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Self-diagnosis for COVID-19: Possibilities and Limitations

May 25, 2020


The COVID-19 outbreak has had far-reaching consequences such as a crippled economy and stunted growth in a number of industries. As the world is buckling down under a host of restrictions due to the coronavirus, the health departments of governments all around the world are facing pressure due to overwhelmed health systems. Hospitals are actively trying to avoid overcrowding in emergency departments and any possible transmission in these wards. In such a scenario, it is important to consider alternative methods of testing and diagnosis for the coronavirus.

Large scale and automated contact tracing and pandemic exposure analysis can help governments to reduce the spread of the pandemic. However, to effectively curb the pandemic, we need to fight it from all possible directions. Enabling citizens to perform self-diagnosis is one such step that can help us in flattening the curve.

How to enable self-diagnosis?

To enable citizens to perform self-diagnosis, governments would need to launch an easy to use mobile application that can be used by citizens for self-diagnosis. RebuildTheChain pandemic management system’s mobile application has a built-in feature for self-diagnosis. It allows users to conduct a high-level diagnosis to identify the possibility of having an infection. The ability to self diagnose can enable users to self-quarantine and seek timely medical attention.

How it works

When someone gets infected by the coronavirus, they start facing a few major symptoms that can act as a warning. Like most other viral infections, the virus comes in contact with our immune system, where it evades innate immunity and encounters the adaptive immune response. This results in a possible cold response, which is often associated with the loss of smell and taste. The primary encounter of the immune cells with the virus causes fever and the mucus secretions in the lungs cause the symptoms of cough to occur. The lack of oxygen and the spread of inflammation may also cause myalgia (inflammation in muscle) in some patients leading to muscle pain and joint pain.

The aggressiveness of the inflammatory response leads to a disease condition called the Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS) which causes difficulty in breathing and low blood oxygen levels. ARDS is a life-threatening complication that is prone to older adults (of higher age groups) and persons with immune disorders or persons with an earlier history of diseases such as hypertension, diabetes, etc. Some patients also show symptoms related to improper digestion such as diarrhea and vomiting.

Identifying potential infection with a screening questionnaire

Based on the above-mentioned symptoms, we can prepare a questionnaire and request every app users to provide their responses. The questionnaire can have questions related to contact history, travel history, medical conditions, and current symptoms. The contact history section involves questions about the user’s travel history, participation in any gatherings or events, and details about the people that they have come in contact with. The section on medical conditions inquires about the current health status of the user and the presence of any chronic conditions like diabetes, heart problems, cancer, etc. In the symptoms section, we can ask questions to check if the user exhibits symptoms for fever, cough, loss of smell or taste, muscle pain or joint pain, difficulty in breathing, etc

Limitations of self-diagnosis

Although the ability to self diagnose can be considered as a major advantage in reducing the spread of the infection, there are a few drawbacks to this method that need to be taken into account. A major limitation is that self-report nature is biased towards the intentions of the person performing self-diagnosis, i.e. a person’s answers would be biased towards the final assessment he/she wants to have. The widespread information about the disease symptoms through the media might provoke the individual to mark him/her as disease-free by answering negatively. This might lead to an increase in false negatives.

Another limitation of the self-diagnosis is that the assessment done by an individual himself/herself cannot replace physiological assessments of an experienced physician, sometimes leading to misunderstood questions and wrong answers. Thirdly, questions about the gustatory (related to taste) and olfactory (related to smell) symptoms are conflated and can arise due to several other reasons. An example would be a case of anosmia (partial/complete loss of smell), which might occur as a result of a common cold or may have been acquired due to other factors.

Despite these limitations, the ability to carry out a self-diagnosis can help health departments and citizens alike in controlling the spread of the virus. Through this method, hospitals can test for the infection much faster and treat the disease before it can progress any further. Would you like to know more about the solution, reach out to us today.

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