Temperature tests give Covid patients false security - experts

Monday August 03 2020

A member of Uganda Red Cross takes temperature readings of people entering Nakasero Market in Kampala. PHOTO | ABUBAKER LUBOWA

As the economy reopens following months of lockdown, the government is putting much emphasis on prevention and testing to reinforce the fight against Covid-19 pandemic.

Observing particular prevention measures such as wearing of face masks, physical distancing and use of sanitisers/ soap have proven effective in curbing the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Temperature screening has risen to great importance as one of the strategies to detect infections. Fever, a symptom noted among some Covid-19 patients, is easily detected by use of temperature guns.

In this regard, establishing and operationalising temperature screening points have become essential requirements for offices, hospitals, factories, arcades and salons, among others.

However, a number of people and experts are questioning whether temperature screening should be accorded that much value in response against the pandemic.

Experts say temperature screening is giving infected people false security, a scenario that would increase Covid-19 deaths.


Focus on prevention
The experts say the focus should be shifted away from investing in temperature screening to promoting prevention measures.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), temperature screening is unable to detect cases at the early stage of Covid-19 infection.

Another study conducted by scientists at Makerere University shows that up to 63 per cent of Covid-19 patients had no signs of fever that temperature screening relies upon for detection.

This would mean the temperature screening at entry points to hotels, offices, factories or hospitals will fail to flag up more than half of the infected people passing through the checkpoints.

Previous directives from government and the recent address to the nation by President Museveni about Covid-19 show temperature screening is increasingly being set up as a critical requirement for easing lockdown.

Among the standard operating procedures (SOPs) that arcade owners must fulfil before being permitted to reopen are having temperature guns for screening at entry points.

A number of people and experts are, however, wondering whether temperature screening should be accorded that much value.

Prof Henry Kajumbula, who heads the section of infection prevention and control on the Covid-19 ministerial scientific advisory committee, says the use of temperature guns should be revised.

“Most of our [Covid-19] patients in the country may not have a fever. Many of them will pass through without being picked because they don’t have those symptoms [of fever],” he adds.

Dr Bruce Kirenga of the Makerere Lung Institute, says the emphasis on the use of temperature guns is overrated but that the contribution of the machine shouldn’t be downplayed at the same time.

“We don’t have an alternative. Detection of fever is one of the few objective ways we use to screen for Covid-19. The other symptom for Covid-19 that we should talk about cough, but if you ask me I would tell you I am not coughing,” Dr Kirenga says.

Prof Pauline Byakikka from Makerere University College of Health Sciences and one of the scientists advising the government on Covid-19 says fever is one of the commonest symptoms among Covid-19 patients.

Prof Byakikka explains that temperature screening is an essential part of the Covid-19 response.

“People may not tell you they have a cough or a headache but fever is easier to detect using a temperature gun,” she says.

Dr Misaki Wayengera who heads the team of scientists advising the government on Covid-19, also says the temperature guns are being used because they give rapid results and are easy to deploy and use.

“A screening tool is meant to be highly sensitive but doesn’t have to be specific to the cause of the fever. In this respect, it is aimed at acting as a sieve to catch the dirt so that one can further analyse that dirt later for what exactly it contains, malaria, typhoid or Covid-19,” he adds.