Dr Karin Van Der MerweBy Dr Karin van der Merwe, a general practitioner working in Johannesburg. Founding member of GGPC ( Gauteng General Practitioners collaboration) which has a platform for doctors to share resources during COVID-19 . Look for  #voicesthatcare on the GGPC Facebook page.

Is it just a cold or do you have Corona?

Many times I have parents who tell me they are sure their child has just a cold. What is more alarming is that many of them have gone to school with this so-called just a cold. Either they bring their child to me for symptom relief or their conscience gets the better of them and they start thinking about COVID. School screening questionnaires don’t seem to pick out these sniffing children and I suspect many of the children or parents have downplayed their symptoms when asked.

The dilemma

I am quick to do COVID swabs on all patients with even mild respiratory symptoms and although the majority have been negative, some of the least likely candidates have been positive for COVID. Parents then need to explain to the school and other contacts that their child went to school with “just a cold” symptoms and have now put other children and teachers at risk. It’s a horrible situation to be in.

I understand the dilemma. We are brought up with the rule that one needs to be really 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. I get it.

But its a pandemic- and not just a cold!

just a cold

But here’s the thing. We are living in a pandemic! We are trying to contain a virus. One of COVID’s sneakiest features is that it can present in so many different ways- from asymptomatic; to a mild sore throat; to runny nose; to only a fever; to no fever but a headache and post nasal drip; to abdominal pain plus/minus diarrhoea; to dry cough, to more obviously severe symptoms like shortness of breath and everything in between! When it comes to respiratory illness, it’s very hard to rule COVID out on symptoms alone..

Stay home even if it’s just a cold

Keep your children home when they are ill. By the same token, Stay home when you are ill. Even if it seems really mild and crazy to miss work or school. Either go for a COVID 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/work while symptomatic. Ask your GP advice on whether you need a COVID test and how long to stay home.

Change your mindset

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced us to change our mindsets. We sanitise, social distance and wear masks. May we include a new mindset change – to stay home even when we think it’s just the common cold.

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