Handling family member with possible COVID-19
March 12, 2020 8:17 PM   Subscribe

My partner is a possible COVID-19 case. We have young children. I'm anxious enough about this epidemic that I've already asked a previous question about preparing. What is your advice for risk assessment and handling in-home isolation?

Last week I tested positive for influenza A, so when my partner developed flu-like symptoms Wednesday we assumed that it was flu. However, his rapid flu test and respiratory pathogens panel (PCR test) were negative for everything (influenza and other viruses). We are in an area with community spread of COVID-19 and his doctor has ordered him to be tested. It's hard to get tests here right now and then it takes 72 hours to get the results. In the meantime our family is under quarantine and he is isolated at home.

It seems to me possible that he is sick with flu but had a false negative test. I'm finding it hard to find good information on how likely that is. Does anyone have a good source of data?

What data are there on how likely other family members in the same house are to catch it if he does have COVID-19?

I'm trying to follow the CDC recommendations on caring for someone sick in your house but am not sure how crazy to go with cleaning. For example, he slept in the kids' room for one night before getting the confusing test results. Do I wash all the bedding and disinfect all the toys and stuffed animals in the room before letting the kids back into it? Or just wait a couple days? If so, how long?

What else should I do to be cautious but not spend all my time disinfecting?
posted by medusa to Health & Fitness (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

Best answer: The rapid tests have lower sensitivity, but the sensitivity of PCR testing for influenza A looks to be north of 95%. ("Sensitivity" means odds of avoiding a false negative.) Not infalliable, though...
posted by praemunire at 8:41 PM on March 12, 2020

Response by poster: So based on the negative PCR test, there still could be a 1-4% chance he has flu?
posted by medusa at 8:46 PM on March 12, 2020

Best answer: Regarding the risk, you both picked a good time to catch whatever you have, because in the event things go south, it's not the case that hospitals are super overloaded yet. It would be much better than if you got sick in a few weeks. So take care of each other and be optimistic, coronavirus or flu or whatever else.
posted by value of information at 8:49 PM on March 12, 2020 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Some good news is that unlike the flu, children do not appear to be at elevated risk if they contract a coronavirus infection. It's older people. See here for brief CDC comments. This is born out by the demographic breakdown of deaths in South Korea (which had some of the most extensive testing). Deaths under 40 are very rare.
posted by mark k at 9:23 PM on March 12, 2020 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Basically, yes, medusa. I would hazard to say that realistically the odds are a little higher because he has definitely been exposed to flu, and his COVID-19 exposure is unknown. I don't think that's high enough to affect your using whatever disinfection plans are recommended for COVID-19, though, unless the plans included burning down the place. But I hope it helps a little with morale.
posted by praemunire at 9:31 PM on March 12, 2020

Best answer: The NYT says: With children, keep calm, carry on and get the flu shot (Coronavirus reporting is currently open access), and WaPo reports: Coronavirus is mysteriously sparing kids and killing the elderly. Understanding why may help defeat the virus. (MSN reprint)

In addition, the UK NHS and Public Health England recently updated its stay-at-home guidance for people with confirmed or possible coronavirus (COVID-19) infection.

The Singapore National Environment Agency offers 5 Steps To Clean And Disinfect Your Home (for those who suspect their home has been exposed to the 2019 novel coronavirus), and the Vancouver Sun / MSN has reported that "The U.S. Center for Disease Control also found that similar coronaviruses can last up to nine days on inanimate surfaces at room temperature but that they are quickly rendered inactive with common disinfectants. On surfaces like copper and steel, similar coronaviruses last about two hours."

Additional resources, including links to information from a variety of public health authorities is available at the MeFi Wiki Disaster Planning & Recovery page in the Medical / Pandemic section.
posted by katra at 10:08 PM on March 12, 2020

Best answer: Just to get the stats straight, if a test has 96% sensitivity, it doesn't mean that if it's negative he's 4% likely to have the flu; it means that if he does have the flu he's 96% likely to have a positive result. (For example, if you already knew for certain that he had the flu, then he's 100% likely to have the flu, even if this test is negative.) You can't really reason fruitfully about the flu chance given a negative test unless you have other information, like the false positive rate of the test (not just the false negative rate of 4%) and the prior probability that he has the flu (as praemunire said, that probability is higher than average because you know he's been exposed).
posted by dfan at 10:18 AM on March 13, 2020 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: After much discussion today about what to do, he was swabbed again today for a retest of the respiratory pathogens PCR test. If that is negative again they will do the COVID-19 test. County public health officer recommended this given know flu exposure. We'll see what happens!
posted by medusa at 4:53 PM on March 13, 2020 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Test result was negative for flu and COVID-19, should anyone be wondering.
posted by medusa at 8:01 PM on March 21, 2020 [3 favorites]

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