DR MICHAEL MOSLEY: Our two adult sons both have symptoms … Will my wife and I be crushed after this?
A few weeks ago, just when this pandemic hit England, I wrote that I was concerned. I have been for a while, because this new coronavirus, which we have no immunity to, is spreading frighteningly fast and can cause life-threatening diseases.
And people my age – I’m 62 – and older are at a much higher risk for severe symptoms.
I’m also worried, I wrote last weekend about my mom, Joan, who is 90, and son Jack, a junior doctor who works on the front lines of the NHS.
Standoff: Michael Mosley at home with his son Dan, 25, recovering from the virus. At the beginning of the week, Dan developed symptoms
This week, my fear became a reality: the virus, we believe, has hit my family.
At the beginning of the week, Jack, 27, and my other son Dan, 25, developed symptoms: fever, headache, and cough. My wife Clare, 59, and I now wonder if, or when, we will succumb.
Jack, who lives in Manchester, has worked in the wards with Covid-19 patients and would start in an intensive care unit.
When I spoke to him yesterday, he was clearly recovering. However, he has lost his sense of smell, which seems to be a fairly common symptom of Covid-19.
Despite being a doctor, no test was offered to him. So he is not sure what he has.
But it seems very likely that it is Covid-19.
I am very relieved that he seems to have had it mildly. It means he should have decent immunity now, so if he goes back to work he will be better protected.
The danger to young doctors like Jack comes not only from exposure to the virus, but also from the amount of virus you get in one fell swoop.
High exposure, because you work by being in close contact with patients with the virus, means that your immune system is overwhelmed more quickly, especially if you’ve never encountered that virus before.
While there is a theoretical risk that infected people could become infected again, a virologist I spoke to recently said this was unlikely, and if it did return it would be mild.
Dr. Mosley, pictured with his son Jack, 27, who worked with Covid-19 patients in the wards and would start in an intensive care unit
Jack probably picked up the virus at work. But his brother Dan?
Nine days ago, he was in Melbourne, Australia, where he studied and lived in a flat with a few doctors for the past year.
Last Saturday he flew back to England with a packed plane. I picked him up from the airport on Sunday and brought him home. He looked healthy and cheerful.
On Monday morning, he received a call from one of his former roommates that he had developed a cough and fever over the weekend – and that he had tested positive for Covid-19, like five other medical friends.
On Tuesday, three days after leaving Melbourne, Dan started to develop symptoms – feeling sore, cold and tired, looking sweaty and flushed with red eyes and a mild cough. This matches what we know about the contagious period. Most people who get sick will develop symptoms within five days of meeting an infected person.
Like Jack, Dan is recovering.
If you assume Dan started to become contagious on Tuesday and that it would take a few days to get infected and show symptoms, I would have expected to have Covid-19 now.
The fact that we have not yet done so may just be lucky because we have been very careful.
Or maybe we did Covid-19 a while ago without realizing it – which is possible – and are now relatively immune.
Without tests, we simply don’t know.
Meanwhile, we isolate ourselves. The quarantine period is 14 days from when a person in the household first shows symptoms to make sure no one else is affected.
Dr Mosley with his wife, Clare, on the television show ‘This Morning’ in July 2019 (file photo)
And we try to keep it as healthy as possible. We have not had a chance to do a shop before we have been locked and there is currently no chance of an online delivery.
Fortunately, we already have many dry ingredients, such as lentils, but also canned and frozen products.
Clare prepares meals with what we have. It’s just like our homely version of Ready, Steady, Cook. I film the meals Clare makes and we post them on Instagram – she’s @drclarebailey – so check them out.
It is a myth that you have to eat fresh to be healthy. Lots of dried, canned and frozen foods are just as nutritious.
A good thing about self-isolation is that I’m not tempted to sneak down the hill and buy chocolate. Apart from Easter eggs, our supermarket has very little on the shelf.
Clare is especially frustrated because as a general practitioner she would like to contribute during this time of crisis. But until she knows if she’s contagious, this is clearly impossible.
The NHS desperately needs as many doctors, nurses and paramedics as they can get, yet so many people (such as Clare and Jack) languish at home. Testing more and better will be a game changer.
I’m lucky that some of the work I do, such as interviewing and writing people, can be done from home.
One of the weirder things I’ve had to do this week was a commentary recording for a documentary series I’ve filmed for the past six months. Normally I would go to a real studio in London for that, but that is no longer possible.
Instead, I made the recording with a microphone that I have at home and my smartphone.
To get the best quality sound, I had to put the recording in our wardrobe – the clothes act as a kind of sound insulation. So, like everyone else, we adapt.
Ideally, to keep our body, brain and immune system in good shape, we would run or walk every day.
A sign of support for the NHS outside the Manchester Central Convention Center (file photo)
Unfortunately, this is not allowed if you have someone who has complaints at home.
Instead, I use my exercise bike and also do a lot of resistance exercises, such as push-ups and squats, as these are important for muscle preservation and also help increase deep sleep. They can be easily done at home without any special equipment – I used our King Charles Spaniel, Tari, as an extra weight during some exercises, much to her surprise.
Clare and I also both spend ten to fifteen minutes a day practicing mindfulness. You can download free apps like Headspace or Calm.
Getting a good night’s sleep is also extremely important to reduce stress and keep your immune system in good shape.
If you want some helpful tips to improve your sleep, my latest book, Fast Asleep, is available as an ebook or audiobook. Or you can get more information at fast-asleep.com.
As most people watch, I eagerly read and listen to the news. But I’m trying to ration myself because I could quickly become overly obsessed.
I also spent some time taking back some of my previous work.
If your brain needs to practice during isolation, try puzzles. They prevent stress and protect against cognitive aging, studies suggest.
A story I worked on a few years ago, about the town of eyam, in the Peak District, felt particularly relevant – and poignant – today. It proves that self-isolation to prevent pest spread is in fact nothing new.
The story begins in the summer of 1665. The Black Death, which had already killed nearly a third of the European population, traveled through Britain again.
A London tailor arrived in the village of Eyam, 380 residents.
He had dust samples with him. But the cloth also contained rat fleas infested with bubonic plague. According to the data, he was bitten.
But he didn’t make any of it, because at that time no one made any connection between plague and fleas.
He died a few days later. Soon others began to die. Panic broke out. What was the cause?
Some saw this as a judgment from God, while others, rightly believing that the plague was carried by animals, started killing local cats and dogs.
But they were the wrong animals, and without the cats and dogs around, the rats carrying the plague spread.
The people who could afford it fled. The squire and the gentry left within a few days, as did the local doctor.
So the role of leader and hero fell to the young rector, 28-year-old William Mompesson.
He called a city meeting and initiated events that would secure Eyam’s position in history.
First, they agreed that there would be no more organized funerals or funerals. People should bury their dead in local fields and gardens.
The concern is that Covid-19 could return as a second wave in September, with revenge, Dr. Michael Mosley (file photo)
Second, realizing that the plague was contagious, they agreed that the church should be closed and all services kept outside.
It was believed that the minimum safe distance from someone who was contagious was 12 feet, which was actually pretty good. The third and most difficult decision was to impose a ‘cordon sanitaire’ around the village – they would all become self-insulated so as not to spread the plague to other communities.
Mompesson reminded them, “No one has more love than they give their lives for others.”
The months that followed the decision were terrible. More and more villagers died.
It says something about their honor and integrity, or perhaps a sense of grim fatalism, that most of them kept their word and stayed put. Mompesson and his wife, Catherine, worked with the sick and dying on a daily basis.
One evening in August 1666, when they returned to the parsonage, she is said to have exclaimed, “How sweet the air smells.”
Mompesson knew that one of the first symptoms of the plague was a sickly, sweet, sticky feeling in the nostrils.
Catherine died three days later.
In November 1666, more than a year after the beginning, the plague came to an end.
Film about bodies ‘dumped’ in mass graves in Spain and Italy went viral, but it was fake news from the TV series Pandemic.
But eighty percent of the villagers were dead. There were only 83 survivors.
Mompesson collected them and organized a massive burn to destroy everything that contained “the plague seeds.”
As an example, he burned everything he owned except the clothes in which he was standing.
By the time of Christmas 1666, people began to return and children were playing on the street again.
This would be the last Black Death outbreak in Britain.
After nearly 300 years of constant eruptions, it simply died out for no apparent reason.
As an interesting footnote, a few years ago, researchers have tracked down direct descendants of the inhabitants of eyam. It turned out that many had a certain mutation in their DNA called the CCR5 delta 32 gene mutation, which may have protected their ancestors from the plague.
People with two copies of this mutation are known to be 100 times more resistant to HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, than those without.
So when you consider what the people of eyam went through all these years ago, despite the hardships many of us face, things can get worse.
It is, of course, difficult that we do not know when normality will return. The optimist in me thinks that the current outbreak will peak in May and then hopefully ease.
Concern is that Covid-19 could return as a second wave in September, with revenge. We can only hope that by then we have medicines to help the vulnerable, and even a prototype vaccine.
And then we will really be able to go further.
Q&A: Will the good weather kill the virus and could my groceries be contaminated?
Question: Will this warm weather help us destroy the virus?
A: In February, President Donald Trump said to an election meeting, “The virus … seems to be around April, you know in theory, when it gets a little warmer, it miraculously disappears. I hope that’s true. ‘
British Health Secretary Matt Hancock also told reporters at the time that coronaviruses are less transmissible in the spring and summer.
But Professor Trudie Lang, a public health expert at Oxford University, said earlier this month, “We don’t know that at all.”
While some viruses are affected by warm weather, it’s just too early to say how warm weather will affect the spread of Covid-19.
Another reason some diseases thrive in the colder months is because people spend a lot of time indoors and in crowded, poorly ventilated public places.
But the World Health Organization has stated that Covid-19 “can be transmitted in ALL AREAS, including areas with hot and humid weather.”
Willem van Schaik, professor of microbiology and infection at the University of Birmingham, says: ‘Data from Singapore – which is very close to the equator and which has a much warmer climate than the UK – suggest that the virus can easily spread there as well and only be stopped by aggressive interventions, such as extensive testing and quarantine. So I hope that warmer weather won’t make much difference. ‘
Q: Is there a risk of the virus on the packaging of my food delivery?
A: Ordering a grocery delivery is certainly a better option than going to the supermarket, but it is not without risks. If the delivery person or store employee who picked up your order has infected hands, the virus can be spread on the packaging of your food.
But coronavirus doesn’t replicate outside the body, so by the time your food is delivered, it’s likely to have become less infectious – so don’t worry too much.
Professor Sally Bloomfield, honorary professor at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, says, ‘If you want to take any further precautions, put all your stuff in the cupboard or refrigerator, where any residual viral contagion will further decrease before tackling it again – and then wash your hands thoroughly. ‘
Supermarkets, on the other hand, are shipping hotspots.
Even when not busy, infected people may have touched items and put them back on shelves and contaminated other surfaces, including checkout belts and card machines.
If you can’t get home delivery, the usual advice is: don’t touch your face at the grocery store – this could mean getting infected with the virus – then wash your hands as soon as possible.
Q: I think I’ve already had the virus. I am immune and cannot spread it now?
A: As many as half of the UK’s population could already be infected with the new coronavirus, according to a scientific article published last week by researchers at Oxford University.
This is much more than previously estimated. Could this mean that many people are now immune to the disease?
Experts have warned that the study should be treated with caution. While it’s true that some people infected with Covid-19 don’t seem to show any symptoms, there is currently no solid evidence for how many people in the UK have had it.
Unless you can be tested, there is no way to know for sure, and while it is likely that you will become immune after having it, we are still not sure.
“Patients who have already had Covid-19 and who have fully recovered will not be able to spread the virus,” says Prof. Van Schaik.
“They will have built up some immunity to the virus, but one of the big unknown is how much it will protect against reinfection,” Dr. Rossman added:
“Until we know for sure, it is safer to assume that you are not immune and can still get infected.”