Coronavirus: More of your questions answered by experts

Doctors, professors and consumer experts respond to your queries about Covid-19

‘There is no scientific evidence that exposure to coronavirus alters your existing risk of infection.’ Photograph: iStock

‘There is no scientific evidence that exposure to coronavirus alters your existing risk of infection.’ Photograph: iStock

 

1) Andrew

Question: “What is a suitable disinfectant to use on household surfaces to ensure they are sterilised appropriately?”

Answer: Ultan Power, professor of molecular virology at Queen’s University Belfast, says that any solution or wipes with 60-70 per cent (isopropyl or ethyl) alcohol or with 0.1 per cent sodium hypochlorite (bleach) will sterilise household surfaces adequately to kill harmful microbes including coronavirus. Prof Martin Cormican, HSE microbiologist advises people to clean surfaces with a regular household cleaning agent or with detergent and water. “If you do have someone coughing and sneezing in the house then most disinfectants are likely to work – hospitals tend to use chlorine-based disinfectants because there is probably most evidence for them but cleaning is the key – disinfection may add a bit but is less important. The virus cannot grow on household surfaces but it can survive for some time – at least for some hours, perhaps longer in some situations. The virus can only get on household surfaces if someone in the house is shedding the virus. This is the most important thing – if you limit visitors to your house especially people who are sick with a viral-type infection you can reduce the chance of the virus getting into the house. If people are visiting the house, if they stay in one room then if they are shedding virus they will contaminate fewer surfaces.”

2) Colin

Question: “I had my spleen removed 40 years ago. My present age is 60 – does this put me at high risk if I contract coronavirus?”

Answer: Once the spleen is removed a person does have an increased susceptibility to infections, says Dr Muiris Houston.The spleen’s main function is to get rid of old and damaged blood cells. “After your spleen was removed, other organs, such as the liver, took over many of the spleen’s functions. This means you will still be able to cope with most infections. But there is a very small risk that a serious infection may develop quickly. This is called post-splenectomy sepsis (PSS) and can result in an overwhelming infection. You have been living with this risk for the last 40 years. There is no scientific evidence that exposure to coronavirus alters your existing risk of infection.”

3) Shane

Question: “Hi there, I am very conscious of the coronavirus and it’s implications on my health, the health of my family and those around me. My question is can I continue a semi-normal life during this period – go for a run, go to a shop for food, or get a takeaway coffee?”

Answer: You will need food so you will have to go to the supermarket to buy it. You will need to stay healthy. So going for a run in a public space is probably fine. You do not need a takeaway coffee so we would hold off on that for a while.

4) John

Question: “I was to travel to Dublin for a concert next Saturday. Concert is cancelled, but hotel is booked and is non-refundable. I wonder is it safe to travel by train to Dublin and stay in the hotel? Avoid crowded areas and return by train on Sunday.”

Answer: Eh, social distancing means avoiding unnecessary gatherings. In this case, the train journey seems like an unnecessary gathering. So does the hotel. In any event, what are you going to do in Dublin? Many shops and restaurants are closed. All pubs are closed.

5) Sean

Question: “I’ve been in a few shops over the past few days – some of those working behind the counters were wearing gloves, but some were not. When I enquired, one person told me they were told gloves were of no use. Who is right?”

Answer: Gloves will undoubtedly help with preventing transmission of all infectious diseases if they are used appropriately, according to Prof Power. However this means sanitising them, just like you would your bare hands, and changing them regularly. “If people using the gloves develop a false sense of security and are less conscious of personal hygiene practices and touches their mouth, nose, or eyes with a contaminated glove, they can infect themselves with viruses encountered on surfaces or from touching other people,” says Prof Power. “If individuals are already infectious and touch their mouth or nose with the gloves then they can pass on the virus to other people if they do not sanitise the gloves or change them.”

Prof Cormican says that gloves are not a guaranteed way to avoid infection by coronavirus or other infections. “Gloves do more harm than good if they make you think you are safe.

“You may need gloves if caring for someone with the infection. If you do need gloves you need to be trained in how to use them. When the gloves come off you must always clean your hands right away,” says Prof Cormican.

6) Conor

Question: “What will happen if a member of supermarket staff tests positive for the virus? Will that shop have to close, and if so for how long? I’m concerned about food distribution, but also about the transmission risks of consumers becoming concentrated in an ever-reducing number of food outlets.”

Answer: Shops will already have clear internal guidelines in place for this. If a staff member falls ill, then the shop will have to be deep cleaned and open foods will have to be discarded. And contact tracing of those who will have been in close contact with the person will have to be carried out.

7) Bob

Question: “Hi, am I in danger if I go to the supermarket to buy food? What precautions should I take? Can the virus travel on cash?”

Answer: Yes, the virus can travel on cash. But you will need to buy food. So wash your hands before and after you go. Bring hand sanitiser with you (if you have some). Keep your distance from other shoppers and staff. Remember you should behave not as if you are afraid of getting the virus but are afraid of giving it to someone else. And take your precautions on that basis.

8) Róisín

Question: “Hi, I am 49, I have rheumatoid arthritis and take 25mg of methotrexate weekly and 1,000mg of naproxen daily. Because of my condition, should I consider myself to be of higher risk of catching the virus and should I self-isolate? Meaning, should I stay home from work? I mix with up to 200 people a day in a factory setting.”

Answer: It is likely that the risk of developing a coronavirus infection is increased while on an immunosuppressive drug such as methotrexate, says Dr Houston. “You should firstly inform your employer or occupational health department that you are on a drug which may increase your likelihood of infection. If you are unable to follow the recommendations for social distancing (remain 2m from other members of staff) then you should move to an environment where you can work safely. Some companies can facilitate home working or redeployment for individuals who are at higher risk of coronavirus infection. Make sure your blood tests are up to date. Although there is no vaccine for coronavirus, patients on methotrexate and certain other immune suppressive drugs should avail of the annual flu vaccine and the pneumococcal pneumonia vaccine every five years. You should continue to take the anti-inflammatory naproxen unless advised to discontinue it by your doctor.”

9) Derval

Question: “I am relatively young (late 40s) and healthy (no significant issues). If I get coronavirus, how soon is it likely that I will recover and be able to visit my elderly parents without posing any risk to their health?”

Answer: Dr Nick Breen, Greystones GP and lecturer in general practice at University College Dublin says: “People can still shed virus for up to two weeks following recovery from symptoms. But you can still bring the virus into your parents’ house on hands, even if you are not shedding it yourself. So you still need to keep up the precautions.”

10) Sam

Question: “Myself and my children are currently self-isolating as best we can. However, my husband works in a supermarket and I can’t help but think it’s inevitable he will get coronavirus at some stage. And bring it home. If he does, it will be impossible to isolate him from the rest of us, as we live in a very small apartment. I hope this doesn’t sound too daft, but would it be better in this situation that we all just get it together, and get over it around the same time?”

Answer: “No,” says Dr Breen. “Your two children are likely to have few symptoms, as far as we know from the international experience. But they need at least one of you to stay well so you can look after them if the other parent is too sick to do that. Flatten the curve. Do the right thing by following all the HSE advice on hand washing, coughing/sneezing etiquette, social distancing and self-isolation.”

11) Brendan

Question: “Is tap water safe to drink?”

Answer: Yes.

Readers’ Questions
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- Part 3