What South Africans must do if they have coronavirus symptoms

South Africans with coronavirus symptoms can be tested for COVID-19 if they meet the criteria outlined by the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD).

However, those with no symptoms who are concerned about whether they have the virus should not try to be tested, as they will use up valuable resources which could be used to test others.

“There are a number of reasons why we do not recommend testing of a person with no symptoms, even if you are a close contact of a confirmed COVID-19 case, or have recently travelled to a country where COVID-19 is circulating in the community,” the NICD said.

Most importantly, if you receive a negative test result and do not display any symptoms, that does not mean you do not have COVID-19, as you could develop symptoms later.

“If you tested negative and mistakenly interpreted this to mean that you were not infected, you could go back to your usual activities and spread the virus while you still had an early infection,” the NICD said.

“There is a shortage of laboratory tests globally, and we need to reserve our valuable laboratory testing resources for those who are sick and for those groups of people where we can use these test results for public health good,” it added.

South Africans who are experiencing what they believe to be coronavirus symptoms should follow the guidelines below.

Identifying symptoms

The first step after feeling ill is to check your symptoms against the official guidance of the World Health Organisation (WHO).

The most common symptoms of COVID-19 are fever, tiredness, and a dry cough. Some COVID-19 patients may also experience aches and pains, nasal congestion, runny nose, sore throat, or diarrhoea.

These symptoms progress gradually and are usually mild, with a number of people not developing any symptoms at all. Only one in six COVID-19 patients become seriously ill and develop difficulty breathing.

“Older people, and those with underlying medical problems like high blood pressure, heart problems or diabetes, are more likely to develop serious illness,” the WHO states.

“People with fever, cough and difficulty breathing should seek medical attention.”

The most common symptoms are:

  • Cough
  • Fever
  • Tiredness
  • Difficulty breathing (severe cases)

If you are experiencing the symptoms listed above, the next step is to get tested.

What to do

The NICD has published guidelines for South Africans who meet the current criteria for COVID-19 testing, but are healthy enough to not have to be admitted to a hospital.

“The exact testing process may be different in different provinces and between the public and private sectors,” the NICD said.

“In general, you need to first contact your healthcare provider. This may be your GP or your local clinic/hospital. You should phone ahead to your healthcare provider, if possible, and find out what the exact process is for you to be tested.”

Clinics and other healthcare practitioners will refer you to a testing facility if you meet the criteria to be tested. If you do not need emergency medical care, you should not visit a hospital emergency unit for testing.

You will need to pay for tests conducted at private laboratories. This costs around R900-R1,500, and health insurers normally only cover the cost if the results of the test is positive.

The most common type of COVID-19 test is the collection of a specimen via a swab through the patient’s nose.

“If your test is reported as positive, this means that genetic material from the coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) was found in your specimen and you have confirmed coronavirus disease,” the NICD said.

At this point, you will be either admitted to hospital if your symptoms are especially severe, or you will be asked to self-isolate at home.

A guideline for self-isolation is available on the NICD website.

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What South Africans must do if they have coronavirus symptoms