I’ve never been a physician during a global pandemic...until now. None of my colleagues have either...until now.
Typically, when patients have illness, there are known resources where we can go to get more information about the illness itself and how to treat it. We studied diseases in the first 2 years of medical school and then saw them during the second 2 years and during residency. There are known standards of care and protocols we follow. None of us ever saw or treated COVID-19 until recently.
With this global pandemic of COVID-19, medicine and healthcare doesn’t work the normal way. Information changes daily. A physician colleague across the world will comment on a medication that may or may not work or a risk factor that may or may not make things worse and the information will travel. Sometimes that information is accurate and sometimes it is not. Typically, doctors like to wait until our big name journals discuss treatments and risk factors before passing that information on to patients. Yesterday, 3/18/2020, the World Health Organization came out and confirmed some of the "doctor chatter" and stated that NSAIDs (ibuprofen, naproxen, aspirin) may make COVID-19 worse. Then today, 3/19/2020, the same World Health Organization backtracked and said that may not be true. (Either way, acetaminophen/Tylenol is considered safe for COVID-19.)
Today's update will give you a bit more information about our area’s ability to test for COVID-19 and treat it.
How is the test done?
We do have swabs in Cincinnati. Numerous drive through sites have been set up around the city, but their supplies of swabs are low. Most of these sites are using LabCorp test kits. The test is done by using a thin swab and inserting it inside each nostril deeply, until it curves downward toward the mouth. That swab is then placed in a vial that has special fluid. The test is frozen and sent to LabCorp. We don’t get results back for 3-5 days currently, although it wouldn’t surprise me if that turnaround time ends up taking longer.
How many tests do we have?
Unfortunately, we do not have enough of the reagent used to process that test samples to test everyone right now. I hope that soon we will, or we’ll have a new test with a quicker turnaround time.
Who might qualify to be tested right now?
- Patients with high fever, cough, and shortness of breath
- Patients at risk (lung issues, heart disease, decreased immune system) who are having symptoms
What do I do if I have symptoms but can’t get tested?
We are asking that if you do have symptoms you behave as if you actually do have the disease. We should all be practicing "social distancing" and staying in our homes as much as possible. If you have symptoms, you should not go to work. If your symptoms are mild, the treatment doesn’t change if you get tested or not. We treat with rest, tylenol for fevers and muscle aches, and drinking plenty of fluids.
If you have any symptoms, we want to know so we can help you. Dr. McGilligan and Dr. Sharp have been checking in with patients with symptoms daily, until their symptoms improve. Our goal is to keep as many people out of the emergency room and hospital as possible. Know that you can reach out to your doctor easily and get reassurance and advice.
Remember, whether you get tested or not, and whether you are positive or not, your treatment doesn’t change if your symptoms are mild.
I heard on the news about a medication that can treat COVID-19. Can I get a prescription for it?
Chloroquine (treats malaria) and Hydroxychloroquine (treats autoimmune disease) is currently being studied as a treatment for COVID-19. The patients in the study are very sick and are hospitalized. Our current nation-wide supplies of these medications are not large. Many patients in the country use hydroxychloroquine (otherwise known as plaquenil) to treat their lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, and mixed connective tissue disease. There are many risks to being on these medications as well. It is not currently recommended to use these medications to prevent COVID-19 or to treat mild symptoms.
So what do I do?
It is very hard to just stay in place and wait. It is hard for the doctors as well. We want a way to fix this. We want to make everyone better. But staying in and waiting is what is best right now.
Try to maintain a healthy lifestyle by getting enough sleep, eating a well balanced diet, and drinking plenty of water.
When possible, go outside in your yard or take a walk. (Just make sure you are practicing social distancing while doing so.)
Pick up the phone and call or video chat your friends and family. Think of something you can do that can positively impact the lives of others. It may be as simple as commenting on someone’s post online in a positive manner.
Consider learning something new. That guitar in the corner you’ve been wanting to learn how to play? Now's the time. There are people all over the world offering free tutorials through YouTube on how to play instruments, how to draw, etc.
We will get through this.