What is Covid-19?
Dr Heather Astell is a member of the HBC congregation who spoke to the church recently about Covid 19. She is a geriatrician and general physician at Middlemore Hospital. Her job includes caring for hospitalised adults with medical problems such as pneumonia and expects to be caring for patients who have Covid 19 when/if our numbers increase dramatically as has happened overseas.
(Please note that Heather gave this interview as an individual doctor not as a representative of Middlemore Hospital, and the advice and information is always changing so we encourage you to keep an eye on the Ministry of Health Covid 19 website for up to date information.)
What is Covid 19?
It is a virus in the coronavirus family – so it is related to SARS (outbreak in 2002)and MERS (ongoing), and some milder viruses that cause the common cold.
Where did it come from?
It was originally an animal virus; it became infectious to humans in Wuhan in China, and has now spread throughout the world.
What are the symptoms of Covid 19?
A fever (at least 38°C), a cough, shortness of breath, sneezing or runny nose. These symptoms are similar to the flu or a cold, so these symptoms don’t necessarily mean you have Covid 19.
How is it diagnosed?
By symptoms consistent with Covid-19, a history of exposure to possible infection, confirmed by a nose swab.
How is it spread?
It is spread by droplets – so if you breath in droplets from someone’s cough/sneeze or you touch the droplets then touch your eyes/nose/mouth you may catch it. Also, the virus can be left on surfaces and then picked up for up to 3 days later (depending on the surface the virus is sitting on).
Why should we take it seriously?
Most people (more than 80%) who get Covid 19 have a mild illness and will get better. For older people or those with other medical problems such as heart conditions, emphysema/COPD or low immunity it can be serious. For people who get severe symptoms the risk of death is quite high.
The exact risk of dying from Covid 19 is hard to confirm as most people with mild symptoms may never be tested or even see a doctor. Also mortality rates vary from country to country, possibly because of different proportions of people being tested or different health systems. For most people the risk will be <1%.
Our hospitals already run at full capacity, especially over winter. Hospitals are planning how they will manage higher numbers of patients but we can expect that if many people in a short space of time in the community develop severe symptoms then our hospital system could become over-stretched.
What is the treatment?
There is no specific treatment, but supportive care for the symptoms should be provided. For mild symptoms people can recover at home in the same way you recover from a cold. For people with more severe symptoms they may need hospital admission. Antibiotics don’t help. A vaccination is being developed but that may take some time.
How can we prevent the spread of Covid 19?
Wash your hands frequently
Cough or sneeze into a tissue then throw away the tissue and wash hands, or if no tissue available cough into your elbow and wash your hands
Avoid touching your face as this can transmit the virus to your eyes/mouth
Keep in social contact with others via phone/skype etc as needed – to maintain mental health – social distancing is not social isolation!
Get vaccinated for the Flu
Will wearing a mask help?
Masks are not recommended for healthy people who are not in contact with sick people.
Masks are important for those caring for sick people to help protect the carer. They may be helpful for the sick person to wear to prevent spraying virus over surfaces if they cough or sneeze but they are uncomfortable to wear for long and the mask will get infected, and if you touch the mask your hands get infected. You need to remove damp masks properly and dispose of them, then wash hands. Masks cannot be reused.
What to do if you think you have Covid 19?
Call Healthline 0800 358 5453 or phone your GP practice. Do not go to your GP practice or your hospital without them telling you to do so.