Lincoln expert advice on COVID-19 protection

A Lincoln expert on viruses has been answering your questions as up to four cases were confirmed in Lincolnshire.

The first positive results in the county were announced on the afternoon of Friday, March 6.

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the UK has risen from 115 to 163.

Doctor Neil Holden, BSc PhD FHEA is a senior lecturer in Biomedical Sciences at the University of Lincoln, where he teaches students about virology.

He has been answering frequently asked questions about coronavirus.

As of 9am on March 6, 20,338 people have been tested for coronavirus and 163 have tested positive while one patient in the UK has now died.

How much do we know about coronavirus?

“This particular virus is closely related to SARS, which we saw as an outbreak in the early 2000s. The problem with coronavirus is that it doesn’t actually grow in the laboratory particularly well. It’s a very difficult virus to actually study in the laboratory so we don’t know so much about it. We know it’s similar to the coronavirus found in bats and that’s the species it’s likely to have jumped into humans from.”

What are the symptoms of coronavirus?

“Symptoms will vary widely depending on the person. Around 80% of people infected with coronavirus may exhibit some cold-like symptoms. A number of other people might be infected by this virus and show no symptoms whatsoever. The problem is in people who do show symptoms, we see a very flu-like illness. We see a cough, fever and maybe difficulty breathing.”

Who are the people most at risk from coronavirus?

“The people who are most at risk from coronavirus are those people who have other underlying medical conditions. So things like other respiratory diseases such as asthma, COPD, people with high blood pressure, diabetics and people with a compromised immune system.”

What are the risks to pregnant women and their babies?

“One of the things that happens naturally during pregnancy is an inhibition of the immune system. That’s a natural thing that happens so the mother’s immune system doesn’t attack the developing foetus. So pregnant women are actually more at risk. Now, this is a respiratory virus, not a bloodborne virus so it will not actually pass into the foetus but it may have indirect effects on the foetus.”

How infectious is coronavirus?

“The basic reproduction number (R0) of coronavirus is estimated to be 2.2 to 2.3. That means for every one person who is infected by this virus they could potentially spread it to two other people. So we could see an exponential increase in numbers.”

What’s the best way to protect yourself?

“The best way to protect yourself from coronavirus is through simple hygiene methods. So if you cough or sneeze then do that into a tissue and throw it away – the old catch it, bin it, kill it philosophy. Wash your hands as well. It can be spread by people coughing or sneezing into their hands and then touching surfaces. People may then touch those surfaces and then themselves on the mouth.”

Is there a difference between hand sanitiser and soap?

“Both seem effective at destroying this virus. It has a lipid membrane surrounding it which the soap destroys. Hand sanitiser does also help destroy that membrane. What’s more important than what you use is by washing your hands properly. So make sure you wash in between your fingers and all over your hands. That’s more important than what you’re using.”

Can we still shake hands?

“We can obviously still shake hands but simple hygiene measures like washing your hands before you eat or touch your mouth will help. We can still be friendly and greet each other just take some simple precautionary measures. If we take these precautions then we can help prevent an outbreak.”

Should we be wearing face masks?

“A lot of studies actually show that these face masks are completely ineffective at stopping this virus so there is no real good reason for masks unless you are a doctor or nurse working in a hospital.”

Is it sensible to avoid mass gatherings and public transport?

“I think it’s sensible to avoid mass gatherings and public transport if you have symptoms of coronavirus. But if you are healthy and have no symptoms then, again, some simple hygiene precautions will be enough to protect you. We don’t need to panic or avoid big groups of people right now.”

What should people do if they have underlying health conditions?

“If you do have underlying health conditions and you are worried about coronavirus then I would suggest calling the NHS 111 helpline to discuss any symptoms. We do need to keep an eye on anyone who is more susceptible to coronavirus.”

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