The World Health Organisation (WHO) has now declared Coronovirus infection is causing a pandemic. A pandemic is the worldwide spread of a new disease. The virus is airborne and is highly infectious caught through exposure from respiratory droplets.
Up to 80 per cent of people exposed to coronavirus will have mild respiratory symptoms or no symptoms and recover without needing any special treatment, but the vulnerable groups – the unwell, the elderly, people with chronic diseases and those who are immunocompromised are most at risk of becoming seriously unwell, and can result in death.
Symptoms of Coronavirus infection include fever, fatigue and dry cough. Other less frequent symptoms include sore throat, aches and pains, nasal congestion, shortness of breath and diarrhoea.
If you suspect you have Coronavirus call the 24 hour hotline phone 1800 675 398 or 1800 020 080 for your nearest testing station.
The following criteria are required for testing:
1. international travel in the 14 days prior to illness onset or exposure to a close or casual contact in the last 14 days before illness;
2. Symptoms to include fever or respiratory infection such as cough, sore throat, shortness of breath.
There are now new phone consultation medicare rebates available if you require speaking with your usual doctor. Do not attend your doctor’s practice if you are unwell. Call the receptionist for a phone consult.
Health authorities advice that all non-essential flights and public gatherings of 500 or more people should be cancelled to help reduce the spread of the virus.
Travellers returning from any country outside of Australia are considered a risk of Coronovirus. All travellers are advised to self isolate for 14 days after a flight.
Avoid any unnecessary travel at this stage. Keep an eye on the Australian Government website called Smartraveller for advice on where exactly you are travelling in case there is a growing pandemic of coronavirus in the country you are travelling to .
The Government advice is not to travel to China and Iran due to the high risk of coronovirus infection. Many countries are introducing travel restrictions such as New Zealand, Italy and South Korea. As the pandemic of coronovirus continues to spread worldwide, this advice will change with time. There is a health risk if you enter a country of high risk.
What precautions can we take to decrease the likelihood of coronavirus?
Just as we would prevent the likelihood of any virus, the following principles also apply to the coronavirus:
• If you have flu or respiratory symptoms – isolate yourself. Stay home and rest. Dont go to work, school, social functions etc to avoid spread of any virus
• If you are unwell and need to visit your GP or doctor, let the receptionists know in advance to organise a phone consultation with the doctor or call the Coronavirus line for further advice and where to be tested.
• Avoid direct contact with other people if you are unwell eg touching, kissing, hugging or other forms of intimate contact. For example don’t go and visit other people such as elderly in nursing homes or unwell people in hospitals as they are the most vulnerable groups to becoming seriously unwell with coronavirus.
• Wash your hands frequently with soap and water particularly after toileting and before/after eating.
• Cover your nose and mouth whenever you cough or sneeze using your inner elbow, scarf, a handkerchief – dispose of tissues carefully
• Surgical masks in the community are only helpful in preventing people who have a flu from spreading it to others. If you are well, you do not need to wear a surgical mask as there is little evidence supporting the widespread use of surgical masks in healthy people to prevent transmission in public.
• As droplet spread is the main mode of transmission, surgical masks are effective for routine care and non-aerosolising procedures.
• Only where there is uncontrolled coughing are P2/N95 masks needed, and general practices will generally divert such patients to hospitals at this time.
• All close contacts of confirmed cases will be contacted by the department and told to home quarantine for 14 days.
How close are we to finding a vaccination?
Very close. The CSIRO researchers have isolated the virus and are currently doing an urgent trial of a vaccine on animals to ensure it is safe before it is considered for humans. It may be another year before it is ready.
Associate Professor Dr Vicki Kotsirilos AM is a practising General Practitioner with an interest on public health issues.