Our GP surgeries are being hit by hundreds of calls daily about coronavirus. Only recently found, coronavirus has fast become the biggest public health issue of our time. With guidelines and advice being updated and changed on a daily basis, it is easy to lose track of what YOU need to be doing to protect yourself and those around you. Never has a health problem required you to be more mindful of your own healthcare needs but also of your responsibility in managing the healthcare needs of other members of your local community.
So what exactly is coronavirus?
COVID-19 is a highly contagious virus belonging to the family of coronavirus which is known to target the respiratory system causing symptoms of cough, shortness of breath and fevers which can lead to more serious complications such as pneumonia. As this is a virus, antibiotics do not work and as it is very new, we do not yet have any cure or vaccine to fight against it.
How is COVID-19 spread?
Coronavirus appears to spread from person to person among those in close contact. It is spread by respiratory droplets when someone infected with the virus coughs or sneezes. It is also thought to remain on certain surfaces for varying periods of time which is why there is a strict protocol in place for self-protection measures and respiratory hygiene. This includes regular handwashing with normal soap and warm water and in between these times using hand sanitizer if required. It is vital to avoid touching the eyes, nose or mouth ensuring that if you cough or sneeze, you catch this in a tissue or into your elbow.
How do you know if you have COVID-19?
There are two main symptoms to watch out for are:
• A high temperature (37.8 or above)
• A new continuous cough lasting more than half a day. (This excludes pre-existing longterm coughs)
Most people will develop only mild symptoms mimicking the flu eg.feel lethargic, have achey bones and joints and lack energy. You do not need to contact your GP unless you feel your symptoms are getting worse or are not improving.
What to do if you develop coronavirus symptoms?
If you live alone and you develop one or both of these symptoms it is crucial that you immediately self-isolate at home for 7 days.
During self-isolation you must not make contact with other people. You must also not visit your GP surgery or hospital.
If you live with other people and develop one or both these symptoms, everyone in the household must self-isolate and stay home for 14 days from the day the first person in the unit started having the symptoms.
If you live with someone who is in a high risk, vulnerable category, then you should keep away from them, ideally finding somewhere else for them to stay. If this is not an option then maintain a distance from them, ideally more than 2 metres.
Unless you deteriorate and end up being hospitalised, you will not be tested in the community. This may change in future however for now you are to assume that if you have the symptoms of fever/new cough then you have coronavirus.
How to self-isolate?
You should also not allow others to come and visit you. It is crucial that this advice is followed otherwise you could pass the virus onto someone else who may have other underlying health conditions which could put them in danger of developing serious complications and potentially even death. Ask others to collect your groceries where possible and order your medications via the telephone or online and ask for these to be left outside your door so you minimise contact with others. You can go out for some fresh air however you must keep at least 2 meters distance from other people. Avoid sharing food, crockery, beds if you’re sick and wash laundry separately.
Who is most at risk?
COVID-19 can affect everyone, however there are some groups of society who are more vulnerable and therefore at higher risk of developing complications. This is why we are urging everyone to exercise social distancing, which is a fundamental intervention as we enter the delay phase to reduce spread.
The group we worry most about and therefore want to protect most includes
• Those over the age of 70
• Those with underlying health conditions (lung or heart disease, diabetes, autoimmune conditions, cancer)
• Those with weakened immune systems ie. on chemotherapy or steroids
• Those who are pregnant
This is where we all have a role to play. Social distancing means avoiding public spaces where possible (pubs, clubs, shops etc). It also means avoiding public gatherings, working from home where feasible and avoiding non-essential travel via public transport.
You will note that GP practices now have changed the way they practice – everything is being managed via telephone or video consultations. We are minimising contact as much as we can.
How to manage symptoms?
Much like having a terrible cold or flu, the advice is to take paracetamol, keep hydrated and rest.
When to seek help?
If symptoms are getting worse or not improving by day 7 of self-isolation you need to contact your GP via phone or call 111 after 6 pm where you will be guided about next steps.
Whilst researchers and scientists are working hard to learn more about this virus in order to create a vaccine, all frontline NHS staff are working to help the public under this unprecedented time. Key workers are risking their lives to work day and night to help but we cannot do it without you – the public. We urge you to back social distancing and practice vigorous infection control measures. We know that those with the strongest immune systems will have the strongest chances of fighting the virus off, however many in our society don’t have this, so let’s protect them by staying home more and being kind to each other during such a difficult time.
This post was written by, Dr Punam Krishan, who is currently working as a full time NHS GP in Glasgow. She trained across many different specialties including rehabilitation medicine, general surgery, obstetrics and gynaecology, paediatrics, emergency medicine, endocrinology, care of the elderly and psychiatry. Punam also teaches medical students and junior doctors as a senior clinical lecturer at the University of Glasgow. You can find more about Dr Punam Krishan on her website https://drpunamkrishan.com/ and Instagram channel @drpunamkrishan
Enter your email to receive news, events and expert advice before anyone else.