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Your complete go-to guide for beating COVID at home

Gayatri Vinayak
An aged Indian woman looking out of verandah in her house, wearing face mask during coronavirus lockdown in Kolkata. Concept of home isolation in fight against coronavirus.
Photo taken in Kolkata on 04/26/2020.
An aged Indian woman looking out of verandah in her house, wearing face mask during coronavirus lockdown in Kolkata. Concept of home isolation in fight against coronavirus. Photo taken in Kolkata on 04/26/2020.

As India reels under the second wave of Covid-19, the pictures that come to us on our screens, in our newspapers, on our social media feed, and from everywhere, may seem grim. 

However, a silver lining in these daunting figures remains the low mortality rate. A large number of people, including people as old as 102 years have recovered from the virus, and have gone home. The national cumulative fatality rate stands at 1.12 per cent, and more than 64 lakh people have recovered so far.  

A majority of the people who develop symptoms also do not need hospitalisation. Hence, what we do need to understand is that if the infection is mild, with knowledge and due care, we can fight the virus successfully at home with medication prescribed by the doctor, rest and tested home remedies. 

Knowledge is paramount in the fight against the virus. The earlier you are able to read the symptoms correctly, the sooner you can reach out for help, or give help. 

This go-to guide will help you fight the virus and recover at home:

What is CT count?

The most common method of detecting the virus is through the RT-PCR test, while an antibody or serology test would determine if you have developed antibodies to the virus and if you have had a past infection. CT scans of the thorax are also done in some cases.

A Covid report mentions the CT (cycle threshold) count – technically the number of cycles needed to detect the virus. Hence, the lower the CT count, the higher the virus load is and vice versa.

A CT count of 35 in the RT-PCR test means that you are negative, while a CT count of lower than 35 means that you are COVID-positive.

Symptoms to watch out for:

Since a lot of the symptoms for viral fever, flu and coronavirus overlap, there may be chances that what you are feeling is not the virus. However, with the current scenario, it is better to take precaution at the onset of any symptom as this can help prevent the chances of spreading the virus, and the intensity of the infection.

While the virus affects different people in different ways, here are some common symptoms to watch out for: 

Common symptoms:

  • Dry cough

  • Fever

  • Sore throat

  • Runny nose and stuffy nose

  • Loss of taste and smell. 

  • Fatigue 

Apart from these common symptoms, people are also reporting newer symptoms during the second wave: 

  • Muscle or body aches and pains

  • Diarrhoea

  • Changes in voice or hoarseness

  • Rash or discolouration on fingers and toes

  • Nausea and vomiting

  • No saliva production and dry mouth

These symptoms usually appear 2-14 days after exposure to the virus. 

When would you need admission?

You will need to monitor your symptoms and oxygen levels regularly. If any of the following symptoms appear, get emergency medical care immediately:

  • Your oxygen saturation is less than 95 per cent

  • Inability to stay awake

  • Persistent pain or pressure in the chest

  • Confusion/ worsening ability to concentrate

  • Persistent or recurring fever of 101 degrees Fahrenheit for more than 3 days

  • Bluish face or lips

According to the Ministry of Health, you can home isolate if:

  1. The Doctor has determined that you have very mild symptoms, or are asymptomatic.

  2. Do not have any co-morbidities, or have been allowed by your Doctor to home quarantine

  3. Your house has separate rooms and a bathroom for yourself and the other members of your family

  4. It would be ideal if you have a caregiver round the clock, however, a number of hospitals do provide home care packages.

How you can care for yourself at home:

Once your Doctor has given you the go-ahead for home isolation (in case of patients) or quarantine (in the case of caregivers), here are some tips you can follow to ensure a smoother recovery:

  • Keep provisions stocked: Keep 14 days stock of over-the-counter cough and cold medicines, cleaning supplies and food provisions so that you can limit the need to interact with others.

  • Arogya Setu app: The Health Ministry guidelines require you to download the Aarogya Setu app on your mobile phone and keep it active at all times.

  • Medicines: Prescribed by the doctor, which could include ivermectin, Favipiravar or paracetamol if you have a fever. You would also be prescribed multivitamins, and supplements such as Vitamin C, Zinc and Vitamin D. Do not self-medicate, even if it is just multi-vitamins!

Apart from Covid-19 medication, the ICMR has also said that patients with co-morbidities such as blood pressure, diabetes, and heart disease should continue with their medication unless advised by their Doctor, 

  • Hand sanitisers, floor cleaners, disinfectants and required sanitation kit

  • Gargle with Betadine twice a day

  • Face mask: While you do not need to wear a mask when you are alone in your room, ensure you wear it when a family member/caregiver is near you. Ensure you dispose of your masks every 6-8 hours. Keep disposable masks at hand to avoid reusing them.

  • Disposable utensils: If you are in isolation, it is advisable to use disposable cutlery and throw it away after use. This will help prevent cross-infection. If you must use non-disposable home cutlery, alternate between two sets, ensure that you wash it thoroughly with soap and water and keep it out to dry.

  • Hand wash: Wash hands regularly with soap and water for 20 seconds or rub thoroughly with an alcohol-based hand sanitiser.

  • Take ample rest: Ensure you sleep for atleast 8 hours, and avoid doing any work that would strain yourself. This is the time your body needs to save all its resources to fight the virus.

  • Food: The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) recommends that you eat a healthy, high protein diet, with three meals per day, containing adequate vegetables and fruits. Consume fruits rich in Vitamin C such as citrus fruits, grapes, berries, kiwi and vegetables such as red, green and yellow capsicum. Drink at least 8-10 glasses of water every day. 

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  • Check oxygen levels: Keep a pulse oximeter with you. This is used to monitor oxygen levels and heart rate, and regularly check your oxygen readings. Readings above 94 are healthy, between 92-94 could cause hypoxia, and hence need to be monitored. You will need immediate medical attention if your oxygen saturation falls below 92 per cent. 

Doctors also recommend the six-minute walk test, where the patient's oxygen level has to be checked before and after six minutes of walking around inside the room. Here is how you can take the test:

  1. Measure your oxygen level before you start the test

  2. Set a timer to six minutes

  3. Walk around in your room briskly for six minutes

  4. Measure your oxygen level again using the oximeter

  5. Repeat this 2-3 times a day and note the readings

Hospital admission is recommended in case there is a fluctuation of 4 per cent or more. 

  • Up your oxygen levels: You can practise breathing and relaxation techniques such as yoga, pranayama and meditation. Yoga exercises such as Kapalbhati, Anulom Vilom and other simple breath control practices help reduce stress and increase lung capacity. However, do avoid forceful pranayama as that could put excess pressure on the lungs.  

The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare recommends the proning position (lying on your belly), if your saturation goes below 92 per cent. To practise proning, lie down on your stomach with 4-5 pillows, placed at various parts of your body. 

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  • Seek external oxygen: You will need external oxygen support if the saturation level falls below 90 per cent, or if breathlessness progresses into a more severe condition. With high-risk individuals who have a history of lung complications, external oxygen therapy may be required.
    You can use an oxygen concentrator, which is a medical device that concentrates oxygen from the air. It does this by taking in the air from the atmosphere, filtering it to release nitrogen back into the air, and using the oxygen. This Oxygen is around 90-95 per cent pure and can be used at home in the case of mild patients.  

However, you should not stock up on oxygen at home, or start oxygen therapy without consulting a doctor first.

  • Mental health: While you do need to take care of your physical health, COVID can affect your mental health as well. While you will not be able to physically meet them, keep in touch with your family and friends digitally. If you are feeling depressed, anxious or distressed, you can get in touch with a number of startups and NGOs that offer counselling sessions virtually for those who are unable to travel for their physical appointment or wish to speak to a counsellor. These include apps such as PinkyMind, Wysa, Trijog and YourDost, among others. Mindfulness and meditation are known to counter stress and improve immunity.

  • Exercise: While you should avoid any strenuous activities, there are a few simple, home-based exercises you can do. Easy wall pushes, stand marches and side steps will help you get the strength back in your muscles, arms and legs, without adding strain.  

For caregivers

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The Government recommends that only one person be assigned as the caregiver of the patient. Here, you will be responsible for the well being of the patient, your own and that of your family. Hence, it is vital that you take care of your physical and mental well being as well. 

Here are some guidelines that you should follow to ensure your loved one(s) gets well soon, while you stay safe:

  • Ensure you do not have any co-morbidities as a caregiver

  • Constantly monitor the patient's oxygen levels, fever, if any, and other symptoms such as excess fatigue, inability to get up, slurred speech, a bluish tinge on the lips. 

  • Ensure the patient receives adequate, nutritious food and is hydrated with a lot of fluids. 

  • Avoid staying in a closed room with the patient. Always wear a mask and keep the room ventilated. 

  • Wash hands thoroughly after contact with the patient or their belongings. 

  • Wear your mask - a double mask ( cloth + surgical) triple-layered medical mask or N95 would be ideal, especially if you are in the patient's room. 

  • Be aware of colour codes while disposing of garbage. Disinfect all items used by the patient with ordinary bleach solution or 1% sodium hypochlorite solution. Use yellow bags for disposing of bio-medical garbage. 

  • Wear surgical gloves when you handle the patient's things or each time you enter the room. 

  • The strain of looking after your loved one, being under strict home quarantine for 14 days and trying to balance your own work with household duties can be overwhelming. Practise meditation and mindfulness techniques, ensure you continue with your exercises at home.

  • Keep a list of all needed contacts ready with you - this could be ambulance numbers, Government helplines, your Doctor's number(s), family and friends who can help you, places where you can get meals

  • Follow Ayush Ministry's guidelines to boost your immunity. You can do this by using home-based remedies such as turmeric milk, herbal teas (not more than two times a day), Chyavanprash, warm liquids.  

Discharge and post-Covid recovery

The Health Ministry states that patients who do not have fever for three days, ten days after the onset of symptoms, can be discharged. After that, the patient is advised to stay under quarantine for another week and self-monitor symptoms. In the case of asymptomatic patients, you can be with others ten days after testing positive. 

The process of care and healing does not end with recovery alone. Keep a watch out for long-Covid symptoms that may include persistent cough, shortness of breath, loss of appetite, headaches, muscle ache, or mental health concerns such as anxiety and depression rwhich may occur five weeks to even 12 weeks after recovery. This will allow you to take the necessary help and treatment. 

Ensure that you continue to take care of yourself, take adequate rest and eat healthy, nutritious food, stay physically and mentally fit. 

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