Coronavirus: 12 of your questions answered by experts

Am I high risk? Should we clean packages? Can pets carry the virus? Are playdates safe? Does holding your breath work?

(The answers below are for general guidance only. They are not a substitute for personal advice given by your own doctor, or other professional.)

1) Anne

There are three of us in our home – my husband (70s), myself (60s) and our disabled son (30s). We are following the protocols recommended by the HSE and we now plan to get our groceries delivered by our local supermarket. What precautions do we need to take when putting away these groceries after they’ve been delivered? Do we need to clean the wrapping and packages? Do we need to clean tins, boxes with dishwasher tablets, yoghurt cartons or any other containers?

Answer: The World Health Organisation says that the likelihood of an infected person contaminating commercial goods is low, and the risk of catching the virus that causes Covid-19 from any package that has been moved, travelled, and exposed to different conditions and temperature is also low. However, bearing in mind that you can never be 100 per cent sure of any surface, you must wash your hands before and after preparing food and before and after eating food - and before touching your face. To infect you, the virus has to get into your eyes, nose or throat.

2) Andy

I’m 28 and I had a surgical procedure at the end of last year to correct an arrhythmia issue with my heart. Am I more at risk considering it was a cardiac procedure?


Answer: "If this was a one-off procedure, and the heart rhythm has settled since it was done, then you are probably not carrying a cardiac risk at present," says Dr Muiris Houston. "Your age is also in your favour should you contract coronavirus. However, if you have had a stent or a pacemaker inserted then you should probably work on the basis that you have a pre existing condition that might affect your outcome if you develop Covid-19."

3) Jo

Is it true that taking ibuprofen makes Covid-19 worse?

Answer: I am not aware of studies specifically with Covid-19 treatment," says Prof Ultan Power, professor of molecular virology at Queen's University, Belfast. "However, there is evidence with other viruses that in some cases, taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID), such as ibuprofen, may diminish the immune response, resulting in prolonged infection and illness." Prof Power added that self-medication with ibuprofen is not recommended and individuals should consult their GP to get advice about the best drugs to use to cope with symptoms. On Monday, March 16th, the Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA) said it was aware of reports which questioned whether some anti-inflammatory and anti-hypertensive medicines could worsen coronavirus disease (Covid-19). However, it said: "There is no change to the regulatory advice for use of ibuprofen in approved indications and recent reports in the media are unverified."

4) Chris

Does the use of non steroid anti-inflammatory drugs such as Difene make matters worse if you get Covid-19?

Answer: Prof Power refers this reader to the previous reply about non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. "Difene is a NSAID like ibuprofen. However, as indicated above, individuals should consult their GP or attending physician to get advice about the best drugs to use to cope with symptoms."

5) Claire

My husband thinks he may have contracted coronavirus on a US trip in mid-February. All symptoms were long gone before testing began here, but can we check if he is immune? It would mean he could help elderly relatives without being worried about passing on the virus.

Answer: "As your husband is now asymptomatic and it is more than 14 days since he returned from the US he does not pose a coronavirus risk," says Dr Muiris Houston. "Testing services are incredibly stretched at present and it would be difficult to justify him having a test ahead of, say, a young mother with active symptoms of infection. Even if he had the coronavirus in the past, he is not a current threat to older people. However the normal spacing and hygiene rules still apply: keep at least two metres from the relatives; do not hug or kiss them; and wash hands thoroughly with soap and water when he goes into a relatives house and use hand sanitiser in the car immediately after he leaves."

6) Neil

We are a couple in our 70s. We have no contact with people outside the house. We have supplies delivered (safely). We go for walks (avoiding people and objects) and car drives. Assuming we don’t have it, are we safe from the virus – or do we need to take further precautions?

Answer: It sounds as if you are taking all the social distancing precautions you can. However, all any of us can do is to try to reduce the risks to a safer level and, as part of that, you still need to be stringent about hygiene within the home, most importantly washing hands before and after preparing food and eating, and avoid touching your face. Remember, to infect you, the virus has to get into your eyes, nose or throat, so base all your behaviour on that principle.

7) David

Are infants with congenital heart defects at higher risk of complications if they get Covid-19?

Answer: "Many patients with repaired congenital heart disease are not likely at risk for severe illness with Covid-19 and can practice basic prevention guidelines," says Dr Nick Breen, Greystones GP and lecturer in General Practice at University College Dublin. He adds that the following people are at a higher risk than the general population: Single ventricle patients (includes patients with hypoplastic left heart syndrome, tricuspid atresia, and double inlet left ventricle), patients with high blood pressure that affects the arteries in the lungs (pulmonary hypertension), patients with unrepaired complex congenital heart disease, patients with other chronic illnesses (eg lung disease), transplant patients and patients with symptomatic heart failure (those with activity limitations), decreased heart function, or heart failure with preserved ejection fraction.

8) Caoimhin

Does the hold your breath for 10 seconds test, and if there is no pain or discomfort, then all is ok, have any validity?”

Answer: "Absolutely not," says Dr Muiris Houston. "This is one of many fake news items doing the rounds since the coronavirus emerged in China earlier this year. It is a reminder to all of us to source news and advice from reputable sources only." In Ireland, that includes and

9) Paul & John

As this disease is zoonotic, can it pass back to animals from humans? Has anyone looked into if it is possible pets can either carry or can have the virus?

Answer: "In a rapidly-evolving situation, there is presently no scientific evidence that humans can pass the novel coronavirus to pet animals," says Dr Muiris Houston. "And while an animal reservoir will likely emerge as the original source of the virus, it is most unlikely that a domestic pet will turn out to be the vector to humans. At this time, bats are considered a likely location for the virus having mutated to become a threat to humans.But there is no evidence that domestic animals can spread the disease or that the virus can cause an animal to become ill."

10) Karen

The HSE have said playdates in small numbers are okay. We’ve decided on none, but this situation could go on for months. Is it safe for two families to agree to playdates with only each other and no one else over the coming weeks if all adults are working from home and there is no contact with at risk groups?

Answer: All the measures introduced in Ireland so far are part of the effort to interrupt the transmission of Covid-19. It is recommended to reduce social interaction by 75 per cent. Large crowds, particularly indoors, are one of the highest risks. However, the HSE is mindful that balance is required, people have to live their lives, children have to play. It is advisable to limit the number of children attending a play date, so keeping it to the same two families as you propose is a balanced approach and try to be outdoors as much as possible, away from other people. But you need to be aware there is no way to eliminate all risks, we can only reduce them to a safer level.

Basic advice is still applicable to small play dates; children and adults should wash their hands regularly and practise social distancing where possible. Teach your children how to interact, coughing etiquette and how to wash their hands properly. Of course, if a child is sick they should not attend a play date or visit older relatives. Current information suggests that while children are not at higher risk for serious illness from Covid-19 compared to the general population, they could pass the virus on to vulnerable people so it is good you are keeping them away from those who are at higher risk.

11) Christine

My husband, 53-years-old, has ulcerative colitis, in remission for five years, and is currently not on any medication. Is he considered to be in a high risk category?

Answer: Dr Nick Breen says that "people with IBD, who are not using immunosuppressive medications and are not malnourished, are currently believed to be at the same risk of infection and complications from Covid-19 as the general population.

12) Mary

I’m wondering if a smoker gets Covid-19 will it affect them worse or be harder to shift than a non-smoker?

Answer: "Great question," says Dr Nick Breen. "There is no better time in your life to give up smoking. Really. What do you think? That smoking doesn't increase your risk?" Dr Breen says the best advice is to stay healthy, exercise 40 minutes a day. Remember, alcohol is an immunosuppressant – limit your exposure to it. Don't smoke. Don't vape.

Sheila Wayman

Sheila Wayman

Sheila Wayman, a contributor to The Irish Times, writes about health, family and parenting

Sylvia Thompson

Sylvia Thompson

Sylvia Thompson, a contributor to The Irish Times, writes about health, heritage and the environment