Temperature screening to detect COVID

Mausoleum of Aga Khan III, Sir Sultan Muhammed Shah, located along the Nile of Egypt. (Dr. Noorali Bharwani)
Mausoleum of Aga Khan III, Sir Sultan Muhammed Shah, located along the Nile of Egypt. (Dr. Noorali Bharwani)

Symptoms of COVID-19 can vary from person to person. Symptoms may also vary in different age groups. In severe cases, infection can lead to death.

Symptoms may take up to 14 days to appear after exposure to the virus. One of the primary symptoms with COVID-19 is an elevated body temperature of above 38˚C (100.4˚F). The normal human body temperature remains around 36.5°C to 37°C, regardless of the external temperature or weather.

Some workplaces have started screening their employees using touchless temperature scanners in order to determine whether they may enter the employer’s workplace.

As Canada continues to reopen, some grocery stores, salons and other businesses have implemented temperature screening in an attempt to prevent the spread of the virus.

The process was made mandatory for all air travellers in Canada in mid-June. Any passenger who shows a fever on two measurements, taken 10 minutes apart, will be asked to rebook after 14 days.

However, some experts wonder whether the step is effective given a person can shed the COVID-19 virus without having a fever or any change in body temperature. The tool often used to measure temperature has also been shown to be unreliable.

A person may have elevated temperature because of certain pre-existing conditions, weather and what the person was doing immediately prior to having temperature checked.

A person may be infected with the virus but may not have symptoms like fever. They are capable of shedding and transmitting the virus. In the pre-symptomatic phase, a temperature check won’t help. If you have fever then we know what we are dealing with.

For those reasons, temperature screening has not been recommended by Canada’s chief public health officer. But temperature checks remain part of COVID-19 detection though not all cases present with fever.

According to World Health Organisation (WHO), temperature screening alone, at exit or entry at the airport, is not an effective way to stop international spread, since infected individuals may be in incubation period, may not express apparent symptoms early on in the course of the disease, or may suppress fever by taking medications.

Temperature screening measures require substantial investments for what may bear little benefits. It is more effective to provide prevention recommendation messages to travellers and to collect health declarations at arrival, with travellers’ contact details, to allow for a proper risk assessment and a possible contact tracing of incoming travellers, says WHO.

Temperature screening should be considered just one layer in a screening process. It is within the rights of a business to deny you service on the grounds of a high temperature. You can be denied service if you refuse to wear a mask or refuse to have your temperature taken. This is because employers and employees have the right to a safe working environment.

Employers are responsible for the safety of their employees.

The most effective way to protect yourself against the new coronavirus is by frequently cleaning your hands with alcohol-based hand rub or washing them with soap and water. Cough into your sleeve. Maintain social distancing. Wear a mask in public places. Maintain adequate ventilation and adequate environmental cleaning.

In situations where you cannot keep a safe distance from others, public health officials recommend the use of a non-medical face mask or covering to prevent spreading the respiratory droplets that can carry the virus.

Take care. Be patient. Be safe. Protect yourself and protect others.

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