Call ahead before visiting your health care professional or the emergency department if you have a fever and other symptoms of respiratory illness, such as cough and shortness of breath. Let them know if you think you may have COVID-19. They will ask you questions about your symptoms, travel history, exposure, and medical risk factors to find out if you should be tested for COVID-19. They will then give you instructions on how to get tested in your community.
A common question I hear from patients is about which doctor to call. I recommend calling the doctor who you have the most contact with. If you have been off cancer treatment for more than a year and are seeing your primary care provider regularly, you may call your primary care provider. However, if you are seeing your oncologist more regularly or are on active cancer treatment, call your oncologist.
If you are receiving cancer treatment that suppresses the immune system and you develop a fever and respiratory symptoms, call your oncologist as you usually would if you develop a fever while on treatment. Be sure to follow their guidance on when to come into the office or hospital and when it’s safer to stay home.
Severe symptoms could be a medical emergency, and you may need to call 911. If you or your loved one has symptoms, such as trouble breathing, persistent pain or pressure in your chest, new confusion, or bluish lips, you should seek medical attention immediately.
Testing for COVID-19 involves inserting a 6-inch-long swab, similar to a Q-tip, deep into the nasal cavity for at least 15 seconds. The swab is inserted into a special container and sent to a laboratory for testing. There are at least 8 U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved at-home self-collection kits for this virus, approved under an emergency-use authorization. These tests often include a medical screening questionnaire and up-front payment. You should discuss with your doctor whether these are the right tests for you. If you decide to take an at-home test, be sure to let your cancer care team know the results.
If it is possible that you have COVID-19, you should stay at home and isolate yourself while you are tested and waiting for your test results. Staying home when you are sick is the best way to prevent transmitting the novel coronavirus and other respiratory viruses, such as the flu, to other people. If you live with someone, you should quarantine yourself in one part of the home, if possible, to lower the risk of spreading the virus to the rest of the people who live with you.
And again, be sure to wash your hands often.
If you are concerned that you’ve been exposed to someone with COVID-19, closely watch for developing symptoms. Check your temperature regularly for fevers. If you have active cancer or are currently in cancer treatment, let your medical team know about your possible exposure. On June 3, 2020, a study was published in the New England Journal of Medicine that included 821 people with no symptoms of COVID-19 who had a household or work exposure to COVID-19. This study showed that treatment with hydroxychloroquine after an exposure to someone with COVID-19 did not provide any benefit.
Is there a way to find out if I have already
Antibody tests, also known as serologic tests, have been developed, and these tests may be able to find out if you have already had a COVID-19 infection by identifying whether there are antibodies in the blood. Antibodies are specific proteins made by the body in response to an infection.
Antibody tests are not perfect. Some people who get COVID-19 may not make antibodies. Or they may make very low levels of antibodies. Some people may have a “false positive” antibody test, meaning the test finds antibodies, but the antibodies are related to a different coronavirus and not COVID-19.
Antibody tests should not be used to make a current diagnosis of COVID-19. It can take between one and threeweeks after the infection for the body to make antibodies.
If you have had a COVID-19 infection, whether diagnosed through a test for the virus or through an antibody test, it is possible (but not certain) that you may have immunity for about three months. However, if suspicious symptoms develop within that three-month period after the COVID-19 infection, another test for COVID-19 is recommended, unless there is another obvious cause for those symptoms.