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What Should You Do If You are Exposed to a COVID-19 Patient?

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The rate at which the COVID-19 pandemic continues to spread across the world makes most of us anxious about coming in contact with a suspected or confirmed COVID-19 patient. Though social distancing of at least 6 feet, wearing a face mask, following cough etiquettes, and hand hygiene have become the new norm, the risk of contracting COVID-19 remains.
If you’ve met someone recently who has later tested positive for COVID-19, it is natural to be worried about having contracted the virus yourself. In the article, let’s look at the steps to be followed in such a scenario.

What ‘close contact’ with a COVID-19 patient means

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), you have been in close contact with a suspected or confirmed COVID-19 person if you fulfill any one of the following criteria:
  • If you were unprotected and within a range of 6 feet from the person for at least 15 minutes.
  • If you had direct physical contact (touch, hug, handshake, common surface contact, etc.) with the person.
  • If you shared eating or drinking utensils.
  • If you had provided home-care service to a confirmed COVID-19 person.
  • If the patient has sneezed, coughed, and their respiratory droplets landed on you.

Difference between a suspected and confirmed case of COVID-19

A suspected case of COVID-19 is someone who:
  • Is suffering from mild or acute respiratory illness with symptoms of fever, cough, and shortness of breath.
  • Has a history of travel to or residence in a location reporting community transmission of COVID-19 disease during the 14 days before symptom onset.
  • Came in contact with a confirmed or probable COVID-19 case in the last 14 days before symptom onset.
  • Requires hospitalization and has no alternative diagnosis that fully explains the clinical presentations.
A confirmed COVID-19 patient, on the other hand, is someone whose laboratory tests confirm Coronavirus infection, irrespective of clinical signs and symptoms.

What should you do if you find out that a person you came in contact with has been tested positive for the Coronavirus?

The first thing you should do if you learn that you have recently been in close contact with a COVID-19 patient is to quarantine yourself. Follow these steps to ensure that you and your immediate family are safe and healthy.
  • Self-quarantine for 14 days: You should quarantine yourself if you get to know that you have been exposed to a confirmed COVID-19 person. The symptoms of Coronavirus usually take 14 days to appear, so immediate isolation is recommended. If you reside alone, ask your caretaker to leave essential items at the doorstep itself. Do not make any face-to-face contact with any visitors. You will be in regular touch with the district surveillance officer who will update all details on the COVID-19 portal. Besides this, all family members and close contacts’ sample might be tested as per the guidelines issued by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR).
  • Inform local authorities: Contact the district health authorities or administration and inform them about your close contact with a COVID-19 confirmed patient. All states have specific phone numbers designated for this purpose. If you live in a residential welfare association (apartment, gated community, etc.), inform the designated office bearers.
  • Inform other contacts: You should tell other people who you may have been in touch with, about your quarantine status and keep them informed about any symptoms you’ve started to show.
  • Check if a COVID-19 test is required: Local health authorities may collect your throat or nasal swab for COVID-19 testing. Else, you may also book it through ICMR approved labs. It may be a good idea to check the guidelines for a doctor prescription requirement for the test, as they may differ in different states.
  • Monitor your symptoms: During home-quarantine, monitor yourself for COVID-19 symptoms which may appear between 2 and 14 days after exposure to the Coronavirus. Some of the symptoms include fever, chills, cough, sore throat, difficulty in breathing, congestion/runny nose, fatigue, muscle/body ache, headache, loss of smell/taste, nausea, vomiting, or diarrhoea. If you observe any of these symptoms, report it to your local health authorities and your doctor. It is likely that they will recommend a COVID-19 test for you.
  • Limit interaction with elderly and people with underlying conditions: Older adults and people with underlying medical conditions (like high blood pressure, diabetes, chronic kidney disease, asthma, COPD, pregnant woman, immune-compromised patients, etc.) are categorized as people at increased risk of severe illness due to COVID-19. Limit interaction with them to lower their chances of infection.
  • Keep medical devices handy: Medical devices like a thermometer and pulse oximeter are essential to help you keep track of your fever and blood oxygen level. Inform your doctor and local health authorities if your blood oxygen level dips below 95%, you have had a fever of 100.4°F (38°C) continuously for 3 days, experience difficulty in breathing or have developed a cough. 
  • Keep stock of your prescribed medications: If you develop any specific symptoms, the doctor may prescribe various medicines depending on the diagnosis. Try to keep at least a month’s stock of your prescribed medicines.
  • Eat healthy: Quitting smoking and drinking alcoholic beverages are recommended for leading a healthy life. Avoid excess sugar, reduce salt intake, avoid packed and processed foods. Opt for fresh vegetables, fruits, whole grains and lean meats, based on your dietary preferences.
  • Install Aarogya Setu app: Aarogya Setu is a mobile application that helps to keep people informed of their risk of COVID-19 infection. You need to fill in all the details including the symptoms (if present) and enable your phone’s Bluetooth and location. The application will alert you if any one of your contacts tests positive. You can also get daily tips to control and mitigate the spread of COVID-19. 

When to seek emergency medical attention?

The Ministry of Health & Family Welfare, India has recommended that you seek emergency medical help if you develop any of the following symptoms, when in quarantine: 
  • Difficulty in breathing
  • Decline in oxygen saturation (SpO2) level below 95%
  • Frequent chest pain or chest tightness
  • Mental confusion or unable to arouse or awake 
  • Weakness or numbness in the face, legs, or hands
  • Slurred speech 
  • Bluish discoloration of lips or face
  • Seizure attack. 
Those experiencing signs of COVID-19 should get screened for the infection.

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