askST: If I have mild respiratory symptoms, should I self-isolate or see a doctor immediately?

Doctors say that those who feel unwell should seek help, even if their symptoms appear mild.
Doctors say that those who feel unwell should seek help, even if their symptoms appear mild.PHOTO: PIXABAY

SINGAPORE - Covid-19 clusters that have formed here have been linked to variants of concern circulating around the world.

Despite reminders and Singapore being in a state of heightened alert, some people have ignored a fever or other respiratory symptoms for a few days before seeing a doctor, only to find out later that they are positive for Covid-19.

The Straits Times takes a look at what you should do if you are feeling unwell.

Q: If I have a mild fever or sore throat, should I see a doctor or stay home to monitor my condition?

A: Doctors say that those who feel unwell should seek help, even if their symptoms appear mild.

"Anyone with a cough, runny nose, sore throat, body ache, diarrhoea and headache, with or without fever, regardless of the severity, should see a doctor," said Dr James Cheong, a general practitioner (GP) with C3 Family Clinic @ Aljunied Crescent.

This means anyone with a mild fever or sore throat, for instance, should seek help, he added.

"In the current situation, where we are seeing increased community cases, it is even more important for people to see a doctor when they are unwell."

This is particularly so, as persons with Covid-19 infection may experience only mild symptoms.

Dr Tseng Hsien Cho, a family physician at Raffles Medical Group said Covid-19 symptoms that people can watch out for include breathing difficulty, cough, fever over 37.5 deg C, loss of taste/smell, sore throat, diarrhoea, body ache, running nose.

Anyone with one of these symptoms should seek help early, preferably on the day the symptoms appear, he said.

"Call the clinic ahead of your visit to ensure that it is open and to give the clinic staff a heads up on your symptoms," he added.

Q: Do I have to do a swab test at the GP?

A: You would be advised to undergo a swab test if you display Covid-19 symptoms, or if the doctor suspects possible exposure to Covid-19 from the initial screening questions and physical examinations, said Dr Tseng.

Q: Will the doctor ask me to do more than one Covid-19 test?

A: For fast detection of possible cases, the latest testing strategy is to do both antigen rapid testing (ART) and the gold-standard polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test, which involves a nasopharyngeal swab.

The ART test is relatively less accurate than the PCR test, but there is also less discomfort for the ART test as the swab stick only enters the nostril 1cm deep and has a much shorter turnaround time of around 20-30 min, said Dr Tseng.

The shorter turnaround time allows the authorities to take swifter public health actions for those who test positive with the ART test.

Those who take it will still have to take the PCR test - which is more accurate but takes time to generate a result at a laboratory - to confirm their results.

Q: Do all GPs offer these Covid-19 tests?

A: No, not all GPs offer Covid-19 tests. These tests are offered at Public Health Preparedness Clinics (PHPCs) that offer the Swab and Send Home (Sash) service, polyclinics, emergency departments and regional swab centres.

Individuals can go to sgcovidcheck.gov.sg to input their symptoms and get recommendations on next steps or straight to flu.gowhere.gov.sg to locate the nearest GP clinic that provides subsidised swab test and treatment.

All Sash clinics are PHPCs, so you would be able to get subsidised treatment and tests if eligible but not all PHPCs are Sash clinics.

As of May 21, there are about 1,000 PHPCs with more than 630 of them on the Sash programme.

"If the clinic is not equipped to conduct swab tests, the doctor should give a referral to a clinic that does swab tests," said Dr Tseng.

At the clinic, you would also be given a five days stay-home medical certificate and treatment for your symptoms, he said.

Q: Is there a special price if I seek help for Covid-19 symptoms or take the Covid-19 tests?

A: Singaporeans, permanent residents and eligible work permit holders (excluding foreign domestic workers) would pay a flat subsidised rate of $10 for the treatment of respiratory infections (e.g. common cold) at PHPCs and polyclinics.

Pioneer Generation (PG) and Merdeka Generation (MG) seniors would pay a lower rate of $5. Public Assistance (PA) cardholders need not pay. GST will be fully absorbed by the Government.

The cost of consultation, medication and investigations (including any Covid-19 swab test) provided at each visit to treat your respiratory infection will be covered under this fee.

The rapid and PCR swab tests, if advised by doctors, are fully funded by the government.

Otherwise, a pre-departure PCR swab test can range from $150 to $200 while a pre-event ART swab test can range from $30 to $60, said Dr Tseng.

Q: If I go to a PHPC to seek help for my headache or diarrhoea, and I'm not given a Covid-19 test, can I still pay the subsidised rate?

A: Your cost will only be subsidised if you are diagnosed with acute respiratory infection.

If not, you will have to pay the usual rate, though this comes with the assurance that you do not have Covid-19.

"It is important for the patient to come forward early to be evaluated if they feel unwell. The wait-and-see approach may not be a good idea at this time when the virus is spreading in the community," said Dr Cheong.

Dr Tseng said the new B1617 variant has a higher transmission rate and early diagnosis would help to limit contact and spread of the disease.