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Is it safe for me to send a card or will it spread infection?

Is it safe for me to send a greetings card during the lockdown? From the chances of a recurrence to the best form of exercise, our experts answer your questions about the coronavirus crisis

  • Professor John Oxford, from Queen Mary University of London, and Professor Gino Martini, from the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, answer your queries
  • Professor Oxford says he doubts letters would pose a risk to recipients
  • Professor Martini says the evidence Ibuprofen ‘helps’ the virus is insufficient 
  • Coronavirus symptoms: what are they and should you see a doctor?

The coronavirus lockdown has left many of us with unanswered questions about how we should go about our daily lives and the risks we face.

Last week, we asked for your questions about the pandemic, which we then put to leading experts.

Here, Professor John Oxford, a virologist at Queen Mary University of London, and Professor Gino Martini, chief scientist for the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, answer your queries.

‘In theory, the coronavirus could survive on mail, but I very much doubt it would be present in significant amounts,’ says Professor John Oxford, a virologist at Queen Mary University of London. (Stock image)

Q. I think I’ve caught the coronavirus and am now better. What’s the chance I’ll get it again?

A. ‘We are not sure whether you can get the coronavirus more than once because we have only just started studying it,’ says Professor Oxford.

‘However, based on observations from the past 30 to 40 years of similar viruses, it would be very unusual to get it twice, because when we get a virus, we develop antibodies, cells which will fight it off next time we come into contact with it.

‘Even if you did [become unwell again], the infection would be much less severe as you now have some immunity to it.

‘We know the spread of the coronavirus is similar to that of flu — through droplets — but, crucially, unlike flu, it doesn’t mutate, so if you develop immunity to it once you should be able to fight it off.’

Q. I take ibuprofen for joint pain but have heard there is a link with the coronavirus. Should I stop taking it?

A. ‘Earlier this month, French research warned that ibuprofen and similar anti-inflammatories could aggravate the coronavirus infection,’ says Professor Martini. ‘However, the truth is the evidence is not strong enough to say there is definitely a link.

‘If you are already taking ibuprofen or another non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug on the advice of a doctor, do not stop taking it without checking first.

‘But patients who have confirmed or suspected Covid-19 should take paracetamol instead.’

Professor Martini says that the evidence that Ibuprofen does not  help coronavirus sufferers is not yet substantial

Q. I want to send out Easter cards, but can the virus be spread by handling post?

A. ‘In theory, the coronavirus could survive on mail, but I very much doubt it would be present in significant amounts,’ says Professor Oxford.

‘Research published recently in the New England Journal of Medicine shows that, while the virus is detectable on cardboard for 24 hours and plastic for 72 hours, it decreases rapidly over time on each of those surfaces.

‘You’re more likely to be infected by a person.

‘My advice is to continue as normal — send your cards — and focus on reducing the ways we know the virus can be easily spread, such as by washing your hands.’

Professor Oxford advised sending Easter cards does not prose a significant coronavirus risk

Q. I am 73 and find going to my allotment relaxing — it’s also a good way to get some exercise. Can I still go?

A. ‘As long as you follow the social distancing rules — staying away from people on your way to and from the allotment and while you are there — it’s fine to go,’ says Professor Oxford.

‘As an allotment owner myself, I know the wellbeing benefits that going can provide.’

I have a heart condition which puts me in the high-risk group. I am organising deliveries of food — how long should I leave them on the doorstep to be safe from catching the virus?

‘This may be based on the theory that UV light from the sun kills the virus, but the UV effect is not going to be very strong,’ says Professor Oxford.

‘My advice would be to bring them in straight away but give the items a wipe down with an alcohol-based product (alcohol kills viruses), before you put them away — and then wash your hands.’

Professor John Oxford, a virologist at Queen Mary University of London, is pictured above

Q. I have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), should I avoid the shops?

A. ‘COPD is an umbrella name for illnesses that cause breathing difficulties and, whether or not you are on medication and have symptoms, it is a serious condition — particularly when it comes to a virus like this one which attacks the respiratory tree,’ says Professor Oxford.

Will there be a second wave of infections?

Q. Will the virus come back if we start going out as normal?

A. ‘To push down this virus, we need to isolate people and reduce social contact, as this stops the virus being transmitted,’ says virologist Professor John Oxford.

‘When it appears the virus has gone, we need to break these quarantine measures slowly, because the virus may come back — it will still be circulating even if we are not seeing people with symptoms.

‘We can’t all go back to normal at once. It needs to be done carefully, controlling the number of people coming out of quarantine at any one time.

‘However, if the virus does come back, we’ll be better prepared — we will hopefully have the diagnostic tests, better masks, natural immunity and possibly even a vaccine to help us fight it.’

‘You need to take this seriously, be more careful than the general public, follow all advice and seek medical help if you have any breathing problems.

‘If you do catch it, the symptoms are likely to be more serious than they would be in others.’

Q. I have been identified as at severe risk so have to stay at home for 12 weeks and limit contact with the rest of my family in the house. However, I think I have had it already. Is there a plan to offer people like me the antibody test so we don’t have to isolate for so long?

A. ‘An antibody test is going to be really significant in the fight against coronavirus because it will let people know whether or not they have had the virus,’ says Professor Oxford.

‘If they have had it, this will allow them to go back to work and reduce the stress and anxiety many people are experiencing.

‘However, before it becomes available, public health officials need to make sure it is a good test. No test is 100 per cent accurate, but we need to make sure it doesn’t generate too many false positives [where people are wrongly diagnosed as having had the virus] or false negatives [being told they haven’t had the virus when they actually have].

‘Once we know the test is good, we can then start using it. Exactly when this will be is not clear yet.’

Professor Gino Martini, chief scientist for the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, is pictured above

Q. Why do you have to stay at home for seven days if you have symptoms, and 14 days if you live with someone who is experiencing symptoms?

A. ‘If you live with others, the person who has symptoms should stay at home for seven days from the day their symptoms started,’ says Professor Martini.

‘All other household members should stay at home for 14 days from the first day the other person had symptoms — even if they don’t have symptoms themselves.

‘This is because the virus is highly infectious and it’s likely that people living within the same household will infect each other.

‘Staying at home for 14 days reduces the risk of passing the infection on to others outside the home.

‘The evidence suggests that people who develop symptoms are unlikely to infect other people after the seventh day of illness, so these people can return to normal activities at this point.’

Professor Oxford adds: ‘The 14-day period gives some leeway in case you are incubating the virus and could pass it on, even if you don’t have symptoms.’

Professor Martini says anyone who develops symptoms should stay at home for seven days from the day that the symptoms started (stock)

Q. What treatments are people who are diagnosed with the coronavirus being given in hospital?

A. ‘Patients in hospital with the coronavirus will have their temperature monitored and will be given a chest X-ray or an MRI scan to check for any changes in their lungs,’ says Professor Oxford.

‘They are given fluids to reduce the risk of dehydration and, if necessary, given oxygen or put on a ventilator to help them breathe.

‘There are no proven drugs to treat the virus, although one antiviral drug called remdesivir looks promising.

‘Good nursing is key in hospital; getting the patient comfortable and making sure they are getting enough oxygen.’ 

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