Covid-19: Temperatures go haywire due to faulty thermometers, improper readings


  • Nation
  • Wednesday, 27 May 2020

A file picture of a shopper being screened before being allowed to enter a shopping mall in Kuala Lumpur.

KUALA LUMPUR (Bernama): With the new normal becoming a part of life since the enforcement of the movement control order (MCO) and now the conditional MCO since March, one cannot step into most premises without having their body temperature recorded.

The question is, are the thermometers indicating the correct temperature?

Not all the time, as one doctor observed, much to his concern.

Recently, lung specialist Dr Helmy Haja Mydin tweeted about an "interesting” experience he had at a restaurant in Petaling Jaya.

He said while waiting for his turn to have his temperature taken by a restaurant worker, he cast a glance at the logbook where the temperatures of customers were jotted down. The readings shocked him.

Dr Helmy found it strange that all the readings were below 36.0°C - 33.0°C, 32.0°C, 31.5°C, 33.5°C and the lowest 29°C, which was totally illogical and did not make sense at all.

This is because the normal human body temperature ranges from 36.0°C to 37.5°C and anything more than that means the person is having a fever and should not be not allowed into the premises.

And, he added, even if a person is suffering from hypothermia, his or her body temperature will not plunge to as low as 29°C.

"There’s no point in screening if the instrument (for taking body temperature) is not (giving) accurate (readings). Use the right equipment and check your thermometers - we don’t want false assurances, ” he posted on his Twitter account @dochelmy.

When contacted by Bernama, Dr Helmy said the use of faulty thermometers worried him as the restaurant may unwittingly allow Covid-19 positive patrons into its premises.

"There’s a huge possibility some of them have temperatures of over 37.5°C but are still allowed into the premises due to the faulty thermometer readings. Fever is a symptom of Covid-19 and we don’t want infected people spreading the disease to others, ” he said.

Among the standard operating procedures set by the government for the reopening of various business sectors under the conditional MCO is carrying out daily temperature checks for all staff, visitors and customers before allowing them into the premises.

Proper thermometer usage

According to Dr Helmy, faulty thermometer readings can be attributed to factors such as improper use of the instrument, its quality and failure to calibrate it.

He said it was important to calibrate a thermometer before it is used for the first time to ensure it is functioning accurately.

Calibration must also be done if the thermometer drops to the ground, as well as after it is used repeatedly.

Pointing out that there are many types of thermometers with each having its own operating mode, he said the most popular one in use at offices and restaurants is the temporal artery thermometer which uses infrared light to scan the forehead area for a body temperature reading.

"Actually, the most accurate reading is given by a mercury thermometer placed under the tongue. But this is more cumbersome to use than the forehead scanner, ” he added.

Meanwhile, Health Ministry emergency medicine specialist Dr Ahmad Zakimi Abdullah also had a shocking experience recently when he visited a building where a person was noting the temperature of visitors at the entrance.

Dr Zakimi said he asked the man if he knew what the temperature readings should be in order to allow visitors into the premises and was shocked when he was told that the person did not know.

"Those people (screening visitors) should be taught how to use a thermometer for (Covid-19) screening, ” he said in a social media post.

Commenting on this, Dr Helmy said those tasked with taking the temperature at various premises should know what the normal range of readings is.

Any reading higher than the normal range means the person has a fever and should not be allowed to enter the premises, he said.

Practise social distancing

Dr Zakimi said determining whether or not a person has fever would depend on the type of thermometer used and which part of the body it is placed to get a reading.

For example, if an infrared thermometer is used, a reading of between 36°C and 37.4°C is deemed normal; anything higher than that indicates a fever.

If the thermometer is placed under the armpit, anything above 37.2°C is considered fever; in the mouth above 37.8°C; and in the rectum or ears above 38°C.

Dr Zakimi said for Covid-19 screening purposes at building entrances, it is best to use an infrared thermometer as it allows social distancing to be practised.

He added that workers carrying out screening must wear personal protective equipment (PPE) or, at the very least, a face mask.

"The one-metre social distancing is important. And, make sure the thermometer battery is checked regularly, ” he said.

It is pertinent that staff in charge of the screening process at office and commercial business premises be trained to do their job efficiently because more and more families - with children and senior citizens in tow - have been visiting shopping malls and public areas after the conditional MCO came into effect on May 4.

Considering the danger posed by asymptomatic Covid-19 positive individuals who are not detected by uninformed guards, the best thing to do now is to avoid going to public places.

Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia Institute of Ethnic Studies principal fellow Prof Datuk Dr Teo Kok Seong said any carelessness on the part of the people could lead to a spike in new Covid-19 infections by mid-June based on modelling and forecasting by ministry’s National Institute of Health.

"Let’s not waste the globally-recognised achievements of the government in fighting the Covid-19 pandemic.

"(What we are going through now) is a new normal that is temporary in nature to enable us to overcome this pandemic successfully, ” he added. - Bernama

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