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Science expert Dr. Karl answers people’s frequently asked questions about COVID-19

Dr. Karl Kruszelnicki released his latest science podcast with Dr. Karl

One of Australia’s foremost scientific commentators has answered Australians’ most pressing questions about the coronavirus pandemic – revealing why it can easily mutate year after year.

Dr. Karl Kruszelnicki, a graduate in medicine and biomedical engineering, has uploaded a number of COVID-19 related podcasts on Science with Dr. Karl, with the final question of whether the disease can be spread by stroking a dog or inhaling cigarette smoke, and if the use of hand sanitizer can cause motorists to positively blow a roadside alcohol test.

While many Australians understand that they should stay indoors and wash their hands while shutting down, it is less clear what to do in these real situations.

Can you get coronavirus by stroking a dog that has touched someone with the virus?

The virus generally survives better on smooth surfaces such as a table top than on more porous materials such as dog hair.

Dog hair tends to absorb material from the virus rather than allow it to remain on the surface, so at this stage scientists are less concerned that our pets are a source of transmission.

However, it is still recommended that anyone who strokes a strange dog use hand sanitizer or wash their hands with soap as soon as possible.

The virus generally survives better on smooth surfaces like a table top than on more porous materials like dog hair (photo - a woman walks her dogs on a beach in Queensland)

The virus generally survives better on smooth surfaces like a table top than on more porous materials like dog hair (photo - a woman walks her dogs on a beach in Queensland)

The virus generally survives better on smooth surfaces like a table top than on more porous materials like dog hair (photo – a woman walks her dogs on a beach in Queensland)

If a farmer transmits the coronavirus to his livestock or sheep, can we get it to eat those animals later?

Dr. Karl believes that the cooking process, which involves heating the meat to temperatures above 60 degrees, will most likely kill the virus if it survives in a slaughtered animal.

“Right now we see people giving the virus to animals, but not the other way around,” he said.

There is no evidence that people should be careful with their meat as long as they heat it up.

Do couriers and store workers need to wear surgical masks?

Couriers and store personnel who wear them should remember that the common surgical masks we see are designed to be disposable so they should only use them once.

And anyone using a fabric mask should wash it after every use and also dispose of gloves after each use.

“You can get a false sense of security by wearing gloves and thinking you are repelling the virus,” said Dr. Karl.

If a cashier wears the same gloves when serving multiple customers, they can even pick up the virus and pass it on to a wide range of customers.

At the moment, the Australian government does not recommend that healthy people wear masks, only those who are unwell.

Dr. Karl says that couriers and store staff wearing masks and gloves should make sure to throw them away at the right time instead of being lulled into a false sense of safety by the protective gear (food delivery drivers get together in April Sydney)

Dr. Karl says that couriers and store staff wearing masks and gloves should make sure to throw them away at the right time instead of being lulled into a false sense of safety by the protective gear (food delivery drivers get together in April Sydney)

Dr. Karl says that couriers and store staff wearing masks and gloves should make sure to throw them away at the right time instead of being lulled into a false sense of safety by the protective gear (food delivery drivers get together in April Sydney)

Can using a lot of alcohol-heavy hand disinfection make you blow positive during a blood alcohol test?

It is currently unknown whether the use of high-alcohol hand sanitisers will affect a roadside breath test, but Dr. Karl believes this is something the police should look into.

An ex-cop who called the podcast was tested on the breath and blew positive, despite not drinking for days. She believed it was due to the use of hand sanitizer.

Dr. Karl said the police would need a larger sample to determine if a fumigant could put drivers in trouble.

Those driving trucks are considered essential workers, but they also use a fair amount of hand sanitizer (NSW police conduct random breath test)

Those driving trucks are considered essential workers, but they also use a fair amount of hand sanitizer (NSW police conduct random breath test)

Those driving trucks are considered essential workers, but they also use a fair amount of hand sanitizer (NSW police conduct random breath test)

Can coronavirus travel on cigarette smoke particles?

Although COVID-19 can spread through airborne particles when you cough and sneeze, the chance that a positive patient who smokes will only transmit the disease through cigarette smoke is very unlikely, Dr. Karl.

The amount of particles needed to deliver the virus is 100,000, and this will not happen through smoke.

But if you smoke, you are more susceptible to getting the virus in general because the chemicals in cigarettes hinder your respiratory system.

So while it is advised to quit smoking during the pandemic, you do not have an increased risk of getting coronavirus if you smell smoke while walking around.

Scientists don't believe you are at an increased risk of getting COVID-19 if you inhale someone else's cigarette smoke (woman who smokes in Sydney in March)

Scientists don't believe you are at an increased risk of getting COVID-19 if you inhale someone else's cigarette smoke (woman who smokes in Sydney in March)

Scientists don’t believe you are at an increased risk of getting COVID-19 if you inhale someone else’s cigarette smoke (woman who smokes in Sydney in March)

Could the virus mutate next year, just like the flu does that year after year?

That could happen, said Dr. Karl.

Medical professionals know that COVID-19 is an RNA virus like influenza, and these viruses can easily mutate.

“We know this virus has mutated, but it is not doing it at a rapid rate,” said Dr. Karl.

It will likely be treated with an annual vaccine that we need to monitor and prepare, just like the flu.

Dr. Karl previously answered other questions related to COVID-19:

Will getting the flu shot increase your chances of getting coronavirus?

Medical professionals recommend Australians get the flu shot this year when it is released in April.

It does not increase or decrease your chances of getting coronavirus, but it does ease the pressure on our hospitals for those who need emergency care if they get the flu this winter.

Dr. Karl recommends getting the vaccine, especially since there is none for COVID-19.

Medical professionals recommend individuals get the flu shot this year when it releases in April, but it won't protect you from coronavirus

Medical professionals recommend individuals get the flu shot this year when it releases in April, but it won't protect you from coronavirus

Medical professionals recommend individuals get the flu shot this year when it releases in April, but it won’t protect you from coronavirus

Can the virus spread to petrol pumps?

If you get infected by the coronavirus, don’t start showing symptoms within 5-12 days.

It might be technically possible, but Dr. Karl did not know of a reliable study that directly connects these two things because it is difficult to trace after five or twelve days.

To be careful, it is best to apply hand sanitizer after using a gas pump.

Should we disinfect our phones?

Absolutely. The best way to think about a phone is if you are ‘third hand,’ Dr. Karl.

It is very possible that germs you pick up with your hands can get on your phone and then touch your face when you answer a call.

Wipe your phone once a day with alcohol wipes to ensure it stays clean.

Would COVID-19 survive on paper receipts?

“The paper closest to us is cardboard and it seems to be left on cardboard for 24 hours,” said Dr. Karl.

If you throw it away and then go home and wash your hands, the virus will die on the paper within 24 hours and you will not be infected.

Scientists believe that an infectious dose of the virus needs about 100,000 particles, which means that a large surface area is required for transmission.

“The paper closest to us is cardboard and it seems to be left on cardboard for 24 hours,” said Dr. Karl

How long does the coronavirus last on a surface?

According to tests, the virus lasts the least time on copper and cardboard. No coronavirus is detected on cardboard after 24 hours, which is different from stainless steel and plastic where it was detected after 72 hours.

But Dr. Karl said the “detections” may only be spores that exist on the surfaces and may not be enough to actually infect someone.

It is not yet known how powerful these trace amounts must be to infect a person.

How does the vaccine work?

Right now, people who contract the virus for up to two weeks are waiting for their immune systems, or immunoglobulins, to ‘start’ and fight the disease – during which time, there is a risk of complications and death.

Once people are exposed to a small amount of the disease in the form of a vaccine, after two weeks their bodies will produce immunoglobulins that remain in the body – meaning when they encounter coronavirus in the wider world, their natural immunoglobulins will be released within hours will occur – not two weeks.

Dr. Karl said this is the ultimate goal of the vaccine scientists trying to achieve in the next 12 to 18 months.

Dr. Karl said this is the ultimate goal of the vaccine scientists trying to achieve within the next 12 to 18 months (photo is a vaccine lab in England)

Dr. Karl said this is the ultimate goal of the vaccine scientists trying to achieve within the next 12 to 18 months (photo is a vaccine lab in England)

Dr. Karl said this is the ultimate goal of the vaccine scientists trying to achieve within the next 12 to 18 months (photo is a vaccine lab in England)

Coronavirus symptoms and how it spreads:

Coronavirus symptoms

Symptoms can range from mild illness to pneumonia. Some people will recover easily and others can get very sick very quickly. People with coronavirus may experience:

  • fever
  • flu-like symptoms such as coughing, sore throat and fatigue
  • shortness of breath

How it spreads

There is some evidence that the virus is spreading from person to person. The virus is likely to spread through:

  • close contact with an infectious person
  • contact with drops from an infected person’s cough or sneeze
  • touching objects or surfaces (such as doorknobs or tables) that have an infected person’s cough or sneeze droplets, and then touch your mouth or face

How you can prevent this

Everyone must practice good hygiene to protect themselves against infections. Good hygiene means:

  • wash hands often with soap and water
  • use a tissue and cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze
  • avoid close contact with others, such as touching

Is surfing a low-risk activity?

At the moment, Australians can still exercise outdoors as long as they are only 1.5 meters apart.

Being in the ocean for swimming or surfing is considered low risk as long as you keep your distance and don’t touch anyone.

“It is very unlikely that the virus can live in salt water or a very well chlorinated pool,” said Dr. Karl, referring to the chemicals and the vast nature of the ocean.

Currently, Australians can still exercise outdoors as long as they are 1.5m apart (swimmers shown in Manly, Sydney)

Currently, Australians can still exercise outdoors as long as they are 1.5m apart (swimmers shown in Manly, Sydney)

Currently, Australians can still exercise outdoors as long as they are 1.5m apart (swimmers shown in Manly, Sydney)

Being in the ocean for swimming or surfing is considered low risk as long as you keep your distance and don't touch anyone (surfers on Freshwater Beach in Sydney)

Being in the ocean for swimming or surfing is considered low risk as long as you keep your distance and don't touch anyone (surfers on Freshwater Beach in Sydney)

Being in the ocean for swimming or surfing is considered low risk as long as you keep your distance and don’t touch anyone (surfers on Freshwater Beach in Sydney)

How does soap remove the virus?

Most viruses are made up of three major building blocks: ribonucleic acid (RNA), proteins and lipids.

The fatty substances in soap “break” the bonds between these three building blocks, break them down and “kill” the virus – or make it inactive.

Washing alone with water is not strong enough to loosen the connections, which is why soap is such a useful protector.

Can we expect that these kinds of pandemics will occur more often in the future?

Dr. Karl pointed to the SARS and swine flu outbreaks as evidence that other pandemics are certainly possible.

“These pandemics are part of nature because we want to live and live viruses. We were warned by the World Health Organization (WHO) that another would come, “he said.

“Australia didn’t set up a pandemic team at the time and we need to be ready for that in the future.”

It is likely that we will see another similar pandemic in our lifetime, but Australia will be better at dealing with it

It is likely that we will see another similar pandemic in our lifetime, but Australia will be better at dealing with it

It is likely that we will see another similar pandemic in our lifetime, but Australia will be better at dealing with it

Is the coronavirus more serious in a hot summer or cold winter?

Many of the biggest outbreaks have occurred in countries with lower temperatures, so people have suggested that the disease dies as the weather warms, but this may not be the case.

It’s early days, so it’s too early to have solid numbers, but Spanish flu peaked in the summer months in 1918, despite the flu being normally associated with winter.

So it is best not to assume that things cool down when summer reaches the Northern Hemisphere.

Is anyone immune to the virus?

COVID-19 is a brand new virus, meaning no one is immune to it the first time they are exposed.

If you get it and recover it, it is not yet known whether people have lasting immunity.

There were some reports of people contracting it twice earlier this year, but it’s Dr. Karl’s understanding that these people were simply not completely healed the first time.

COVID-19 is a brand new virus, meaning no one is immune to it the first time they are exposed

COVID-19 is a brand new virus, meaning no one is immune to it the first time they are exposed

COVID-19 is a brand new virus, meaning no one is immune to it the first time they are exposed

Are there many cases in the community that the government knows nothing about?

We haven’t tested enough according to Dr. Karl, so there are certainly people who have not been tested who have had the disease.

Those who think they have the virus should try to be tested as much as possible so that the recorded numbers are as effective as possible.

Once tested, they must be isolated for at least 14 days.

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