Norfolk health boss answers your questions on coronavirus

Louise Smith, director of public health in Norfolk. Picture: Ella Wilkinson

Louise Smith, director of public health in Norfolk. Picture: Ella Wilkinson - Credit: Archant

As the coronavirus continues to spread into Norfolk and around the rest of the UK, people are becoming increasingly concerned for their welfare and that of their relatives.

In response to the outbreak, an increasing number of events which would otherwise see large crowds come together are being cancelled or postponed across Norfolk, while health secretary and West Suffolk MP Matt Hancock said that people aged over 70 would be asked in the coming weeks to self-isolate for up to four months.

Speaking on BBC Radio Norfolk on Monday, director of public health in Norfolk Dr Louise Smith answered a series of listeners’ questions:

At what body temperature should I start to worry?

“Isolate yourself at home if your temperature is over 37.8C. A temperature and a cough are the symptoms that we are looking for.”

I’m over 70 but keep fit and active and have no health issues. What should I do?

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“The advice is to keep going. We are not yet advising people over any particular age to self-isolate, quarantine or socially distance.

“Start thinking about the difference between isolation and social distancing. For example, getting out for a walk where you’re not in contact with people is very different in terms of your risk of getting coronavirus to sitting in an enclosed space indoors with lots of people.”

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Is it safe to use public and holiday camp swimming pools?

“Yes, it is. It’s probably worth having a bit of a think about how the virus spreads. When we cough and sneeze we expel lots of droplets of wet saliva, and the virus lives in those. We sneeze out in front of us over an area of a couple of metres, and then those droplets comes down through the air and rest on surfaces.

“We are advising people to do extra cleaning of surfaces that droplets can settle on, but something like a swimming pool that is already chlorinated would be a lower risk.”

What can be done to best protect people who live in multi-generation households?

“It’s a balance. The basic advice, use tissues and dispose of those, try to catch sneezes in a tissue or the crook of your elbow, wash your hands regularly. If you have a child who has a cough or a cold then try not to let them spread that everywhere by cleaning surfaces more frequently, but there are limits to what you can do in a household.”

I’m 89 and have heart issues, on cancer medication and have a doctor’s appointment for a blood test. Should I still go?

“It depends on when that test is and on what that service is saying at the time. If you’re able to check online, a lot of our health services are putting up advice on what they want patients using their services to do. It’s a fast-moving situation and advice may change, so checking in advance may be sensible.”

Should NHS staff self-isolate outside of work, as if they get ill then no-one can replace them?

“We can’t afford to lose people, but we also need to remember our health and social care staff are human beings too. The advice for them out and about in society is pretty much the same as everybody else. Isolate yourself if you have symptoms of a cough or cold.

“We think that the next advice will be that whole households will have to isolate, perhaps reducing mixing with older people, social distancing, and thinking about how that applies to us.”

I’m not in an at-risk group, but I’m scheduled for elective surgery in April. Would I be at risk?

“It’s a long time from now to mid-April, so at this stage we don’t know what will happen with elective surgery at that time. Our biggest priorities at this stage are to ask people to try to take the steps they can to reduce the demand on healthcare, in order to be able to do this full service in a month or two’s time.

“Don’t go to healthcare services unless you need to, and check online first.”

Why are music venues and performance spaces carrying on as usual?

“I’m sure that the government are thinking about it. The advice the government are giving at the moment is based on the science, and what we know is that the people you are most likely to get an infection from are those who are closest to you and the people you spend most time with.”

I regularly stay on caravan sites. Is it safe to use public facilities?

“I think sites such as caravan sites and camping sites are particularly challenging because you have less access to running water. My advice would be to look to use facilities that have running water, warm water, so that you can thoroughly, fully wash things. It’s better to get things properly washed.”

My husband takes tablets to control blood pressure, does that place him in a high-risk group?

“It raises his risk just slightly, but the absolute risk to you as an individual is that you are way more likely to recover from this virus. The other impact on people who have something like hypertension or high blood pressure is that they need to have a repeat prescription and get tablets from the pharmacy regularly. Contact them while you have plenty of time to organise repeat prescriptions.”

My husband has a diabetic blood check, should he still go?

“Look online and see what your GP practice is saying, and follow the advice they are giving. If they are still offering appointments then yes – far better that we have people looking after the long-term conditions and illnesses as best they can, because we know one of the challenges when we get something like a flu pandemic like this is that people end up with health problems related to their underlying health conditions more than the number who get the new virus.”

If you get coronavirus, how long does it last?

“We don’t fully have the science on that at the moment, but what we think is happening is that people are unwell for a number of days, around five days for most people.

“What we’re then seeing is a much, much smaller number of people who have had the infection going on to develop what we call a secondary complication, where they start to get a pneumonia. For most people, it’s a flu-like bug, about five days.”

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