Am I at increased risk of COVID-19 infection?
The virus causing COVID-19 infection (called SARS-CoV-2) is a new infection that has not previously affected humans. Therefore, there is no immunity to this infection in the community. The infection appears to be spread by droplets through being exposed to someone who is coughing or sneezing, or by touching contaminated hands, surfaces or objects and then touching the eyes, nose or mouth. The virus appears to be quite contagious and everyone is at equal risk of acquiring it.
The majority of patients with COVID-19 exhibit mild symptoms including a runny nose, sore throat, cough or shortness of breath. Most people with infection do not require significant medical care. More serious infection can result in pneumonia or marked difficulty in breathing. It is believed that people with reduced immunity because of their medications,
As with other infectious disease that are spread person-to-person, good basic hygiene is important. This includes regularly washing hands regularly with soap and water, or using alcohol-based hand sanitiser products. You may choose to avoid crowded areas like shopping malls or sporting events or limit your travel, particularly overseas travel. Face masks are not routinely recommended. You may decide to avoid coming to hospital clinics for review of your medical condition (see below).
What should I do if I develop symptoms?
The symptoms of early COVID-19 infection are similar to cold and flu symptoms and include fever, runny nose, sore throat and cough. If you are concerned you might have infection you should call your GP or local health service and tell them of your concern. They will instruct you of how you should get tested. Or you can call the national Coronavirus Health Information Hotline on 1800 020 080. Clinic staff can also contact the Hotline for advice. Many hospitals are establishing testing clinics and community testing centres are being established. You should not just attend your GP or the hospital emergency department without calling ahead. If you are really unwell with shortness of breath, you may need to call an ambulance – make sure you advise them that you are concerned you might have COVID-19 infection so they can manage you appropriately.
Should I attend my routine clinic visits?
It is important that people with GI and liver conditions remain under care through the COVID-19 outbreak. Hospital clinics and specialists are reducing the numbers of people attending for routine review. Some people with active issues of concern may need to be seen for a face-to-face consultation, however from 13 March 2020, new Medicare item numbers are available for attending a specialist telehealth consultation by videoconference. As older people, and those with chronic illnesses or who are immunosuppressed may be at increased risk if they develop COVID-19 infection, video-conference consultations provide a way of having specialist review without the risk of coming to the clinic. You should contact your specialist to discuss whether a telehealth consultation is appropriate for you.
Should I adjust my medications to reduce my risk of infection?
Your medications were prescribed to manage your medical condition and to keep your condition well controlled. Stopping medication poses a risk for poor disease control. Any adjustments to your medications should only occur in discussion with your treating clinician. If you are unwell with COVID-19 then the doctors treating you may temporarily stop some of your medications. Your specialist should be notified if this happens as alternative medications may be required.
I have an overseas trip booked. What should I do?
The Australian Government is updating travel advice on the Smart Traveller website on a daily basis. The situation around the world is changing rapidly, and it is important to be informed and prepared about your planned destination, as well as countries you might transit through. Many people feel that this is not a good time to travel unless it is essential. You need to check out all the fine print in your travel insurance if you are intending to travel, to make sure you are covered for illness and also for change of flights or accommodation if new rules about travel are brought in by the government. Cancellations for known events, including COVID-19, are usually not covered by travel insurance.