researchers from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health published a study that found the median patient showed symptoms within five days.
The analysis of patients in 50 provinces, regions and countries between January 4 and February 24 also found 97.5 per cent of patients had symptoms within 12 days of catching the virus, reinforcing the need for a 14-day quarantine.
In a small number of cases patients showed symptoms later. For example, some passengers on the Grand Princess were quarantined in Japan for two weeks and released, only to spread the virus when they returned to their home countries.
You've just returned from travelling abroad – and don't feel well
This depends where you are coming from. If you are arriving from an outbreak hotspot – particularly Europe or Asia – and have the symptoms listed above, you should isolate yourself at home.
If you've been in contact with anyone suspected or confirmed to have the virus, contact the relevant number listed above.
Do not take yourself and your family to the hospital unless it is an emergency as you could spread the virus.
It is best to contact the national hotline for tests: Estijaba – 8001717 – or Dubai Health Authority – 800342 – for a free video or voice consultation with a doctor.
You can also contact any public or private hospital by phone to explain the situation. An ambulance with paramedics in protective clothing will come to collect you and you will undergo a test for Covid-19, which is much more conclusive than the nasal swab.
It involves inserting a long swab into the throat to collect sputum, a mixture of saliva and mucus from the respiratory tract. You may be held at the hospital for 24 to 36 hours, depending on how long the results take.
What happens if I test positive?
If the first test is positive for Covid-19, you will be kept in isolation in hospital for at least two weeks to monitor how your symptoms develop.
In 80 per cent of cases, doctors class symptoms as 'mild' or similar to a case of bad flu. About 40 per cent of patients suffer extreme fatigue and 35 per cent have muscle aches.
The same study found 13.8 per cent of cases suffer severe symptoms – patients may need a ventilator – and 6.1 per cent are critical and kept in intensive care.
Adults are estimated to be 2.7 times more likely to get the virus than children, and symptoms in young people tend to be much milder.
Those with heart conditions, high blood pressure, asthma and other pre-existing conditions are more at risk of a severe form of the virus developing.
During the two-week period of isolation, two further tests will be carried out, explained Dr Saheer Sainalabdeen, specialist pulmonologist at Medeor Hospital in Dubai.
"The patient should be kept in an isolation room in hospital for a minimum of 14 days [and at the end] two samples can be taken. Two samples should be negative before they are released.
"We don’t have that many cases now but in case the cases increase, we would have to think about how the treatment of mild cases would change."
Parents would have to find someone to look after their children if they test positive but their children did not. They would not be allowed to bring them with them to their isolation room in hospital.
What happens if a friend or colleague is a suspected or confirmed case?
You should contact the numbers listed here and follow their medical advice.
Depending on the level of contact, you may be asked to home-quarantine for two weeks, to see if symptoms develop, or undergo a precautionary test.
More than 125,000 people have been tested in the Emirates in the past two months as a precaution – about 13,000 tests for every million people.
Many of these are travellers returning from outbreak hotspots or have come into contact with a patient before they were isolated.
"At present, the majority of hospitals screen people who have a travel history, especially the countries which have high numbers of cases," said Dr Sainalabdeen.
"And if you are feeling unwell and your friend or colleague is a suspected case will they probably test you? Yes, anyone who is in close contact would be tested, and if you are symptomatic [without yet testing positive] you should be at home."
You have no symptoms but want to get tested
Any public or private hospital has the means to handle tests and the country's large medical sector is working together to tackle the virus.
In Dubai, many tests are sent to the government-run Latifa Hospital, which has been designated a central laboratory.
But doctors may decide not to test you, particularly if you have no symptoms, no concerning travel history and no contact with a suspected or confirmed patient.
Hospitals and government officials are reluctant to test people for no reason, particularly if they are asymptomatic, meaning they have no symptoms.
As of March 23, officials said not to visit a hospital unless you are very ill. You should isolate yourself at home and phone the numbers listed here.
"The health centre would decide whether to treat asymptomatic people. But mostly I feel that no, they would not test them," said Dr Sainalabdeen.
Dr Ravi Arora, a specialist in internal medicine at NMC Speciality Hospital in Abu Dhabi, said the authorities have been clear on testing walk-ins without symptoms.
"We are not doing that. The guidelines are very clear on this," he said.
"We are inundated with requests and we are saying if you don’t have symptoms, please don’t even bother visiting the hospital. If you haven’t travelled and you haven’t been in contact with a suspected or confirmed case, we would not test you. That is going by the national guidelines."
Updated: March 23, 2020 01:12 PM