Your coronavirus questions answered by our leading health experts
We are now firmly in week five 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.
What can I do to stop feeling so low and lonely in lockdown?
‘This will be a common sentiment at the moment,’ says Stephen Buckley, of mental health charity Mind. ‘Having to self-isolate can be difficult, but there are things we can do to look after our mental wellbeing.
‘Try to create a routine for your day, finding time for physical exercise, as physical and mental health are connected. Exercising produces feel-good chemicals and reduces levels of the stress hormone cortisol, so will help calm you down.
‘Maintaining a healthy diet and connecting with nature — even just tending to plants in the home — can help boost your wellbeing, too.
‘If you find news about the pandemic stressful, you might find it helpful to have a set time once a day or every two days when you look at it for a limited period.
‘And, of course, do prioritise keeping in touch with your family and friends via video chat, phone or text.’
‘As far as I am aware, there have been no confirmed reports of cats infecting humans — and dogs don’t seem to be affected, said Dr Andrew Preston, a reader in microbial pathogenesis at the University of Bath. ‘It is unlikely that the virus has established in the UK cat population, and there is no evidence of cats being a source of the virus in the UK.’ (Stock image)
What is a cytokine storm? I have heard people who have the coronavirus are dying of it.
‘In some cases, when a person has the coronavirus — or any type of infection — their immune system goes into overdrive,’ says Dr Andrew Preston, a reader in microbial pathogenesis at the University of Bath.
‘To fight the virus, the body releases proteins called cytokines which orchestrate the body’s immune response, resulting in inflammation. But in some, this process runs out of control — as more immune cells pour in, the inflammation gets worse, and this can cause organ failure and be deadly. This is known as a cytokine storm. Why it occurs in some people is not known.’
Can my husband’s daughter continue to stay with us every other week now that I am in the third trimester of pregnancy?
‘All pregnant women — regardless of how far along they are — are in the vulnerable category and should follow social distancing measures,’ says Dr Jo Mountfield, a consultant obstetrician and vice president of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists.
‘This is a precautionary measure as this is a new virus and we don’t know if there is a real risk to mother and foetus.
‘So far, the evidence is reassuring and suggests that pregnant women are no more likely to get the coronavirus, nor be seriously unwell if they do catch it. And generally babies seem to recover well if they catch it.
‘The Government currently advises that where parents do not live in the same household, children under 18 can be moved between their parents’ homes. But it’s advisable to keep movement to a minimum if possible.’
People enjoy lockdown in Greenwich Park, London, on April 19. A police officer is approaching a group sitting on the grass near a buggy
If a person has been ordered to self-isolate because they are in the high risk category, can they still leave the house for daily exercise? I am 82 and have type 2 diabetes.
‘If you are considered particularly vulnerable to the coronavirus, you will have been contacted by the NHS and asked to “shield”,’ says Emma Elvin, a clinical advisor at the charity Diabetes UK. ‘This means you should stay indoors and not even go outside for exercise, unless it is in your own garden.
What medicines can treat coronavirus?
If I suspect I have Covid-19, what medicine should I take? When do I ask for help? I am 72.
‘The latest Government advice is that people can take paracetamol or ibuprofen when self-medicating for symptoms of Covid-19, such as fever and headache,’ says Professor Gino Martini, chief scientist at the Royal Pharmaceutical Society.
‘If your symptoms don’t improve, or worsen, after a few days, call 111 for advice.’
‘Some people who have diabetes fall into this category and will have received a letter — most won’t and will be social distancing like the rest of us.
‘Everyone should continue to try to get some daily exercise — even if shielding at home.’
How long does the coronavirus stay on clothes?
‘We know the coronavirus can persist on surfaces for hours or days — although exactly how long depends on the surface,’ says Dr Andrew Preston. ‘Even then, it is unclear whether the virus would still be infectious.
‘We know that bacteria, in general, can be spread through clothing and dirty towels — and you could assume the same for viruses. So, if you have been in an area with a high risk of the virus being present, such as hospitals or public transport, put worn clothes in the washing machine at 60c as soon as you get home and wash your hands after handling the clothes.’
I am 71 and have severe lung problems, but I haven’t received a letter from the NHS which allows me to get extra support while I stay at home and shield. How can I access help?
‘Around a million people with serious health conditions have been instructed to “shield” to reduce the risk of them catching the coronavirus,’ says Dr Noel Baxter, a GP and medical advisor to the British Lung Foundation. ‘You should call your GP or hospital team if you think you should have had a letter but haven’t got one.
‘The letter outlines measures you should take to avoid contact with others and the support available to you, such as help with collecting groceries and prescriptions.
‘In the meantime, if you meet certain criteria, you can request support from volunteer groups such as NHS Volunteer Responders and Mutual Aid networks, which can help with getting essentials in, or simply call for a chat.’
People walk at close quarters along the Thames path near Hammersmith on April 19
Should we be spraying the streets with disinfectant as is happening in other countries?
‘Disinfection of large areas is sensible if they are going to be used by people susceptible to the coronavirus infection, as we know the virus can persist on surfaces for a period of time,’ says Dr Andrew Preston.
‘This approach might be used in warehouses, supermarkets, public transport and health facilities.
‘However, under lockdown, the idea is that people are not going to be on the streets, so I am not convinced that large-scale disinfection of outdoor areas where few, if any, people are going to be would be a good use of resources.
‘Once restrictions are lifted and we know more about the remaining threat of the virus, then infection control measures will need to be considered.’
Can household pets transmit the coronavirus?
‘There are reports from China of a small number of cats being infected with Covid-19 from humans and transmitting the virus to other cats,’ says Dr Andrew Preston.
‘But, as far as I am aware, there have been no confirmed reports of cats infecting humans — and dogs don’t seem to be affected.
‘It is unlikely that the virus has established in the UK cat population, and there is no evidence of cats being a source of the virus in the UK.’
My fourth chemotherapy session is due next week but, aged 71, I’m worried about going into hospital. Should I cancel the appointment?
‘Essential cancer treatments should continue at this time,’ says Dr Preston. ‘The NHS has worked hard to separate patients with Covid-19 from those needing other medical care — in some cases, placing cancer treatment in different hospitals.
‘Doctors will decide on a case-by-case basis whether the risk of Covid-19 outweighs the risk of changing a cancer treatment. Contact your cancer team to discuss your concerns.’
Disinfectant is sprayed over streets in Taiyuan, Shanxi, China. It can help to clear the virus, which can survive on hard surfaces for a considerable period of time
Can antihistamine tablets for hay fever lower the immune system and make someone more likely to catch coronavirus?
‘No, hay fever medicines work by blocking a specific aspect of the immune system linked to allergic reactions,’ says Dr Preston. ‘This is very different from the immune responses that are triggered to respond to the coronavirus.’
I have toothache and would normally visit my dentist to find out what the problem is. What should I do?
‘All High Street dentists are now closed and no face-to-face appointments are allowed during lockdown,’ says Dave Cottam, chair of the General Dental Practice Committee at the British Dental Association.
‘If you have a dental problem, call your usual practice. They may be able to give you advice over the phone and prescribe painkillers or antibiotics, if appropriate.
‘If your problem is urgent, your dentist may refer you to one of the urgent dental care centres that have been set up.
‘Only if there is a danger of the airway being compromised would you be advised to go to A&E.’
I am working from home — what is the best way to clean my keyboard and phones, which may be harbouring the virus?
‘The best approach is to prevent contamination in the first place; regular hand washing will prevent the virus getting on to your keyboard,’ says Dr Preston.
‘If your keyboard or mobile phone needs cleaning, wipe it with a cloth lightly sprayed with an alcohol sanitiser — the virus should not be building up on keyboards if people are washing their hands regularly.’