We recently sat down (yes, keeping a minimum 1.5m distance from one another) to talk with Professor John Blakey from Respiratory Medicine at Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital about the pandemic Coronavirus (COVID-19) and what it means for people with asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) as well as the broader community. Here is some of the information from Australian and international agencies that Professor Blakey shared with us and that we felt you should also know.
Will I get COVID-19?
Many people will. It is uncertain exactly how many people will be affected, but estimates suggest at least 1 in 3 people, and perhaps more than half.
Will I become very unwell?
Probably not. It is estimated that about 1 in 6 people will get significantly unwell from COVID-19. The key risk factor for becoming very unwell is advancing age, with lung disease being a moderate risk factor (less risk than heart disease on current data).
What can people with asthma or COPD do about it now?
Follow the widespread national advice on social distancing and hygiene. Keep taking your respiratory medication as it has been prescribed to you; if you have asthma this almost always should include a preventer. Talk to your GP or Asthma WA if you have questions about your treatment or if you don’t have a preventer. Salbutamol (Ventolin) will not help prevent exacerbations caused by viruses.
What about people with severe asthma or COPD?
Should you have severe asthma or COPD, please be very vigilant about hygiene and ensure you distance yourself from others. Act as if you were the one with a serious virus. The 1.5m physical distance doesn’t mean social isolation: keep in regular touch with friends and family.
I’ve had a cold recently. Will that protect me?
While this new coronavirus is similar to the common cold, if you have caught a cold, it will not protect you from catching this virus. You are still at risk of infection.
Should people ask for a ”rescue pack” from their GP?
No. It appears oral steroids such as Prednisolone and Redipred can potentially make COVID-19 infection worse if taken early. They should therefore be used with more caution than usual, especially in older individuals. A course of antibiotics will not treat the type of pneumonia that the virus causes.
What about other treatments that we see discussed in the news and on social media?
Currently there is no medicine proven to be helpful, despite what you may have heard from Donald Trump. Some of the treatments that may possibly help have potentially very serious side effects. These medicines should therefore not be given outside a hospital setting, and will be used almost always as part of a clinical trial. Trials are running all over the world, including in WA.
What medicines should we avoid?
There have been some stories that common painkillers like ibuprofen and common blood pressure medicines (ACE inhibitors) increase the risk of people becoming extremely ill with COVID-19. At the moment there is no robust evidence that this is true, and major institutions such as the World Health Organisation advise that people should not stop treatments such as these.
Aren’t there non-medical treatments to preventing the virus infection?
Naturopathic remedies, chiropractic intervention, homeopathy, and “immune boosting supplements” have not been shown to reduce your likelihood of COVID-19 or reduce your risk of becoming very ill with it. They have been shown to reduce your bank balance.
What happens if someone with asthma or COPD is unwell?
You can still contact your GP as you normally would. They will usually talk to you on the phone and make a decision whether to see you or to ask you to go to a COVID clinic. COVID clinics are open at the main hospitals and test people (without an appointment) for the virus if they meet the current testing criteria. If you are more unwell, the emergency department will review you and keep you separate from confirmed COVID cases until they know for sure if you have it or not. Most people with COVID-19 will isolate at home, and so will need the support of people close to them for practical issues like shopping and for emotional support.
How long will this pandemic last?
It is difficult to say, but certainly weeks. Some countries are starting to see a reduction in cases but in Australia and many other countries numbers are still building. A second, later, peak is possible once people become more relaxed about hand hygiene and social distancing.