Washing your hands properly and often, avoiding touching your face and other simple strategies can help prevent the spread of COVID-19 and other contagious diseases.
But what COVID-19 symptoms should cancer patients and their caregivers be on the lookout for? When do cancer patients need to be screened for COVID-19, and what does that screening process look like? And, in what cases do cancer patients need to receive a nasal swab COVID-19 test?
We spoke with infectious diseases and infection control specialist Roy Chemaly, M.D., to learn more.
What are the symptoms of COVID-19, and how do they differ from those of a cold or the flu?
COVID-19 symptoms vary widely from person to person. As we've learned more about this novel coronavirus and more cases have been diagnosed, new symptoms have been added to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's list of COVID-19 symptoms.
COVID-19 symptoms include:
any new shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
repeated shaking with chills
muscle pain or body aches
new loss of taste or smell
nausea or vomitting
congestion or runny nose
Novel coronavirus symptoms vary and may be very similar to those associated with the flu or the common cold.
How do I know if I have COVID-19 or something else?
It really all depends on your exposure.
You may be at risk of catching COVID-19 if you’ve traveled recently to an area where documented coronavirus cases have been widespread, or if you’ve been around someone who may have the virus.
How quickly could I develop COVID-19 symptoms after exposure to the coronavirus?
It typically takes 2-14 days after exposure for COVID-19 symptoms to appear.
As a cancer patient, when do I need a COVID-19 nasal swab test?
If you have symptoms consistent with COVID-19, contact your MD Anderson care team right away. They will ask screening questions to determine whether or not you should receive a nasal swab COVID-19 test, and provide guidance on what to do next, based on your particular situation.
If you think you’ve been exposed to the virus, it is imperative that you call ahead before coming to MD Anderson. That way, our staff can adequately prepare for your arrival. This will allow us to protect both our staff and our patients from possible exposure.
MD Anderson is testing all new patients for COVID-19. We’re also testing all inpatients at admission and are testing patients prior to:
procedures that generate respiratory aerosols, involve the mucous membranes, or induce significant coughing, such as a lung biopsy
We are also providing COVID-19 nasal swab testing for patients when a household member has tested positive for COVID-19 in the last 14 days. Outside test results are helpful to share with your care team, but will not replace MD Anderson’s COVID-19 testing if your care team determines you need it. You will get more details if you are scheduled for COVID-19 nasal swab testing.
What happens during a COVID-19 screening? When do I need a nasal swab COVID-19 test?
First, we’ll screen you to determine if nasal swab COVID-19 testing is needed. When you get to an MD Anderson building entry point, your temperature will be taken, and an MD Anderson representative will ask you some screening questions.
Next, they will take your vital signs, including your temperature, to determine if you have a fever. They will also ask if you’ve been coughing, felt short of breath, or shown any other symptoms. Based on that, they’ll determine if you need a nasal swab COVID-19 test.
What is nasal swab COVID-19 testing like?
A cotton swab (like a Q-tip, but with a very long stick) will be inserted into your nose to obtain a sample of mucus from the sinus cavity, and another swab will be inserted in your mouth (like a strep test) to take a sample from your throat. Neither swab should hurt, but they might be uncomfortable enough to trigger a cough or a gag reflex.
The mucus samples will be sent off to a lab. Your doctor’s office will call to let you know the results.
If you get nasal swab COVID-19 testing at MD Anderson, you may also be tested for 21 other pathogens, including rhinoviruses, three types of flu, and other common coronaviruses, such as those which cause colds.
What should I do if I test positive for COVID-19?
If you’re an MD Anderson patient and undergo testing here, you will be contacted with instructions on what to do next.
If you are sick enough, you may be admitted to the hospital.
What should I do if I test negative for COVID-19?
Follow the advice of your doctor or care team. Get plenty of rest and fluids, and contact your care team if you have any questions.