Dr Tom Wingfield of Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine answers our questions on Covid-19
What is the best way to strengthen the immune system?
The answer to this question is straightforward: the normal approach to healthy living. Have a balanced diet, try to get as much sleep as you can, exercise, don’t overwork. If you smoke, try to give up and reduce your intake of alcohol and other drugs.
Are alcohol-based antibacterial gels useful?
Washing your hands regularly with soap and water or alcohol-based gels, whether they say “antibacterial” on them or not, is the best way to prevent Covid-19. They also have the other advantage of helping to stop you pick up other infections that could weaken your immune system and so make you more susceptible to Covid-19.
What underlying conditions pose the biggest risk if you contract the virus?
The first thing to note is that most of the data we have about Covid-19 is from China. These indicate that heart disease, followed by diabetes, hypertension – high blood pressure – chronic lung disease and finally some cancers were the main risk factors.
The more of these conditions you have, the greater the likelihood of severe disease that you face. Certainly, people with these conditions or older people should keep taking their usual prescribed medicines, be extra vigilant, including in handwashing, and should consider what is called social distancing, which means avoiding crowds or in some cases visitors.
How long does the disease survive in the air and on surfaces?
The coronavirus can persist in the air for a few hours and on some surfaces for quite lengthy periods – on cardboard for a day, on plastic two or three days. Disinfectants such as ethanol, hydrogen peroxide and sodium hypochlorite work really well and will get rid of the virus. So regardless of how long they persist on household surfaces, as long as we keep those surfaces clean we will control the virus.
How do hospitals treat people admitted with coronavirus?
If people are not that unwell we might give fluids or oxygen, for example. And if someone had a pneumonia infection on top of Covid-19, they’d be given antibiotics. We might also use the antiviral Tamiflu – not to tackle the coronavirus but to treat flu a patient might additionally have picked up. We may also consider painkillers and anti-cough medicine.
For the few who become more seriously ill, we would consider mechanical ventilation, in which a tube is passed down the airway to help patient breathe. I can’t stress enough though, regardless of how sick a patient is, the importance of good nursing care, compassion, and empathy in supporting and caring for people with Covid-19.
What do you think the death rate from coronavirus will be?
It will vary from country to country. In the UK, I think a figure of 1% is probably going to be correct but we will have to wait until the epidemic is over. What is clear is that the death rate in younger people and those without any other illnesses looks to be very low.
What kind of immunity will a person have once they have been infected?
Other coronaviruses such as Mers and Sars have shown you get some immunity once you have been infected. Just how much or how long it will last we do not know. We will gather that data as events develop. I have seen no good data to suggest a person can get Covid-19 twice.
Is it realistic to hope for a vaccine for Covid-19 this year?
I doubt a vaccine will be available in the UK in time to prevent the curve of cases going up. However if it becomes a seasonal illness then developing a vaccine will be crucial – and adapting that vaccine to new coronavirus strains will also be extremely valuable.
Credit: The Guardian