Contaminated tests, masks and purchases: DR ELLIE CANNON answers your questions about the coronavirus

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I’ve heard that you can pay to take a corona test in private. Should I have one if I have symptoms?

The short answer is no. The reason so many people want a test is that we hate uncertainty. Understandably, people want to know if they have or have had Covid-19, even if we only had mild symptoms. A diagnosis always gives a feeling of resolution.

And I feel like people want a test because they want to know that they have “got it”, and once they get better, don’t worry. The problem is that paying for a private test is not a guarantee of any of these things. I’ll explain why, but first I want to cover the whole topic of testing.

Last week, the government announced that it would step up screening of the current level from around 10,000 tests per day to 100,000 per day by the end of the month. He said health care workers would be given priority, then key workers, and community testing would be rolled out.

NHS workers tested for Covid-19 in a driving system at the Chessington World of Adventures yesterday

NHS workers tested for Covid-19 in a driving system at the Chessington World of Adventures yesterday

The exact way this would happen – where we will have to go to get the test and how quickly the results will come back – has not yet been announced. If we can test effectively, it helps those responsible to properly track the spread of the disease, isolate the right people and protect those around them.

But finding Covid-19 isn’t easy. The test involves rubbing the nose, then mixing the collected cells with chemicals to show the presence of the genetic material of the virus. This type of test can, in a third of cases, give a “false negative” result. This means that it can show that a patient does not have Covid-19 when in fact he does. For this reason, hospital doctors will perform two or more tests to confirm a suspicious diagnosis.

In hospitals, where suspect cases are isolated anyway, this is not a problem. But a false negative in the community would be more worrying. You could make people believe that they are not infected, when they are. They may not self-isolate and eventually spread the infection.

The accuracy of the result depends on the correct sampling technique, sample handling, and laboratory analysis methods. When government deploys community tests, it should meet the highest standards to reduce the risk of false negatives. The same high standards cannot be applied to tests carried out in private clinics or to DIY kits sent to homes. Chances are that if you test yourself, you will get an inaccurate result. A patient told me last week that he had paid for a private kit and that it had given a negative result – but admitted that he was not at all sure that he had taken the cotton swab correctly. It should be inserted into the nasal cavity in a special way.

The best thing to do now, if you develop cold or flu symptoms, is to follow the directions and isolate yourself.

I understood that the masks were not necessary but everyone seems to be wearing them. Do I need it?

As with the tests, the problem of masks is not simple. Misused, they can be next to useless people and, worse still, fall asleep in a false sense of security.

The virus that causes Covid-19 spreads in airborne droplets when someone coughs or sneezes. These droplets can only move about one meter, but if you are close enough, they can get into your mouth, nose, or eyes, and transmission occurs. Droplets can also fall on surfaces and, depending on the material and environmental conditions, the virus can live there for days. Anyone who touches this surface and then touches their face can be infected.

Wrongly used masks can be almost useless and, worse still, lull people into a false sense of security, writes Dr. Ellie Cannon

Wrongly used masks can be almost useless and, worse still, lull people into a false sense of security, writes Dr. Ellie Cannon

If a person is sick, wearing a paper surgical mask can reduce the likelihood of spreading the virus because it acts as a physical barrier. They can also help protect a person who comes into close contact with a patient. But these masks must be worn properly. They are designed to be used once because the outside of the mask could be contaminated. Thorough hand washing should follow this.

The mask can also become contaminated if it is handled or pushed through your hair or under your chin. They can actually make people more likely to touch their face.

This is why, in everyday life, masks do not protect you from the virus. And that’s why regular hand washing – and trying not to touch your face – remains the first line of defense.

In addition, there is currently a shortage of masks for NHS workers. Buying them can therefore mean depriving someone who really needs them.

Could my supermarket be infected with the virus and should I clean it once at home?

According to NHS guidelines, it is “unlikely” that the virus will spread via droplets on food or food packaging, but theoretically the risk is still there, although small.

Wiping purchases with a disinfectant spray may help prevent the spread of the virus.

Wiping purchases with a disinfectant spray may help prevent the spread of the virus.

We know that the virus can survive for days on certain surfaces. The length of time they remain infectious when exposed to the elements and on what type of surfaces is less well understood.

Wiping purchases with a disinfectant spray may help prevent the spread of the virus. If you’re worried, put on rubber gloves, lather with dishwashing liquid and wipe everything off, as the soapy foam kills the virus.

Unnecessary packaging can be thrown away or thrown in the trash, then wash your hands thoroughly. It might all be unnecessary, but it probably lowers the risk of infection a bit, and if he reassures you, it’s worth it.

I have lost my sense of smell and I hear it is a symptom of Covid-19. What should I do?

It may be Covid-19 – reports suggest that a third of infected patients suffer from anosmia, a loss of smell.

Some claim that this is their only symptom. However, at present, there is not enough evidence to know for sure whether anosmia is really a sign of Covid-19. Anosmia is also a common symptom of colds and even hay fever.

Reports suggest that a third of infected patients suffer from anosmia, loss of smell

Reports suggest that a third of infected patients suffer from anosmia, loss of smell

The safest thing to do would be to isolate yourself for seven days, although at present guidelines do not specify this.

DO YOU HAVE A QUESTION FOR DR ELLIE?

Send an email to [email protected] or write to Health, The Mail on Sunday, 2 Derry Street, London, W8 5TT.

Dr. Ellie can only answer in a general context and cannot answer individual cases or give personal answers.

If you have a health problem, always consult your own doctor.

If you already work from home and follow social distancing rules, it shouldn’t make much of a difference – but be extremely careful with those you live with and make sure to wash your hands thoroughly and regularly.

People caring for vulnerable or elderly people should also be more vigilant.

It is better to err on the side of caution and treat any symptom as a risk for this group.

If you continue to work, talk to your employer about this potential symptom of Covid-19. Ideally, they will allow you to stay at home for seven days.

I have a toothache, but my dentist is closed and they tell me to call the NHS 111. Surely this is not true?

Dentists can only work safely with full personal protective equipment – PPE, which includes masks and visors adjusted to protect the eyes and a coverall – because close contact with patients’ mouths means they are running a high risk of getting the infection.

If a local clinic is closed, dentists will tell patients with toothache or similar symptoms to call NHS 111 - who can refer to a local emergency dental department, if necessary

If a local clinic is closed, dentists will tell patients with toothache or similar symptoms to call NHS 111 – who can refer to a local emergency dental department, if necessary

There appear to have been problems obtaining sufficient PPE, even for hospital staff, which is worrisome.

And due to the shortage, doctors from many specialties, such as the ear, nose and throat (ENT), as well as dentists, were unable to continue seeing patients regularly.

If a local clinic is closed, they will tell patients with toothache or similar symptoms to call NHS 111 – who can refer to a local emergency dental department, if necessary.

The dentist in the emergency dental service will call you first and advise you. They can prescribe medication if necessary and suggest an appointment.

Private dentists generally make arrangements for their own patients, but they are not required to remain open at this time and they may also suggest calling NHS 111.

I isolate myself with my husband, who is suffering from Covid-19 symptoms. We called NHS 111 and we don’t want to disturb them unnecessarily – but when should I ask for help again?

The common symptoms of Covid-19 are fever and cough, but also exhaustion, body aches and possibly nausea or diarrhea.

These symptoms can last from 10 to 14 days in some cases.

It is important to drink lots of fluids as it is easy to get dehydrated and this can make the problems worse. The crucial warning symptom is shortness of breath. Any shortness of breath, tightness, or trouble breathing is your wake-up call for help. Use the online checker at 111.nhs.uk, call your GP, or call 111 if you notice these symptoms. Breathing difficulties could be a sign of serious illness, including pneumonia. It can happen at any stage of the disease.

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