We are now firmly in week four of lockdown, and questions on how we should go about our daily lives, and the risks we face, remain important.
We asked for your queries about the pandemic, which we then put to some of the country’s leading experts.
Q. My neighbour has kindly left baked cakes on our doorstep, wrapped in foil. How should I handle them?
A. ‘While this is a well-intentioned gesture, the safest course of action to prevent the spread of Covid-19 is to not handle the foil package,’ says Dr Andrew Preston, a reader in microbial pathogenesis at the University of Bath.
‘There could be traces of the virus on it, which may remain for hours and possibly days.
One person asked the panel of leading experts if it was safe to accept baked foods left on their doorstep by a neighbour. (Stock image)
Although there is no evidence you can catch the virus from food, and it is unclear whether traces on the foil would be enough to cause an infection, I would advise you to dispose of the whole package, including the cakes, and then wash your hands thoroughly.’
Q. I wash my hands so frequently that they have become dry and itchy. How can I avoid this?
A. ‘It’s important that we wash our hands regularly to help prevent the spread of the virus, but this will take its toll on your skin,’ says Ravi Sharma, a pharmacist and the director for England at the Royal Pharmaceutical Society.
‘Alcohol gel can have a similar drying effect on the skin, too. Make sure you dry your hands thoroughly each time you wash them to help prevent skin damage, and use a hand cream after to keep the skin moisturised.
‘If you are experiencing a rash or itching, regularly use an emollient — a moisturising treatment that creates a protective film on the skin to trap moisture — to reduce the irritation.’
Q. My next-door neighbour and I (aged 93 and 84, respectively) have been in total isolation for two to three weeks. Would it be safe for us to meet up to play cards?
A. ‘Sadly this is not a good idea, as both of you are considered very vulnerable to the coronavirus because of your age,’ says Dr Preston.
‘Although there is only a very small chance one of you could infect the other, as you have both been in isolation and have no symptoms, it’s important that we have clear rules for everyone and that we all stick to them.
‘There is also a possibility that you could pick up the virus from moving around outside the home, not just from each other.
‘Take the long-term view. Stay in isolation for the full 12 weeks recommended for high-risk groups by the Government in order to enjoy each other’s company in the future. In the meantime, you could phone or video-call each other instead.’
Another person asked how to reduce the chances of dry and itchy hands brought about by frequent hand washing. (Stock image)
Q. I had symptoms of Covid-19, isolated for two weeks and got better. I now feel the symptoms are returning. Should I isolate for another two weeks?
A. ‘Without a specific test, you can’t be sure that your original symptoms were due to Covid-19 the first time round — or, indeed, that they are this time,’ says Dr Preston.
‘The advice, therefore, is to self‑isolate for seven days from when your new symptoms started. However many times this occurs is irrelevant as most people won’t be tested, so we just have to assume there is a risk.’
Q. All the advice says you should stay at home for seven days if you have symptoms, but mine have lasted longer — almost two weeks. For how long am I infectious?
A. ‘As the case of Prime Minister Boris Johnson shows [he first had mild symptoms and tested positive for coronavirus on March 27, ten days before he was admitted to hospital], some people have symptoms of Covid-19 for longer than others,’ says Dr Preston.
How do I know whether I have flu or Covid-19?
A. ‘Initial symptoms of flu and Covid-19 are similar,’ says Alison Sinclair, a professor of molecular virology at the University of Sussex.
‘The simple answer is that you won’t know if you have had Covid-19 unless you are tested.
‘But regardless of what infection is actually causing your symptoms, the advice remains the same during the pandemic: if you have flu-like symptoms such as a cough or fever, stay at home.’
‘Patients with symptoms are considered infectious, regardless of how long those symptoms have been ongoing. The Government currently advises that those who have a temperature after seven days should continue self-isolating until it returns to normal.’
Q. If I am confirmed as having had Covid-19, will the virus remain in my system and, if so, could I pass it on?
A. ‘The only way you can tell if you’ve had Covid-19 is to have an antibody test, and this is not available in the UK yet,’ says Dr Preston.
‘So far we don’t know whether you can be a carrier of the virus once you’ve had it and got better. There are emerging reports from South Korea, China and Italy of people who have recovered from Covid-19 who then test positive for the virus later on.
‘However, these are small numbers of people, and it’s not clear whether they were reinfected with the virus or were still carrying it after the symptoms had gone.
‘If you have virus particles in your respiratory tract, you could pass on the infection through breathing, sneezing or coughing.’
Q. Does coronavirus survive in water and, if so, could it conceivably contaminate the public water supply?
A. ‘The virus particle would be infectious if it’s intact, whether it is in water or on a surface,’ says Dr Preston.
‘However, our public water supply to households in the UK is treated with chlorine, which is a disinfectant, so contamination of our supply is extremely unlikely.
‘Furthermore, waste water goes through a treatment process that would likely remove the virus.’
Q. Two years ago, I had the pneumococcal jab. If I got Covid-19 and the complication of pneumonia, would this vaccine provide any protection?
A. ‘Unfortunately, not,’ says Dr Preston. ‘The pneumonia that patients with Covid-19 develop is due to the virus, so the pneumococcal vaccine — which protects against bacteria that can cause pneumonia — will not prevent it or offer any protection.’
Q. Can household bleach be used as a sanitiser?
A. ‘Yes, but only on non-biological surfaces — i.e. not the skin or anywhere about your person, or pets,’ says Dr Preston.
‘Bleach is highly toxic to all biological systems, and far too harsh to use on skin. You could use it to wipe down surfaces in the bathroom or kitchen.’
Q. Once we have a vaccine, would this protect against all strains of coronavirus or would there have to be a vaccine for each strain?
A. ‘Defining a strain is difficult,’ says Dr Preston. ‘All viruses mutate naturally, so there will be ongoing changes to Covid-19.
‘However, the vast majority of these changes — or mutations — will be benign and not affect how infectious the virus is.
‘The vaccines under development will be designed to cover the current pandemic virus that is circulating.
‘We don’t know if this virus will adapt so that it becomes part of the long-term virus landscape and recurs periodically, as flu does.
‘If this is the case, it may change the development of future Covid-19 vaccines.’
Q. I have the muscle-wasting condition myasthenia gravis, for which I take immune-suppressant medication. Will this have any adverse effect on my immune system’s ability to fight coronavirus?
A. ‘The strong immune-suppressant effects of your medication would be expected to make you very vulnerable to infections, including Covid-19, so you should consider yourself particularly at risk,’ says Dr Preston.
Professor Gino Martini, chief scientist at the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, adds: ‘As a healthy immune system is important in the body’s defences to combat infections in general, you should heed the Government’s guidance on self-isolating if you have been advised to do so.
‘In addition, you should make certain that you continue to get a balanced diet, as this will ensure your immune system is working as well as possible. You must also keep taking your medicine.’
If you have a corona-related question to ask experts, email it to firstname.lastname@example.org