Sunday, March 22, 2020

COVID-19: Home Test Kits & Other Thoughts

Find Your Household Thermometer
Nicholas Johnson
The Gazette, March 22, 2020, p. D2

Like to get a COVID-19 test? South Korea tests 15,000 a day. That’s more than the U.S. tested in three months.

Your test is weeks or months away. You can’t fly to South Korea. What to do?

A symptom of COVID19 is fever. A quick test for large groups is individuals’ temperature. Look around your residence. You may have a thermometer. If not, buy one. Use it. If it registers under 98.6 F (37 C) that’s some evidence you’re not, yet, showing symptoms. Of course, you may be infected, but in your incubation period, or asymptomatic. But you’ll know more than you know now. You’re welcome.

Nicholas Johnson
Iowa City

A version of this Letter was sent to both The Gazette and Press-Citizen on Monday, March 16. The Gazette version, above, was published earlier online as "A common household item to help track COVID-19," The Gazette, March 20, 2020.

An earlier version was published by the Press-Citizen: Nicholas Johnson, "Your At-Home Test Kit," March 18, 2020, p. A7. It could not be found online. It read:
"Like to get a COVID19 test? South Korea tests 15,000 a day. That’s more than the U.S. tested in three months. To move the focus from President Trump's 'numbers' we're told to wash our hands. Like this is our fault. What we've not been reminded (as of this writing) is the little test kit most of us already have: a thermometer, a device used to quickly examine large groups. Find yours. Clean it well. Use it:. If it registers under 98.6 F (37 C) the odds are extraordinarily good you are not, yet, showing symptoms of the disease. You're welcome." Nicholas Johnson, Iowa City.
[Photo credit: Centers for Disease and Prevention via Wikimedia.]


Why a letter? The shorter, letter-to-the-editor, form (rather than a column) was used in hopes it might speed the publication and distribution of this information. Although there was always mention by public officials and media of "fever" as one of the COVID-19 symptoms (along with coughing and difficulty breathing), and a couple mentions of thermometers this past week, at the time the Letter was drafted (March 15 and 16) I was unaware of any public mention of thermometers in the context of the discussion regarding the seemingly insurmountable shortage of test kits.

Why more "discussion"? Because there is so much more the public needs to know about testing than could be put in the Letter, hopefully this additional "discussion" can provide some of that.

What COVID-19 test kits can and cannot do. Had the Administration begun building up the necessary supplies, including test kits, when we first learned of the Chinese experience in December, or in January, when it was alerted to the serious risk and the first infected patients emerged, it could have begun the successful Korean approach at that time. That opportunity is now lost. We still need the kits for those at highest risk (over age 85 with other medical conditions), those experiencing all the symptoms -- those that doctors want, but are unable, to have tested. But tests have their limits. The CDC's first test kits apparently had serious faults. There are still false positives and negatives. And the biggest drawback is that, unless you are tested every day, the test results only report your condition on the day and time you were tested.

What thermometers can and cannot do. Of course, thermometers also only report your temperature as of the day and time you use them. But, unlike COVID-19 test kits, you can use your thermometer multiple times a day for no additional cost and without depriving anyone of a thermometer.

Fevers result from your body healing itself. (That's one reason not to take fever-reducing pain medicine, if you can tolerate the pain, because these meds reduce the benefits of fever.) Fevers may be caused by many medical conditions including inflammations, bacterial infections and viruses.

What is said to be a "normal" temperature (98.6 F, 37.0 C) may still be considered "normal" if within a range of 97-99 F (36.1-37.2 C). Temperatures are considered serious once they reach 103 F (39.4 C) or above.

If you are running a temperature of any amount, and especially if below the serious level, it does not mean that you do have COVID-19 -- especially if you have none of the other symptoms. Similarly, if you have no "fever" or other symptoms it does not mean that you do not have the virus. During the disease's incubation period you will have no symptoms. You can be infected but have none of the symptoms (be "asymptomatic"). You can be infected but have such mild symptoms that you easily recover. But by taking your temperature twice a day (and making a permanent record of it; it's usually lowest in the morning) you can at least track one of the principal symptoms of the virus.

Conclusion. Thermometers are not a magic cure for COVID-19. They are not the equivalent of a COVID-19 Test Kit. But they are widely available, within the financial ability of almost everyone, and used daily can give you trend lines regarding this one symptom of our current pandemic.

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Tags: COVID-19, COVID-19 symptoms, fever, temperature, test kits, thermometer, virus

1 comment:

Andi said...

Nicky....’Thanks for info. I’d missed the Gazette ‘letter’ earlier, but have since read it as well. ‘Hope none of us catch this flu or if we do at least it’s a mild version!