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Do temperature checks help screen for COVID-19? Doctors say checking for fever alone isn't enough

One disease specialist described how he has seen over 100 patients with COVID-19, and the majority had no fever.

NEW ORLEANS — Fever checks are another COVID sign of the times. They have become the first line of virus detection as we enter public buildings, schools and many businesses.  Public health experts like Tulane School of Medicine Infectious Disease Specialist Dr. David Mushatt cautions temperature screenings and nothing else – could lead to a false sense of security. 

"My sense is, I probably have seen over 100 cases, and I would say the majority of patients actually do not have a fever upon presentation to the emergency room or upon admission," Mushatt said.

Deputy Louisiana State Health Officer Dr. Joe Kanter said they are learning that up to 40% of COVID patients might not have any symptoms at all. 

"There are certainly going to be people that do not manifest a fever, but still can be infectious," Kanter said. He recommends fever checks only as part of a larger virus prevention strategy. 

"Check temperatures, insist on masking, insist on distancing, and insist on people staying at home with any symptoms, all of those measures combined are what's needed," Kanter said. 

Dr. Mushatt added, a formal health screening process is also important. 

"Basically ask people six or seven questions: Do you have fever?  Have you had chills? Do you have fatigue? Do you have muscle aches and pains, etc., the whole list of questions," Mushatt said. 

When the outbreak hit in March, the classic triad was fever, cough and shortness of breath.  If a patient had all three, doctors said there's a good chance that the patient has been infected. But, as scientists learn more about the virus, those symptoms may or may not be present in COVID-19 patients. That's why experts say it's so important to take all coronavirus precautions recommended by local health departments.

A recent study by the University of Southern California showed among COVID-19 patients with symptoms, fever is generally the first one. That's followed by cough, nausea, vomiting and stomach problems such as diarrhea. 

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