A woman uses a handkerchief to blow her nose. File picture: Mojpe/Pixabay
A woman uses a handkerchief to blow her nose. File picture: Mojpe/Pixabay

When fighting a pandemic, there’s no such thing as ’just a cold’

By Opinion Time of article published Feb 15, 2021

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Dr Karin van der Merwe

I cannot tell you how many times I have had patients who told me they are sure that all they have is just a cold. What is more alarming is that many of them have gone to work or school with this so-called cold.

Either they come to me for symptom relief or their conscience gets the better of them and they start thinking about Covid-19.

Screening questionnaires don’t seem to pick out these sniffing people and I suspect many of them have downplayed their symptoms when asked. I am quick to do Covid-19 swabs on these types of patients and although the majority have been negative, some of the least likely candidates have been positive for Covid-19. They then need to explain to their work colleagues (and other contacts) that they went to work with a cold and have now put them at risk.

I understand the dilemma.

We are brought up with the rule that one needs to be excessively sick to miss work or school. We live in a culture with excellent work ethic which frowns on absenteeism. Our children have missed out on so much school that we don’t want them to miss more opportunities.

But here’s the thing: We are living in a pandemic.

We are trying to contain a virus. One of Covid-19’s sneakiest features is that it can present in so many different ways: completely asymptomatic; a mild sore throat; runny nose; only a fever; no fever but a headache and post nasal drip; abdominal pain and diarrhoea; dry cough; and more severe symptoms like shortness of breath.

When it comes to respiratory illness, it’s very hard to rule Covid out on symptoms alone.

The simple message is to stay home when you are ill. Even if the illness seems mild and you think it would be crazy to miss work or school. Either go for a Covid-19 swab or give it a few days to pass. It’s hard to test everyone with a runny nose but if your “cold” has resolved, you are unlikely to be infectious.

Don’t go back to school or work while symptomatic; ask your GP advice on whether you need a Covid-19 test and how long to stay home.

The Covid-19 pandemic has forced us to change our mind set. We sanitise, social distance and wear masks. Perhaps we need to include a new mind set change: to stay home even when we think it’s just the common cold.

* Dr Karin van der Merwe is a member of the Gauteng General Practitioners Collaboration.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of IOL.

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