You have a fever. You’re in respiratory distress. And you might even be hospitalized with pneumonia. Doctors worry you may have been infected with the novel coronavirus. What happens next?
Ideally, you’ll be tested for the virus, which has sickened tens of thousands of people worldwide and killed more than 3,000.
While US health officials originally restricted coronavirus testing to only the sickest patients, Vice President Mike Pence announced earlier this month that any American – with a doctor’s order – should soon be able to access the tests.
Questions remain over whether the US can meet a possible surge in testing demand, but those who are able to get tested can expect a fairly straightforward, and maybe even familiar, process.
You’ll be swabbed
Testing for the new coronavirus isn’t all that different from testing for the flu. First, doctors need to collect a specimen – a sample that will be checked for the virus.
Health experts think the coronavirus replicates in the respiratory tract, causing respiratory illness, so the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that clinicians swab your throat, going through both your mouth and your nose. People with “wet” coughs may also be asked to cough up sputum, a mixture of saliva and mucous.
It’s unlikely that other bodily fluids will be tested, said Dr. David Hooper, chief of the Infection Control Unit at Massachusetts General Hospital. Because the illness so far has been flu-like and concentrated in the lungs, “they’re probably not routinely testing for other types of body materials, such as stool or urine or blood. Although that may change in the future.”