Warning Signs of COVID-19 Infection and Treatment GuidelinesDr. Surya Bhagwati
Although the COVID19 pandemic has forced much of the world to shutdown, there is still plenty of confusion and misinformation out there. This is unfortunate as trusted information can make a huge difference in terms of prevention, early detection, and an effective response. We shall do our best to give you information from reliable government and scientific authorities in a manner that’s easy to understand.
The reason for much of the confusion is the very nature of the disease. COVID-19 is a new disease that only emerged in the last month of 2019, with most of the world hearing about it just a few months ago. Believed to have originated in a wet market in Wuhan, China, the virus eventually spread across the world to turn into a global pandemic. Officially termed as SARS-CoV-2, the virus has caused millions of infections across the world and over 300,000 deaths.
The risk of infection is only high if you come in contact with an infected individual, which is why social distancing is so important. Of course, social distancing is not foolproof and for many of us it’s not possible to avoid all social contact. This makes awareness of COVID-19 symptoms equally important.
What are the Symptoms of COVID-19 Infection?
As an emerging disease, there is still a lot that we have to learn about COVID-19. However, from reports this far, we know that you can get infected without showing any symptoms for 2 day or up to 2 weeks. This is called the incubation period. During this time an infected individual may still spread the infection and this is what makes COVID-19 so dangerous. You can spread it or get infected without even knowing it. While some individuals may not experience any symptoms at all, the main symptoms of COVID-19 include the following:
- Difficulty breathing or breathlessness
- A cough that progressively worsens
- A low grade fever that progressively increases
- Weakness and loss of energy
There is considerable variation in symptoms and some patients may also experience the following:
- Intense feeling of cold or chills with shivering and shaking
- Soreness of the throat
- Headaches and body aches
- Loss of smell and taste
As noted, these symptoms can progressively worsen. They can also cause a rapid onset of dangerous symptoms in high risk groups, such as aged individuals and those with preexisting conditions like diabetes or heart disease. Emergency medical attention should be sought in case of the following symptoms:
- Increased difficulty breathing
- Confusion and inexplicable drowsiness
- Blueness of the lips or face
- Pressure or pain in the chest area that does not go away
As there are ongoing investigations and studies, this list should not be regarded as comprehensive, but is based on current knowledge. For more information and updates, make sure to check out the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare online resources.
How to Tell if You Have COVID-19?
Because of the wide range of respiratory illnesses that have similar symptoms, it is almost impossible to diagnose COVID-19 without testing. If you suspect that you or a loved one may have picked up the infection, you need to seek screening immediately. If you aren’t sure about the nearest testing facilities, contact your doctor first over the phone to find out if you should get tested and how to go about the same.
At present, COVID-19 testing in India is conducted at both private and government hospitals. There may be differences in testing capabilities and procedures in different parts of the country, so it is advisable to first contact local health officials.
What are the COVID-19 Complication Risks?
Most infected individuals experience mild to moderate COVID-19 symptoms, but the disease is known to cause severe symptoms and can even lead to life threatening complications in some. The risk of complications is greater for high risk groups, which we shall elaborate on shortly. Typically, these would include older adults and those with pre-existing chronic diseases. The risk of COVID-19 complications includes:
- Pneumonia and inability to breathe without support
- Organ damage and failure
- Blood clot formation and heart problems
- Onset of other viral and bacterial infections
The development of COVID-19 complications has a huge impact on recovery rates, significantly increasing the risk of death.
Who is At Higher Risk of COVID-19 Complications?
COVID-19 complications can sometimes strike down seemingly healthy adults, but they are most threatening to adults over the age of 60 or 65 and those suffering from pre-existing conditions such as:
- Chronic respiratory diseases like asthma and COPD
- Chronic conditions like heart disease, diabetes, kidney or liver disease
- Immunocompromising conditions like HIV
Although data suggests that men are at higher risk of COVID-19 complications than women, during pregnancy women are more vulnerable to viral infections; however, this does not seem to be the case with COVID-19 infections. It should also be pointed out that the risk of a mother passing the virus to her baby during pregnancy is unlikely, but a newborn baby can get infected after birth.
COVID-19 Treatment Guidelines
Treatment is administered on a case by case basis as no medication has been proven to cure COVID-19. While mild symptoms can be treated with home treatments, medical attention should be sought immediately if you suspect that you might have COVID-19 infection. Keep in mind that antibiotics are of no use when fighting viral infections like the coronavirus responsible for COVID-19.
Although there is no effective medication at present, research is ongoing and there have been some encouraging findings. Unfortunately, some unproven cures have also been hyped and received unwarranted attention. Drugs like remdesivir, hydroxychloroquine, and chloroquine have been suggested as potential cures, but none are approved for the purpose and should only be administered in a hospital setting if the doctors deem it appropriate. Self-medication with such drugs can be dangerous, even increasing the risk of death because of serious side effects including fatal heart rhythm problems. When such drugs are administered in a hospital setting they are done under strict supervision.
Researchers are also studying the scope of combination therapies, anti-inflammatory drugs, immune-based therapy, and other emerging drugs. As of now, the best thing that you can do is to seek medical care in case of COVID-19 symptoms. You can also take other steps to protect yourself by strengthening your immune system naturally. This is where natural health care systems like Ayurveda can make all the difference. Ayurveda offers a wealth of information, allowing you to use nutrition, herbs, and lifestyle modifications to boost immunity. This will help increase protection against infection and could also have a positive impact on recovery.
- WHO Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) Dashboard. World Health Organization, covid19.who.int/
- Symptoms of Coronavirus. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 8 May 2020, www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/symptoms-testing/symptoms.html?CDC_AA_refVal=https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/about/symptoms.html
- Pregnancy and Breastfeeding. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 15 Apr. 2020, www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/need-extra-precautions/pregnancy-breastfeeding.html
- “NIH Clinical Trial Testing Antiviral Remdesivir plus Anti-Inflammatory Drug Baricitinib for COVID-19 Begins.” National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 8 May 2020, www.nih.gov/news-events/news-releases/nih-clinical-trial-testing-antiviral-remdesivir-plus-anti-inflammatory-drug-baricitinib-covid-19-begins
- Rathi, Sahaj et al. “Hydroxychloroquine prophylaxis for COVID-19 contacts in India.” The Lancet. Infectious diseases, S1473-3099(20)30313-3. 17 Apr. 2020, doi:10.1016/S1473-3099(20)30313-3