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Tests, masks and infected shopping: DR ELLIE CANNON answers your questions about coronavirus

I heard you can pay for a private test. Do I have to have one if I have symptoms?

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

And I feel that people want a test because they want to know that they have “had” it, and once they get better they don’t have to worry anymore. 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 by the end of the month, screening would be increased from its current level of about 10,000 tests per day to 100,000 per day. It is said that health workers would take precedence over key workers, and community tests would be rolled out.

NHS employees were tested yesterday for Covid-19 in a drive-through system at Chessington World of Adventures

NHS employees were tested yesterday for Covid-19 in a drive-through system at Chessington World of Adventures

Exactly how this would happen – where we need to go to pass the test and how quickly the results come back – has yet to be announced. If we can test effectively, it helps officials closely monitor the spread of the disease, isolate the right people, and protect those around them.

But screening for Covid-19 is not easy. The test involves taking the nose and then mixing the cells collected with chemicals to show the presence of the genetic material of the virus. These types of tests can yield a ‘false negative’ result in up to one third of cases. That means it can show that a patient does not have Covid-19 when in fact they do. For this reason, doctors in hospitals will perform two or more tests to confirm a suspected diagnosis.

In hospitals, where suspected cases are nevertheless isolated, this is not such a problem. But a false negative in the community would be more worrying. You could make people think they are not infected if they are. They may not isolate themselves and eventually spread the infection.

The accuracy of the result depends on proper swabbing technique, sample handling, and laboratory analysis methods. When the government conducts community tests, it should be of the highest standard to reduce the chance of false negatives. The same high standards cannot be applied to tests performed in private clinics or do-it-yourself kits sent home. Chances are that if you do the test yourself, you will get an inaccurate result. A patient told me last week that they had paid for a private kit and that it had a negative result – but admitted that they were not at all sure that they had taken the nasal swab correctly. It has to be inserted into the nasal cavity in some way.

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

I understood that masks were not necessary, but everyone seems to be wearing them. Must I?

As with testing, the problem of masks is not easy. If used incorrectly, they can be next to useless and, worse, give people a false sense of security.

The virus that causes Covid-19 is spread in airborne droplets when someone coughs or sneezes. These drops can only travel about a meter, but if you’re close enough, they can enter your mouth, nose, or eyes and transfer occurs. The drops can also fall on surfaces and, depending on the material and the environmental conditions, the virus can live there for days. Anyone who touches that surface and then touches their face can become infected.

Used improperly, masks can be next to useless and, even worse, appease people into a false sense of security, writes Dr. Ellie Cannon

Used improperly, masks can be next to useless and, even worse, appease people into a false sense of security, writes Dr. Ellie Cannon

Used improperly, masks can be next to useless and, even worse, appease people into a false sense of security, writes Dr. Ellie Cannon

When someone is sick, wearing a paper surgical mask can reduce the chances of them spreading the virus as it acts as a physical barrier. They can also help protect someone who comes into close contact with a patient. But these masks must be worn correctly. They are designed for single use because the outside of the mask may be contaminated. Thorough hand washing should follow this.

The mask can also become infected if it is pushed under your hair or under your chin. They can cause people to touch their face earlier.

This is why masks don’t help protect you from getting the virus in everyday life. And that’s why you keep washing hands regularly – and trying not to touch your face – the first line of defense.

In addition, there is currently a shortage of masks for NHS workers. So if you buy them, you can take someone who really needs one.

Is my supermarket infected with the virus and should I clean it if I have it at home?

NHS guidelines say the virus is ‘unlikely’ to be spread through drops on food or food packaging, but in theory the risk is still there, albeit small.

Wiping from shopping with disinfectant spray can help prevent the spread of the virus

Wiping from shopping with disinfectant spray can help prevent the spread of the virus

Wiping from shopping with disinfectant spray can help prevent the spread of the virus

We know that the virus can survive for days on some surfaces. How long they remain contagious when exposed to the elements, and on what types of surfaces, is less well understood.

Wiping from shopping with disinfectant spray can help prevent the spread of the virus. If you’re concerned, put on rubber gloves, make a lather with dish soap, and wipe it all off, because soapy foam kills the virus.

Unnecessary packaging can be thrown away or put in the trash and then wash your hands thoroughly. All of this may be unnecessary, but it probably reduces the risk of infection a bit, and if it puts your mind at ease, it’s worth it.

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

It is possible Covid-19 reports suggest that a third of patients with the infection have anosmia, a loss of sense of smell.

Some claim that this is their only symptom. However, at this time 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 a cold and even hay fever.

Reports suggest that a third of patients with the infection have anosmia, a loss of sense of smell

Reports suggest that a third of patients with the infection have anosmia, a loss of sense of smell

Reports suggest that a third of patients with the infection have anosmia, a loss of sense of smell

The safest thing to do is isolate yourself for seven days, although guidelines don’t currently 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 respond to individual cases or give personal answers.

Always consult your own doctor if you have health problems.

If you already work from home and follow the social distance rules, this wouldn’t make much difference, but be extra careful about those you live with and make sure you wash your hands carefully and regularly.

Those who care for vulnerable or older people should also be more vigilant.

It is better to be careful and treat any symptom as a risk to this group.

If you are still going to work, talk to your employer about this possible Covid-19 symptom. Ideally, they will leave you at home for seven days.

I have terrible toothache, but my dentist is closed and they tell me to call NHS 111. This is not correct?

Dentists can only work safely with full personal protective equipment – PPE, including tight-fitting masks and visors to protect the eyes and overalls – because close contact with the patient’s mouth means they are at high risk of contracting the infection.

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

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

It seems that there have been problems getting enough personal protective equipment even from hospital staff, which is worrying.

And because of the shortage, doctors in many specialties, such as ear, nose and throat (ENT), as well as dentists, are unable to continue to visit 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 office if necessary.

The dentist of the emergency dental service will initially call you and advise you. They can prescribe medication if necessary and can make an appointment.

Private dentists will usually make arrangements for their own patients, but they are not currently required to remain open and may also suggest calling NHS 111.

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

The most common symptoms of Covid-19 are fever and cough, as well as exhaustion, pain and perhaps even nausea or diarrhea.

In some cases, these symptoms can last ten to fourteen days.

Drinking plenty of fluids is important because it dries out easily and can lead to worsening problems. The crucial warning symptom is shortness of breath. Any shortness of breath, shortness of breath, or breathing difficulties is your alarm bell to call for help. Use the online checker at 111.nhs.uk, call your doctor or call 111 if you notice these symptoms. Breathing difficulties can be the sign of a serious illness, including pneumonia. This can happen at any stage of the disease.

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