SHE fell sick right before the enhanced community quarantine started and for 12 days, Mary (not her real name) had difficulty breathing, a sore throat, nausea, body pain, and headaches, all of which can be symptoms of COVID-19 — but she was never tested for the disease.

“I had to deal with sifting through the news, and advice was coming at me from all sides,” she told BusinessWorld in an interview.

Some of the advice given included to “slice onions and put it around the room, put ginger in my pocket, gargle this, eat these PH-whatever foods.” She was also told “it’s just the flu, think positive.”

During the early days of the outbreak, many people pushed the idea that COVID-19, the disease caused by the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus, is like the flu with similar symptoms (cough, headaches, body pain, fever, etc.) and mode of transmission (droplets), but recent studies noted that it is not like the flu — it has a longer incubation period (14 days) and, notably, people can infect other people even if they are not showing symptoms, unlike influenza which is only transmissible when there are symptoms. It is this asymptomatic transmission which is problematic — you may think you are healthy but you are actually spreading the virus. The World Health Organization (WHO) posited that a person with COVID-19 can infect two to three other people while the seasonal flu can infect 1.3 people per patient.

WHO also noted on its website that “COVID-19 causes more severe disease than seasonal influenza.”

“While many people globally have built up immunity to seasonal flu strains, COVID-19 is a new virus to which no one has immunity. That means more people are susceptible to infection, and some will suffer severe disease,” it added.

The mortality rate of COVID-19 is around 3.4% (it varies from country to country) while seasonal flu kills less than 1% of those infected.

As of this writing, more than 1.8 million people globally are infected with the disease with more than 4,600 cases in the Philippines.

Mary surmised that her symptoms meant she had COVID-19 though she was untested, which is not unusual since testing is very limited in the Philippines. The WHO has said that most people who contract the disease recover, though there are severe cases needing special treatment, especially among older people and those with other medical conditions (asthma, diabetes, or heart disease)

And because Mary got sick during the early days of the pandemic in the Philippines, she had to rely on online articles to know how to handle her symptoms and how to protect the other members in her household from getting sick as well. At the time, she said information was scarce and much of the information she was looking for — when can one leave isolation and when members of the household can also go out — was hard to come by.

“I’m sure so many [people] are sick at home and quite unsure what to do,” she said.

Then a friend sent her guidelines from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and from the department of health in Tennessee which were helpful. In a document regarding releasing cases and contacts from isolation and quarantine, the Tennessee health department said cases must be isolated for “14 days after onset” and can be released after they have had no fever and are feeling well without using antipyretics for at least 72 hours. Household contacts must quarantine themselves for 14 days after the ill person has been feeling well for at least 72 hours, while non-household contacts must quarantine themselves for 14 days after the last contact with the case.

The Philippine Department of Health (DoH) has also come out with guidelines on how to care for a COVID-19 patient at home and when to release them and the household from quarantine.

In a March 29 post on its Facebook page, the Philippine DoH said that a person with COVID-19 can be removed from isolation if “all household members are in good condition and are without symptoms after 14 days.”

But if a member exhibits symptoms “at the late stage of the 14-day isolation period, said person should still stay isolated for another seven days.”

The DoH said that a cough can linger for several weeks in some people but they need to tell their barangay health workers if they continue having a cough after home quarantine.

People caring for people with COVID-19 or suspected COVID-19 patients need to take the patient’s temperature twice a day and must inform their barangay health response team or the COVID hotline if the patient has difficulty breathing and a high fever (the normal human body temperature is between 36.5 to 37.5 degrees Celsius).

Patients should also be isolated in a room with good ventilation with a separate bathroom if possible. Their personal items, like spoons, plates, and bathing implements, should also be kept separate. The person taking care of the patient must wear a face mask and gloves while tending to the patient, and wash their hands before and after the interaction.

If it’s not possible for the patient to have a separate bathroom, the DoH said that the doors, floors, and the toilet bowl should be disinfected regularly using a solution of 1 part bleach to 100 parts water.

When washing a patient’s clothes, the DoH said the patient’s laundry should also be kept separate and the clothes should be soaked in regular detergent and hot water for at least 30 minutes. Clothes shouldn’t be shaken in order to prevent the possibility of spreading the virus onto nearby items.

In the event that a person taking care of the patient (or any other household member) comes into contact with the patient’s saliva or phlegm, it is advised to wipe off the fluid using tissue and immediately wash the area (provided it’s unbroken skin) using soap and water or 75% alcohol. But if the fluids come into contact with the eyes, mouth, or wounded skin, they should wash the affected area with running water and then go into isolation.

There are still no vaccines or medications for COVID-19 but if everyone stays at home and avoid unnecessary trips outside, wash their hands properly, and practice proper quarantine procedures, this is expected to slow down the infection rate of the disease.

Mary no longer has any symptoms. She and her family are taking the enhanced community quarantine seriously. — Zsarlene B. Chua