Now that we’re all hyperaware of the new coronavirus, you might be thinking back on the last time you were sick. More specifically, you may be reflecting on that cold or respiratory illness you experienced back at the beginning of the year. Is there a chance that was actually COVID-19?
The main symptoms of COVID-19 include a cough, shortness of breath and a fever. Additionally, you might have digestive problems ― like nausea or diarrhea ― a headache and a sore throat. At the onset of the illness, you may experience a loss of smell or taste.
These symptoms can be mistaken for a bad cold or the flu, especially if you have a “mild” case of COVID-19. It’s also very possible to have the virus and not even notice, as some cases can be asymptomatic or negligible.
There’s evidence the coronavirus started spreading in America earlier than people were really tracking it. Some experts suspect that the first U.S. cases began in January. Lee Riley, chair of the division of infectious disease and vaccinology at the University of California, Berkeley’s School of Public Health, told Medium that it’s safe to assume the virus has probably been spreading in your community for about two weeks before there’s a confirmed death.
Combine all of these facts, and the theory that some people may have already been infected with the virus and recovered isn’t an outrageous one. That may be slightly comforting, especially since some experts believe you may have some level of immunity once you get COVID-19.
Unfortunately, there’s no effective way yet to know if you’ve had the virus in the past and recovered.
“At this point, we don’t have a test to tell that,” William Hillmann, an associate inpatient physician director at Massachusetts General Hospital, told The Guardian.
“We are developing antibody tests to check for a prior infection, but those aren’t ready for clinical use yet,” Hillmann added. “The only definitive way to know that you’ve had it is to get tested while you have it and to have that test be positive.”
Since you can’t determine if you unknowingly had and recovered from COVID-19, you should continue to act like you are susceptible or could be a carrier who may pass it to someone else. That means you must practice strict social distancing, limiting your exposure to others as much as you possibly can.
“This is phenomenally important for a disease like COVID-19, in which there is no natural immunity in the population and for which no vaccine exists,” Kirsten Hokeness, chair of the department of science and technology at Rhode Island’s Bryant University and an expert in immunology, virology, microbiology, and human health and disease, previously told HuffPost.
“This means that the only way for the virus to leave the population, in a sense, is to either infect everyone or [for us to] limit the ability of the virus to spread from person to person,” Hokeness said.
And if you’ve had the symptoms of COVID-19 recently, it’s especially important to isolate yourself. It’s believed that you’re contagious long after you stopped feeling sick.
The more we all behave like we’re carriers of the virus ― regardless of whether we’re currently experiencing symptoms, feel nothing or think we had it in the past ― the more impact we can have on slowing the spread.
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