As the coronavirus crisis deepens, the effect on our health of engaging in even restricted day-to-day activities remains a major cause for concern.
We asked for your questions about the pandemic, which we then put to some of the country’s leading experts.
We are moving out of our house while workmen come in for two days. When will it be safe for us to return once they have left?
‘Ideally, postpone the work,’ says Dr Andrew Preston, a reader in microbial pathogenesis at the University of Bath. ‘Current restrictions ask us to minimise our contact with other people, so please avoid having people come into your home.
‘If the work is already under way or unavoidable, try to restrict the workmen to the room of the house they need to be in, and then wipe down any surfaces in that room with soapy water or antimicrobial sprays after they leave.’
As the coronavirus crisis deepens, the effect on our health of engaging in even restricted day-to-day activities remains a major cause for concern (file image)
I have spent seven days in isolation and my symptoms (a fever and cough) have now gone. Can I resume normal life?
‘Many infections can cause a fever and cough, so unless you have a test there is no way of knowing whether your symptoms were due to the coronavirus or something else,’ says Dr Katrina Lythgoe, an expert in viral infections at the University of Oxford.
‘To protect yourself and others, you should assume you were not infected with the coronavirus and, like everyone else, continue to follow the social distancing rules.’
I’m 83 years old and in remission after a successful course of the cancer treatment pembrolizumab for melanoma. I understand this treatment enhances T-cell [immune cell] activity long after treatment ceases. How might this affect my chances of developing Covid-19?
‘The T-cells that have been ‘enhanced’ by your treatment are specific to fighting your cancer and are not anti-viral T-cells, so sadly they do not give you any protection against Covid-19,’ says Dr Preston.
‘In fact, cancer treatment will have taken a huge toll on your body — and potentially increased your risk of developing an infection — so, together with your age, this puts you at the top of the vulnerable list for the coronavirus.’
Are all people with high blood pressure more at risk of Covid-19? I take ramipril but have heard some blood pressure medication can make the symptoms worse.
‘Having an underlying health condition, including high blood pressure — whether or not it is well-controlled — doesn’t make it more likely that you will be infected with the coronavirus, but there is some evidence that you may be more at risk of severe symptoms if you do catch it,’ says Ravi Sharma, a pharmacist and director for England at the Royal Pharmaceutical Society.
‘There’s no strong evidence that blood pressure medicines worsen Covid-19 symptoms. People prescribed such medicines [known as ACE inhibitors, which dilate blood vessels to reduce blood pressure] should not stop taking them unless they have been advised to do so by their doctor.’
I have just heard about the death of a close relative and would like to attend the funeral. Should I go? I am 83, active and in relatively good health.
‘Situations like this are difficult, but I would strongly advise you against going,’ says Dr Lythgoe.
‘Being active and healthy act in your favour, but we know this disease tends to be much more severe the older you are, and there is no way of guaranteeing others at the funeral are not infected. Research shows that people are infectious before they show symptoms, and so can spread the virus without knowing they are ill.’
Which disinfectants will kill the Covid-19 virus? (file image)
Are men at higher risk of the virus? I am healthy, in my 60s and have no illnesses, but have read that I am still vulnerable.
‘Emerging data suggests that men can have worse outcomes than women from the virus, but there are many factors that may have an impact on this, including pre-existing conditions, smoking and their build, weight and fitness levels,’ says Professor Gino Martini, chief scientist for the Royal Pharmaceutical Society.
‘It’s important to remember that any person can be affected by this virus. That’s why we must all follow the Government’s advice to reduce our chances of catching and spreading the virus by staying at home.’
In the history of pandemics, is this the first time there has been a lockdown? If so, why do we need one?
‘This is the most serious disease outbreak since the 1918 flu pandemic, which may have killed up to 50 million people worldwide,’ says Dr Lythgoe.
‘Back then, a lockdown was not widely introduced — although cities where social distancing was implemented had fewer deaths.
‘Without a vaccine, lockdowns and physical distancing measures are the only tools we have to slow the spread of the coronavirus.’
Dr Preston adds: ‘A lockdown is necessary because today’s world is more interconnected compared with decades ago.
‘People now travel the globe quicker than the incubation period [the time between exposure to an infection and the appearance of symptoms] of most diseases, meaning they can pick up an infection in one place and be on the other side of the world before they realise they have it.’
Is it better to dry washed hands on kitchen paper?
‘It is important to dry your hands after washing them so that any leftover virus is physically removed,’ says Dr Lythgoe.
‘Using kitchen paper, or anything else disposable, is sensible as long as you make sure it goes straight in the bin afterwards.’
Do I really need to wash all the groceries I buy at the supermarket — including cans and packets of cereal — or am I being paranoid?
‘You can help protect against the virus entering your home via groceries in several ways,’ says Dr Lythgoe.
‘If you have time, you could leave non-perishable goods for up to three days before unpacking them — after this it’s unlikely that any infectious virus will still be present on the packaging.
‘Alternatively, you can wipe items with disinfectant or alcohol, wash with soapy water, or rinse under the tap, where appropriate.
‘Remember this is a respiratory virus, so be careful not to get it on your hands or face.
‘The most important piece of advice is to wash your hands regularly, particularly before and after handling food, visiting the supermarket and taking your daily exercise — and avoid touching your face.’
Is it better to dry washed hands on kitchen paper? ‘It is important to dry your hands after washing them so that any leftover virus is physically removed,’ says Dr Lythgoe. ‘Using kitchen paper, or anything else disposable, is sensible as long as you make sure it goes straight in the bin afterwards’
Is it correct that coronavirus doesn’t mutate like the flu virus does?
‘Viruses have genetic codes; think of them as instruction manuals for making new versions to help them spread and survive,’ says Dr Lythgoe.
‘When the instruction manual is copied, mistakes — or mutations — can be made. However, so far there is no good evidence to show that mutations have occurred with the coronavirus that would make it better at spreading among humans, as happens yearly with the flu virus.
‘The flu virus seems to adapt to avoid the collective immunity built up each year in people.
‘As a new disease in humans, the Covid-19 coronavirus doesn’t need to do this.
‘However, scientists are monitoring the situation closely.’
Does putting an item in the microwave kill any trace of the virus that might be present?
‘Temperature is usually a good way to disable microbes, and certainly it is possible to heat materials in a microwave to temperatures well above those required to destroy the virus,’ says Dr Preston.
‘However, there are considerable safety risks of putting items in the microwave (it can be very dangerous if the item contains metal, for example).
‘A better way to avoid contamination is to be wary of items coming into the house from outside; remove the packaging and wipe down with an alcohol wipe — and wash your hands regularly to prevent spread of the virus.’
Which disinfectants will kill the Covid-19 virus?
‘You don’t need anything fancy — soap does a great job at killing the virus and physically removing it, which is why washing your hands regularly is so important,’ says Dr Andrew Preston, a reader in microbial pathogenesis at the University of Bath.
‘The coronavirus is an enveloped virus, meaning it has a membrane surrounding its core. Detergents in soap will ‘dissolve’ the membrane, which kills the virus, and the washing action will physically remove it from hands.
‘Hand sanitisers, alcohol gel and sprays have a similar effect, breaking down the virus membrane to kill it, and wiping it off will physically remove it.’
AS TOLD TO RACHEL ELLIS
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