The coronavirus outbreak is dominating the news at the moment both in Ireland and abroad, but what should you do if you think you might have the Covid-19 virus?
With growing cases across the country and now Italy in lockdown, there are concerns about what to look out for.
Extra.ie has everything you need to know about coronavirus symptoms; when, where and how to get tested, and self-isolation protocol.
What are the symptoms of the coronavirus?
The most common symptoms of the coronavirus are coughing, shortness of breath, breathing difficulties and fever or high temperature.
As the flu season continues and the hayfever season begins, it’s important to remember that sneezing and a running nose are not typically associated with the coronavirus, which does not tend to affect the upper respiratory system.
It can take patients infected with the coronavirus up to 14 days to present with symptoms, and the majority of those affected will only experience mild symptoms.
When should you get tested for the coronavirus?
According to the latest advice from the HSE, you should consider getting tested for the coronavirus if you are experiencing any of the symptoms listed above and if you have been to any of the regions affected by the coronavirus outbreak in the last 14 days.
Currently, the HSE lists China, Hong Kong, Japan, Iran, South Korea and four regions of northern Italy (Lombardy, Veneto, Emilia-Romagna and Piedmont) as affected areas.
If you have returned from one of these regions and are not experiencing coronavirus symptoms, the HSE advises you to continue with your normal routine.
You should also get tested if you are presenting with coronavirus symptoms and have been in close contact in the last 14 days with someone who has been diagnosed with the Covid-19 virus.
How and where can you get tested for the coronavirus?
If you fit the criteria for someone who should be tested for the coronavirus, you should phone your GP or local emergency department but you must not present at a doctor’s clinic or hospital in person.
Once you have made contact with the appropriate healthcare professional, a risk assessment will be carried out before you can be referred for coronavirus testing.
The HSE has rolled out an at-home National Ambulance testing service in recent days, which entails a rapid response ambulance arriving at your home carrying staff wearing protective clothing who will conduct clinical and environmental tests as well as taking nasal swabs.
Staff will leave you with an information pack, and you should have the results of your test within 36 hours.
What happens if you test positive for the coronavirus?
If you test positive for the coronavirus, the next step in the process will depend on the severity of your condition.
The vast majority of people who become infected with the coronavirus will only experience mild symptoms, and patients suffering from mild to moderate cases of the coronavirus can expect to recover at home in self-isolation.
As the coronavirus is viral rather than bacterial, antibiotics will not be prescribed — in fact, there is no specific treatment prescribed unless supportive treatments, such as oxygen, are required.
In the event that a patient presents with more severe symptoms, or symptoms resembling pneumonia, and requires hospitalisation, transport to the relevant hospital will be arranged by public health authorities, and the patient will be treated in isolation.
Under what circumstances should you self-isolate?
Firstly, the HSE differentiates between self-isolation and limited social interaction; the former entails staying indoors and avoiding all contact others while the latter entails avoiding contact with others and social interactions as much as possible.
You will only be asked to self-isolate by the public health authorities if they suspect you may have the coronavirus.
If asked to self-isolate, you should stay at home in a well ventilated room, avoid contact with your family members or housemates, monitor your symptoms, wash your hands regularly, use different towels, eating utensils, glasses etc to other members of the household, and clean and disinfect your room daily.
You should also wear a face mask if you are interacting with other household members and you should not put your rubbish out for collection until you have your test results.
You may be asked to limit your social interactions if you have been in close contact with a coronavirus patient. Close contact is defined as spending a period of over 15 minutes within two metre of someone with the coronavirus, or sharing accommodation with someone with the coronavirus.
If asked to limit your social interactions, you should not go to work, school or college, you should not use public transport, you should not travel outside Ireland, you should not have visitors in your home, you should not go shopping or attend large social gatherings, and you should avoid contact with vulnerable people including the elderly, the immunosuppressed and pregnant women. You may, however, leave your house and go running, walking or cycling on your own.
If you are considered to fall into an at-risk group (people who are more likely to contract a serious illness from the coronavirus), the HSE advises you to take extra precautions to protect yourself, including avoiding crowded spaces and observing rigorous hygiene measures.
At-risk people currently include those aged over 60, those suffering from long-term or chronic illnesses or underlying medical conditions, and pregnant women.