March 26, 2020 – Even during a pandemic, every little sneeze or cough
should not cause panic. It is the height of pollen season, after all,
and the Golden Isles are more golden than usual!
To help you make sense of sniffles and sneezes,
Steven F. Mosher, M.D., a board-certified internal medicine physician specializing in infectious
disease and member of the Southeast Georgia Health System medical staff,
discusses the differences between the
novel coronavirus (COVID-19) and seasonal illnesses.
Coronavirus vs. Common Illnesses
Some symptoms associated with COVID-19
do overlap with cold, flu and nasal allergy symptoms. There is one big difference,
however. Coronavirus infects the lower respiratory tract; colds and allergies
affect the upper respiratory tract.
“Coronavirus affects the lungs and chest more than other seasonal
ailments. The most common symptoms are fever and a dry cough. Seek immediate
medical care if you experience shortness of breath, rapid breathing, chest
pain or pressure and confusion,” says Mosher. “But call before
going to your doctor’s office, urgent care, or Emergency Care Center.
They’ll ask certain questions to determine if you need testing and
will give you directions on how to avoid exposing others when you arrive.”
While people with asthma may experience shortness of breath during allergy
season, Mosher explains, “If your nose is affected, it’s probably
a cold or hay fever.”
For many people, the flu may be more miserable than coronavirus. “Most
flu sufferers experience exhaustion, sore throat, fever, heavy coughing,
aches and pains and headache,” says Mosher. “Depending on
the flu strain, you might get a stuffy nose and sneezing, too. However,
unlike COVID-19, there is rarely shortness of breath.”
To Test or Not to Test
“Not everyone needs a test, even if they have symptoms,” explains
Mosher. “Southeast Georgia Health System follows the
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the
Georgia Department of Public Health recommendations. Unless you meet certain criteria, you don’t need
to be tested for coronavirus. If you don’t meet the criteria, you
can lower your exposure to illness by staying home.”
Some of the questions you may be asked include:
- Do you have a cough, fever or shortness of breath?
- Have you been exposed to someone diagnosed with coronavirus within the
last two to 14 days?
- Have you have traveled recently?
- Do you have any underlying medical conditions?
The Health System is currently providing reference testing of patients
with suspected COVID-19 illness for inpatients and
Emergency Care Center (ECC) patients at both hospital locations and through
Glynn Immediate Care Center and an extension of Southeast Georgia Physician Associates
Camden Primary Care for outpatients.
The test is quick and simple. A health care provider inserts a cotton swab
(similar to a long Q-tip) into one nostril to collect a sample. It is
somewhat uncomfortable, but not painful. The sample is sealed in a sterile
container and sent to a commercial testing laboratory or the Department
of Public Health (DPH). DPH tests are reserved for severely ill or hospitalized
patients. Commercial laboratories return results in about 7-10 days, although
some results may take longer due to the increasing number of outpatients
for whom testing has been requested; DPH returns results in two to three days.
Health System inpatients will be notified of their test results by their
physician. If tested through the ECC, positive results are reported to
the patients by the DPH and negative results will be communicated to the
patient by the ECC team. Patients tested at a physician practice or Immediate
Care Center affiliated with the Health System get a call from the practice.
“Depending on your age, underlying medical conditions and severity
of symptoms, you may be advised to self-quarantine and recover at home
or told to go to the hospital,” says Dr. Mosher.
As of March 25, the Health System has tested 252 patients, received results
for 91 patients and is waiting on results from 161 tests. Thus far, three
patients tested positive.
“We are still learning about this virus, but people should know that
most positive COVID-19 patients will suffer mild symptoms that can be
treated at home,” says Mosher. “Those with mild symptoms should
stay home and isolate from other family members for seven days since the
symptoms first appeared or until they are symptom free for 72 hours, whichever
Mosher adds, “Help yourself and your local health care workers by
practicing good hand hygiene and limiting social contact for the time
For coronavirus information, visit www.sghs.org
or call Georgia’s public telephone hotline, 844-442-2681.