| What are coronavirus and COVID-19?
A coronavirus is a specific type of virus that commonly infects animals and people. The coronavirus that originated in Wuhan, China in 2019 is a new strain of coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) that has not been detected in people before.
COVID-19 is a severe acute respiratory disease caused by the new coronavirus. Because it is unfamiliar to the human immune system, our bodies have not yet developed the ability to fight it off which is what makes it so dangerous.
Based on statistics from other countries, 80% of people infected with the virus will develop a very mild form of the disease, while the other 20% will require hospitalisation.
Among the 20% of people requiring hospitalisation, 5% will need intensive care, often involving artificial ventilation.
How does COVID-19 spread?
The coronavirus that causes COVID-19 spreads easily from an infected person, even if they do not have any obvious symptoms, to others they come into direct contact with. Therefore, maintaining a physical distance between people you are not regularly in contact with is essential.
Even if you do not come into direct contact with someone who has been infected, you can still pick up the virus following contact with respiratory droplets from a person with the virus after they have sneezed or coughed.
If you touch your face or mouth after having contact with objects or surfaces that have the virus on it, you can become infected, so wash your hands with soap frequently or use an alcohol-based hand sanitiser when hand washing with soap is not possible.
What are the symptoms?
Symptoms can be mild to severe, lasting from just 2 to 14 days, and include:
- fever (37.3oC or higher)
- flu-like symptoms, such as coughing
- difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
- sore throat
How soon after infection do COVID-19 symptoms appear?
In most cases, it takes up to 14 days for COVID-19 symptoms to appear after a person has been infected with the new coronavirus. The period is also known as the ‘incubation period’.
Based on the information currently available and medical expertise, the Australian Government Department of Health is advising people at risk to self-isolate in their homes for 14 days, even if they have no symptoms.
How long does the COVID-19 infection last?
The duration of a COVID-19 infection varies from person to person. If you are otherwise healthy, mild symptoms may go away after just a few days. If you have other health problems, such as a lung or heart condition, recovery may take weeks. In very severe cases, COVID-19 can be fatal.
What should I do if I develop COVID-19 symptoms?
If you have severe difficulty breathing, call triple zero (000) immediately and tell the operator and the paramedics on arrival about your recent travel history and any close contact with an infected person.
How is coronavirus diagnosed?
Infection with COVID-19 is diagnosed by finding evidence of the virus in respiratory samples such as swabs from the back of the nose and throat or fluid from the lungs. Samples for testing can be taken directly by GPs or at a range of private pathology sites that are suitable for collection of COVID-19, or at public hospitals.
Is there a treatment or vaccine for coronavirus?
There is no specific treatment for people who have COVID-19 and there are no vaccines that protect against COVID-19.
Early diagnosis and general supportive care are important. Most of the time, symptoms will resolve on their own. People who have serious disease with complications can be cared for in hospital.
| COVID-19 and bowel cancer
If you or someone you know has bowel cancer, your concerns around the COVID-19 pandemic are likely to extend beyond toilet paper shortages and low pasta supplies.
That’s especially true for bowel cancer patients who are undergoing or have recently completed chemotherapy or immunotherapy, because the likelihood of becoming seriously ill if infected with COVID-19 is much higher, due to a weakened immune system that is less able to fight infection.
Does having cancer increase my risk of developing COVID-19?
Australians most at risk of being exposed to the coronavirus include those who recently returned from overseas or have been in close contact with someone who has been diagnosed with COVID-19.
Among people who receive a COVID-19 diagnosis, those most at risk of severe illness requiring medical intervention are:
- people with cancer who are undergoing active chemotherapy.
- people with cancer who are undergoing radical radiotherapy for lung cancer.
- people with cancers of the blood or bone marrow such as leukaemia, lymphoma or myeloma who are at any stage of treatment.
- people having immunotherapy or other continuing antibody treatments for cancer.
- people having other targeted cancer treatments which can affect the immune system, such as protein kinase inhibitors or PARP inhibitors.
- people who have had bone marrow or stem cell transplants in the last 6 months, or who are still taking immunosuppression drugs.
| What can I do?
When it comes to COVID-19, there currently is no cure, which is why so many countries are imposing strict measures to contain the spread of this potentially deadly disease.
10 practical tips to protect yourself and those you love
- Wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds frequently throughout the day. Keep an alcohol-based hand sanitiser with you and use it when hand washing is not possible.
- If you need to cough or sneeze, use a tissue and then throw it away. If you don’t have a tissue, cough or sneeze into your elbow (not your hands).
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands as this can transfer the virus from surfaces.
- Keep your surroundings clean – it’s a good idea to regularly clean and disinfect high traffic surfaces and objects like kitchen tops, door handles and children’s toys.
- Keep up healthy habits – eat well, sleep, exercise and drink plenty of water.
- Work from home, where possible.
- Avoid non-essential use of public transport, varying your travel times to avoid rush hour, when possible.
- Avoid crowds and crowded areas and maintain social distancing outside of the home environment by leaving at least one metre distance between yourself and other people.
- Create a plan in case you get sick. Are there friends, family or neighbours you can reach out to?
- Ask your doctor whether you should have a flu shot.
10 essential tips for patients receiving treatment
If you or a loved one is actively undergoing treatment, has had a transplant in the last 6 months, or is still taking immunosuppression drugs, there is an increased risk of serious infection requiring medical intervention. Avoiding exposure to the virus is essential.
- Strictly avoid contact with someone who is displaying symptoms of coronavirus (COVID-19). These symptoms include high temperature and/or new and continuous cough.
- Do not leave your house, except to attend essential medical appointments (please speak to your hospital team to determine which appointments are essential).
- Do not attend any gatherings. This includes gatherings of friends and families in private spaces for example family homes, weddings and religious services.
- Do not go out for shopping, leisure or travel and, when arranging food or medication deliveries, these should be left at the door to minimise contact.
- Let family and friends know that you are at increased risk of infection and ask them to refrain from visiting if they are unwell or sick or have been exposed to the virus.
- Ensure you have adequate groceries, medications and other essential supplies if you’re planning to stay home to reduce risk of exposure. Woolworths will be providing Priority Assistance home delivery to eligible customers include seniors, people with a disability and those with compromised immunity or who are required to self-isolate.
- If you have a carer, make plans for a backup in case they get sick.
- Discuss the option of teleconferencing with your treatment team. On 11 March 2020 the Australian Government announced funding for bulk-billed video-conference consultation services, which can be provided by GPs, specialists, consultant physicians, consultant psychiatrists, nurse practitioners and allied mental health workers for vulnerable people including those aged over 70, people isolating themselves at home on the advice of a medical practitioner, people with chronic health conditions or who are immunocompromised.
- If you must attend appointments in clinic, arrive as close to your appointment time as possible to reduce waiting room congestion.
- Keep in touch using remote technology such as phone, internet, and social media.
| Bowel cancer treatment and care during the COVID-19 outbreak
What will happen to my cancer treatment if I need to self-isolate/social distance myself for more than 7 days and I normally receive treatment weekly?
Specialists will always make decisions to prioritise treatment for those most in need and in consultation with patients.
Many hospitals have begun using telephone and video consultations as a way of helping people to avoid long waits in clinics and for treatment. You may receive a call to arrange your treatments in this way, and planned treatments may need to be moved to help with running a smooth service. Certain telehealth services will be included under the MBS.
Speak with your clinical team about any effect changes regarding COVID-19 protections will have on your treatment, appointments, and whether telehealth will be an option for you. Your team will work with you to determine the best course of action in each situation. Please speak to your clinical team about any concerns or questions you have about your treatment. For general advice, feel free to call our Helpline 1800 555 494 to speak with a Bowel Care Nurse.
How can I get my medicines if I am unable to leave the house?
The Australian Government recently announced a COVID-19 health package. Included in this package was the COVID-19 Home Medicines Service that will enable vulnerable people and people in self-isolation to order their PBS and RPBS prescriptions remotely and have their medicines home delivered at no cost to reduce their potential exposure to COVID-19.
What should I do if my clinician is diagnosed with coronavirus?
If your clinician is diagnosed with coronavirus and you have not seen them recently, then you are unlikely to have been exposed to coronavirus. If you are concerned about the impact this will have on your treatment, contact your hospital for advice.
I am worried that I have symptoms of cancer. Should I still go to my GP?
It is important that you seek clinical advice if you have a worrying symptom. GP clincis have been advised to offer online consultations and remote triage so that people do not have to attend in person unnecessarily. Please contact your GP clinic directly if you are worried about a possible cancer symptom.
I have just been referred by my GP with suspected cancer. Should I attend my diagnostic appointment?
Please discuss with the clinical team at the hospital. In the event of any disruption, hospitals will always make decisions to prioritise tests for those most in need.
| Where can I go for help?
Providing emotional support as well as practical tips for minimising the risk of infection during this time, our Bowel Care Nurses and Nutritionist are here to help if you are feeling anxious, have questions or need support.
Click here to contact us or call the free Helpline Monday - Friday on 1800 555 494.
If you are having chemotherapy and develop a fever, you may be neutropenic, and should follow the process that your treating team has put in place for you.
Contact your doctor immediately if you are concerned about your treatment or if you think you may have been exposed to COVID-19 or begin experiencing symptoms.
If you have serious symptoms it is important you seek urgent medical attention straight away. Call triple zero (000) for an ambulance.
You can also contact the Coronavirus Health Information Line on 1800 020 080.