Do I have a cold or do I have coronavirus?
It's a question any of us feeling unwell may have asked ourselves in recent days and weeks as COVID-19 cases rise.
While the odds of your having COVID-19 are much lower than the likelihood of your having the common cold or flu, it's important you know what to look out for — and where you can get help.
What are the symptoms of coronavirus?
The most common symptoms of COVID-19 are fever, tiredness, and a dry cough.
Some people also experience a sore throat, runny nose, shortness of breath, nasal congestion, aches and pains, or diarrhoea.
Normally, our body temperature is between 36–37 degrees Celsius. Any temperature over 38 is classified as a fever, and so that is something to keep an eye on.
Symptoms are usually mild and begin gradually. They typically appear three to four days after exposure to the virus, but sometimes up to 14 days later.
However, some people become infected but don't develop any symptoms and don't feel unwell.
About 80 per cent of people who get COVID-19 will recover without needing special treatment.
But one in six will become seriously ill and develop breathing difficulties.
Older people and those with underlying health problems such as high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease and diabetes are more likely to develop serious illness.
In Australia, the people most at risk of getting the virus are those who have recently been in a high-risk country or region, and people who have been in close contact with someone who has coronavirus.
How is COVID-19 different to the flu?
While COVID-19 and influenza both can cause respiratory symptoms, there are some key differences.
According to the Government's healthdirect website, influenza often includes muscle pains and headache, while these symptoms are uncommon in COVID-19.
Another difference between the two diseases is the kind of person affected. So far, severe COVID-19 has mainly affected older age groups and people with chronic illnesses.
To date, healthy people, children and pregnant women — who can become very sick from flu — haven't been significantly affected by COVID-19.
But health authorities have warned younger adults shouldn't be complacent about their risk from coronavirus, since it's not impossible for them to have a severe form of the disease.
So far, Australian data shows people in their 60s have the highest rates of diagnosis, followed by people in their 30s, then 50s.
I think I have COVID-19 symptoms. What should I do?
If you are sick and think you have symptoms of COVID-19, authorities recommend you seek medical attention.
If you want to speak to someone about your symptoms first, you can call the Coronavirus Health Information Hotline on 1800 020 080. It's operating 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
You can also use the symptom checker on healthdirect.
Before visiting your local GP or hospital clinic, you need to call ahead to make an appointment.
It's also important to call ahead to explain your symptoms, travel history, and any recent close contact with someone who has COVID-19, so they can prepare for your appointment.
GPs are now being reimbursed for telephone consultations on coronavirus, for those who think they might have it, or who have pre-existing health problems and do not want to come into a doctor's waiting room. They can also advise whether a telehealth consultation is appropriate.
In coming weeks, the Federal Government is also establishing 100 GP respiratory clinics to assess people.
What if I've been overseas recently?
If you have returned from another country and are experiencing any flu-like symptoms, such as a fever, cough, headaches, sore throat, fatigue, sweats, chills or shortness of breath, you should contact your doctor or local hospital.
Again, you need to call ahead so the doctor is aware of your symptoms and travel history before you visit the clinic.
People entering Australia from any overseas country — including Australian citizens — must self-quarantine for 14 days from their date of arriving in Australia. The same goes for people who have been in contact with a person infected with COVID-19.
Will I need to get tested for COVID-19?
Testing methods may include a blood test, a swab test inside your nose or in the back of your throat, or a sputum test, which examines a mix of saliva and mucus.
You will only be tested if your doctor decides you meet the criteria:
- You have returned from overseas in the past 14 days and you develop respiratory illness with or without fever
- You have been in close contact with a confirmed COVID-19 case in the past 14 days and you develop respiratory illness with or without fever
- You have severe community-acquired pneumonia and there is no clear cause
- You are a healthcare worker who works directly with patients and you have a respiratory illness and a fever
At this stage, if you do not have any symptoms, you will not be tested for COVID-19.
If you're feeling unwell but don't meet the testing criteria, it's still important tostay home and avoid contact with others.
Because there is a global shortage of test kits that pathologists use to diagnose COVID-19, Australia is only doing targeted testing instead of widespread testing.
The guidelines for testing are being regularly updated as the spread of the virus changes in Australia.