Dr. Isobel Smith On Coronavirus
BREAKING NEWS: At 3:00 pm today The Australian Government has imposed a mandatory 14-day self-monitored quarantine for all international arrivals into Australia.
In order to get ahead of the curve and overload our public health system, the Australian Government has just announced that all people arriving in Australia for a minimum of 14 days. The aim is to slow the rate of infection and is within a matter of weeks instead of months.
See Australia's Prime Ministers Announcement Here - Full Video
In lieu of all the hype, misinformation and wayward conspiracy theories - our in house medical expert Dr. Izzy Smith talks straight about the facts surrounding Covid-19 in the following article.
What Is It Covid-19 ?
COVID-19 is a newly identified strain of virus belonging to a larger family of viruses called Corona Viruses.
Corona Viruses predominantly cause mild symptoms in animals but can occasionally be transmitted to humans and cause more severe disease. Previous examples of more severe strains have been SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) or MERs (Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome).
COVID-19 is thought to have originated from a wet market (where animal products are sold) in the Wuhan province of China. Prior to this, there had been no known human exposure to the virus which means our immune system isn’t able to recognise it and this is part of why it’s spreading so rapidly and causing so much harm.
How Does It Present?
COVID-19 causes respiratory symptoms from a mild runny nose, cough or sore throat to high fevers and severe pneumonia requiring artificial ventilation. The incubation period (from when you catch the virus to get symptoms) is about 7-10 days. For many people, the virus is quite mild for the first week, before developing more serious symptoms like pneumonia and respiratory failure around day 7.
The cause of this is still being investigated but it's likely related to a delayed immune response causing much of the damage. Most of the severe cases are occurring in older people (65+) and men seem to be at higher risk however young and otherwise totally well people have died from this virus. Thankfully there have been no recorded deaths in children; why children appear to be safe is still unclear and demonstrates how much we still need to learn about the virus.
Why is it so dangerous compared to other viruses?
What makes a virus (or any other infection) dangerous is dependent on two things;
How rapidly it spreads
The fatality rate of the virus
The fatality rate for COVID19 is about 2% (2 out of every 100 people who get it will die) which is actually is a much lower fatality than other strains of Corona (SARS 10% and MERS 30%) and only a little higher than influenza which is about 0.1%.
What appears to be making COVID-19 so dangerous, is how rapidly it spreads. Initially, it was thought that for each person infected they’d pass it to two other people, however with how quickly the virus is spreading that number is likely higher. The reason why it’s spreading so quickly is related to the virus being completely foreign to our immune systems and also because some people appear to contract the virus and not develop symptoms but are then still passing it on to others.
When we encounter viruses we’ve had previous exposure to, our immune system quickly recognises it as foreign and kills it before it can multiply (this is also how vaccines work). Whereas we have never been exposed to COVID19 before, nor do we have a vaccine for it and thus it quickly replicates and can be spread to others before our immune system can get on top of the infection.
When the virus was first discovered the goal of health authorities was to contain the virus through isolation which has worked with prior strains such as SARs and MERs.
Unfortunately, COVID19 appears to have spread too rapidly and the goal in many countries overseas is to delay the onset of infections in order for the health care system to handle the extra burden.
Are All The Events Being Cancelled Over-Kill?
A lot of people may be understandably disappointed that everything from sporting events, festivals to conferences are currently being cancelled and for want of a better word, feel it’s overkill. Although it may feel drastic, rapid and stringent action is the o
Being disappointed that you’re going to miss your favourite band or a sporting event you’ve worked hard for is totally understandable and not something you should feel guilty for. In times like these, it’s important to accept that some things are outside of our control and these measures wouldn’t be put in place unless they were 100% needed.
This uncertainty and degree of security won’t last forever and the more we put in place earlier, the quicker the virus can be contained and we can return to normal life.
Essentially that holiday can always happen another time but the lives of lost
loved ones aren’t something we can bring back next year.
What Can We Do?
When there is so much information coming from the media, Instagram to your well-meaning friends about how to prevent COVID19, no one would be to blame for feeling confused. However, this is where the simple measures and common sense are the most effective for keeping you, your loved ones and the greater community safe.
1. Sneeze Etiquette COVID-19 spreads through respiratory droplets e.g. from when we sneeze, breath, blow or rub our noses which is why staying home if we’re sick is so important as is sneezing into our elbow in the opposite direction of other people.
2. Keep Hands and Surfaces Clean
Wiping down surfaces, especially ones where lots of people have been e.g. gym equipment, yoga classes, restaurants with alcohol type wipes is also an important measure to decrease the risk of transmission (remember if someone with the virus breaths on something the virus can last there for several hours).
3. Stop Touching Your Mouth, Eyes and Nose Until you take notice of it, you would not believe how often you touch your face/mouth/nose without even realising. Our hands and faces/mouth are where germs are spread the most. By having less contact between them, we decrease the risk of both catching and transmitting the virus.
4. Avoid Crowded Spaces For many of us, this is somewhat impossible e.g. workplaces but aim to avoid crowded spaces unnecessarily e.g. shopping at big centres or going to concerts etc. This may mean missing some fun things but is an important step in trying to contain or at least delay the spread of the virus. This information is especially important to those at higher risk of serious complications (elderly or immunocompromised) and they may benefit from trying to work from home and avoiding public transport and other similarly crowded spaces entirely.
5. Stay Home If You’re Sick
There has never been a better time to not be a work martyr and carry on when you’re sick. Even if you have a slight snuffle or sore throat you should stay home and seek medical advice on if you need to be tested for COVID19 or not.
6. Look After Yourself
Being healthy isn’t rocket science. Maintaining healthy behaviours should be important all the time and not just in a pandemic. These include getting at least 7 hours of sleep per night, eating a varied diet high in fruit and vegetables, not smoking and limiting alcohol, staying hydrated and doing regular exercise as well as making sure you’re up to date with vaccinations.
Things which won’t help;
Buying Every Possible Immune Supplement/Tonic/Superfood. Although our immune system needs things like vitamin C and Zinc, these or any other specific food or supplement won’t make you immune from COVID19. Because our bodies have never been exposed to COVID19, even if we had the healthiest immune system on the planet, some of us will still get seriously ill from it. This is because it will take several days for an immune response to develop, rather than a few hours which is usually what happens when we’re vaccinated or been exposed to the virus before. To help understand this concept, an example of this is when free-settlers came to Australia or other countries with indigenous populations who were subsequently exposed to foreign illnesses. These illnesses were often asymptomatic or very mild in the free-settlers but caused devastating loss of local indigenous populations who would have had very healthy diets and lifestyles. No number of immune tonics/supplements would have prevented these deaths occurring as these infections were entirely new so it was like an immune system trying to fight an army they couldn’t see. This is similar to what we’re seeing with COVID-19 and unfortunately like in any tragedy, people are trying to monetise from peoples fear and the general hysteria and promoting rubbish supplements with no evidence of benefits and especially not against COVID-19. A healthy diet, enough sleep, and of absolute most importance, managing our hygiene is what you need to be doing to keep yourself safe from COVID-19.
Face Masks; A lot of people have been wearing personal protective equipment such as face masks to try and decrease the risk of catching COVID19. The evidence does not support that wearing these masks will protect you from catching the virus, more their benefit is for people who have the virus to wear them to decrease the risk of transmission. Despite government and health authorities advising that these masks are not advised for the general public unless someone is unwell or treating someone with COVID19, they have been bought and essentially sold out at most major retailers and there is now a nationwide shortage. This has resulted in General Practices not having access to masks and thus not being able to properly triage and test potential COVID19 patients and instead relying on referring them to already overcrowded fever clinics. Take home message = the masks don’t stop people getting COVID19 and reserving them for people who are unwell or working on the front line will provide better protection and prevention at a community level and thus decrease the chances of individuals contracting the virus.
Vaccines (yet); Vaccine production is underway but this is a lengthy process that takes multiple steps e.g. producing a vaccine that is not only efficacious but also safe and rigorously safety tested. This process will take at least one year, if not longer. Consequently, this means being relaxed about hygiene and containment measures with the hope that a vaccine will soon be unavailable is inappropriate and unwise.
When do I need to be tested?
I think this has been what’s confused myself and the rest of Australia so much because the answer keeps changing from almost day to day. At the moment GPs have been inundated with people requesting testing for COVID19, most of whom do not require testing.
As of the 12 the of March 2020 this is what the national guidelines are advising for testing;
Anyone with a history of international travel in the preceding 2 weeks, and symptoms such as a runny nose, cough, fevers, sore throat etc...
Anyone who has been in contact with someone with confirmed COVID19 and symptoms.
Any health care worker with symptoms
The test is a nasal swab and results are back in 48-72 hours. Anyone who’s been tested needs to self- isolate until the results are back. Testing criteria are highly likely to change in the future and local government agencies are the best source of advice as are local hospital fever clinics.
If you are at risk of COVID19 and feeling unwell with fever or other symptoms you should present to the hospital but please phone in advance so they can prepare a room and the appropriate safety equipment.
Obviously, there is a lot of understandable anxiety at the moment and as a result, we are seeing a lot of people present to be tested and concerned or upset if told it’s not currently required.
Likewise, to face masks, its important we allocate recourses appropriately and prevent running out of stock as this will what ensures the lowest spread of COVID for the broader community and increase the chance of us all staying safe.
Is there any BS floating around social media?
I am sure I am not the only one to see concerning misinformation regarding COVID19 such as this is no more than a bad cold and people are only dying because they don’t have strong enough immune system. This is normally followed with a discount code for the supplements that particular non-qualified person recommends.
As mentioned in the section about what won’t stop COVID-19, this is much more complex and dangerous than a simple cold and there is much we still need to learn about the virus. Looking after our health and immune function is important but nothing will automatically guarantee someone safe from COVID-19. Furthermore, if we were to contract the virus, we need to not just think about how it will affect us but also the numerous potential people we could pass it to.
Other concerning concepts I’ve seen are that it doesn’t matter as it’s only the elderly that are dying… Not sure about you but I am going to be might sad if my 73-year-old Aunty dies from COVID19, furthermore, younger people in their 20s and 30s have already died from this virus.
The list of conspiracies from downright ridiculous, racist and just plain scary is too long to mention. The take-home would be to only refer to information from trusted sources and speak with your local government health authority such as COVID19 hotline or local hospital for urgent information.
I hope this article has provided some clarity on COVID19 and helped you feel aware and alert but not alarmed. In times like these, it’s easy for panic to amplify into hysteria but it’s important to remember that panic is not an anti-viral. The most important things we can do is wash our hands, take sensible precautions as well as other government advice and make sure a trying time brings out the best in us as a community where we show kindness and compassion and look out for those
By Dr Isobel K Smith 15/03/2020
Dr Izzy Smith is an Australian based
doctor with a passion for sharing health advice that is easy to understand. She promotes evidenced-based advice on exercise, nutrition and medicine and loves busting silly health myths and calling out some of the dangerous fads and products in the wellness and weight loss industry.
Instagram - instagram.com/doctorizzyksmith/
How Do I Stay Informed?
The best recourses are government agencies (there has been a lot of misinformation in the media) at both an international, national and state level.
The WHO and CDC have regular updates on their websites as does the Australian Government Department of Health.
State Government agencies have set up specific COVID19 websites e.g. NSW or VIC health and have excellent up to date and easy to understand information as well as 24/7 hotlines.
24/7 Hotline: 1800 675 398
New South Wales
24/7 Hotline: 1800 022 222
On a more local level, many public hospitals have dedicated fever clinics who can offer advice as can local GP practices.
For anyone wondering about travelling, Smart-traveller should be your current go-to.
For people who want to an update on their commute to work, the ABC has created a daily podcast update called “Coronacast”
ABC Coronacast: https://www.abc.net.au/radio/programs/coronacast/