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What to do if you think you've got coronavirus

Michael H. Hodges
The Detroit News

With the number of coronavirus cases in the U.S. increasing daily, the question quite naturally arises: What should I do if I've caught the bug?

In general, specialists contacted by The Detroit News say you should do pretty much what you'd do to avoid getting sick in the first place — try to eat well, hydrate, and get plenty of rest. The one exception to this rule would be exercise, which should be postponed till you feel better.

And as always when ill, try to avoid alcohol and smoking.

People dressed in personal protective equipment talk to motorists at a drive-up COVID-19 testing site at the Wayne State University Physicians Group on Mack Ave. in Detroit, Saturday, March 21, 2020.

Nutrition

"I'm a big believe in pushing fluids and maintaining as much good nutrition as you can," said Dr. Joel Fishbain, an infectious disease physician at Beaumont Health Grosse Pointe.

"I'm a huge fan of replacing whatever fluid you may be losing," he added, "particularly if you have diarrhea."

If you've got the latter, Fishbain says, don't stop eating. "I know some people think if you don't eat you won't get diarrhea," he said,  "but when you're sick, good nutrition is important."

At the University of Michigan Hospital, family medicine practitioner Dr. Tammy Chang notes one way to tell if you're getting enough fluids is to pay attention to the color of your urine.

"You can tell you're getting enough fluids if your urine is clear," she said, "but if it's pretty dark, you probably need to drink more."

Bethany Thayer, a registered dietitian / nutritionist at the Henry Ford Health System says comfort food might be particularly useful if you're feeling lousy, as long as it's healthy and not heavy on sugar or salt.

And try to stick with fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans and lean meat.

"One of the side effects of this virus is people don't have as much of an appetite," she said, "but it's important to get nutrients. In the morning, for example, you might try something simple -- oatmeal or a bowl of whole-grain cereal with fruit. Or, throw fruit, yogurt and milk or soy milk into your blender and have a smoothie."

And by all means, heat up that chicken noodle soup if that makes you feel better.

"I don't know that it has any added healing powers," Thayer said, "but it often provides comfort, boosts your fluids, and is relatively easy to prepare."

Pain relievers

There's been some reporting that with coronavirus you should avoid taking ibuprofen for aches and fever. Heavy use can be hard on your kidneys in any case, and there's some speculation the virus may stress the kidneys as well.

But this doesn't appear to be settled science.

"The last thing I read," said Chang, "was that the World Health Organization said there wasn't enough evidence to justify not taking ibuprofen" -- unless, of course, you've got preexisting kidney disease.

"At this point," she added, "I'd rather people take what they have in their houses, rather than going out to get something different."

Anxiety and stress

And really -- who isn't a little flipped out these days?

At the Henry Ford Health System, clinical psychologist Dr. Philip Lanzisera wants everyone to take a deep breath and keep things in perspective.

"With coronavirus," he said, "we're talking a death rate that's higher than the flu, but it's not like you're in a battle and somebody's shooting at you. Yes, this is a deadly illness, but most people are not going to need medical care."

Lanzisera added, "And remind yourself: We don't know how long this pandemic will take to run its course, but they always run their course. That's the nature of viruses."

That said, he is emphatic on one point: "Don't go out."

However, if you start developing symptoms, "Call your doctor," he said. "Otherwise, stay home and take care of yourself and stay busy. Have a wonderful time cleaning your house. Use FaceTime or Skype and talk to your friends. Binge-watch TV. Read books you've always meant to read."

And if you're really under the weather, "Make sure you have contact with somebody every day. Don't be alone. Don't be isolated."

Chang emphatically agrees.

"If you're sick and alone, check in and make sure people know you're not feeling that well, and ask them to check up on you," she said. "That's what we worry about - that people could get really sick and nobody might know."

If your anxiety is getting the better of you, Lanzisera suggests practicing mindfulness -- trying to be in the moment, and not letting your imagination run away with you.

"The issue is to relax and focus on things, and really get into them," he said.

Need help? He recommends visiting headspace.com.

If you think you're getting sick 

A number of Michigan hospitals and health systems have hotlines and online questionnaires to assess your risk of coronavirus:

Registered nurse Amena Beslic, director of the emergency center at Beaumont hospital in Royal Oak, holds a screening kit for a variety of viruses, including the coronavirus, March 16.

Henry Ford Health System COVID-19 Resource Center - visit henryford.com and click on the Covid-19 link.

Hotline: (313) 874-1055

Beaumont Health Coronavirus / COVID-19 Updates - visit Beaumont.org and click on the COVID-19 LINK. Among other things, there's an online risk-assessment tool.

Hotline: (800) 592-4784

Beaumont also offers limited drive-up curbside screening services at all eight of their hospitals in Royal Oak, Troy, Grosse Pointe, Dearborn, Taylor, Trenton, Wayne and Farmington Hills.

mhodges@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-6021