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A Spoonful of Oral Medicine

Dr Amanda Phoon Nguyen

BDSc (UniMelb), MRACDS (GDP), DClinDent (Oral Med) (UWA), MRACDS (OralMed), Cert ADL, FOMAA, FPFA, FICD

Oral Medicine Specialist

Perth, Western Australia

Welcome to A Spoonful of Oral Medicine, where I dish up bite-sized chunks of oral medicine targeted toward health professionals!

This does not constitute personalised medical advice. Please do not use images without credit.

Please enjoy, and I do hope to hear from you! 

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  • Writer's pictureAmanda Phoon Nguyen

For Patients: Coronavirus 19- What you need to know?

This is an evolving situation, so please always speak to your health care professional or health service for the latest information!

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What is the Coronavirus?

The word Coronavirus indicates a large family of viruses that cause illness ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) from 2003. Recently, it has been used to describe the novel coronavirus (nCoV) or Covid 19 which is a new strain that hasn’t been discovered in humans before. The number 19 refers to the year it started, which was at the end of 2019 in Wuhan, China. This virus is transmitted between animals and humans, and has since spread around the world. The World Health Organization has called this a pandemic, which means there are a large enough amount of people affected worldwide.

How likely am I to catch this new strain of Coronavirus?

How quickly this disease spreads between people is known as its transmission rate. The transmission of a disease is measured by something called a reproductive number, which is the average number of people that are infected from an infectious person. The reproductive number for Covid19 is estimated to be between 2-4. For comparison seasonal flu is about 1, so Covid19 can spread more rapidly than seasonal flu.

How do I catch it?

This virus spreads via droplets. If an infected person coughs or sneezes, the virus particles can land on surfaces, or directly in the eyes, nose or mouth of another person. If you touch their hands and they have sneezed or coughed into their hands and not washed their hands, and then you touch your own eyes, nose or mouth, the virus can also be transmitted.

What can I do to protect myself?

This virus binds to receptors in eyes, nose and mouth called the human angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2) receptors. Once there, they try to invade your cells. Once it does, it copies (replicates) itself in your own body’s cells and that is how it can be spread. For about 24 hours before an infected person shows symptoms, the replicated viruses can be detected in a person’s saliva, meaning that they are infectious and can transmit the virus.

It can be difficult to know exactly when the symptoms start or if you have been infected, which is why anyone who has have contact with a person with Covid19 should be isolated to avoid spreading it further.

This is why hand hygiene and hand washing is important. You don’t have to use special antibacterial soap (this is a virus, not bacteria). Normal soap can kill or remove the virus from your hands. For this to happen, proper handwashing is necessary (20 seconds duration, and washing all surfaces of your hands).

Masks worn by the general public is not recommended. If you are sick and are wearing a mask, remember to change your mask regularly, avoid touching the mask itself, dispose of it properly and wash your hands after.

Other precautions include covering your mouth and nose when coughing and sneezing with a tissue or your elbow (not your hands!) and avoiding close contact with anyone showing symptoms of respiratory illness such as coughing and sneezing.

How do I know if I have caught it?

Symptoms of the patients who may have this include fever, cough, and muscle pain or fatigue. Less common symptoms include phlegm production, headaches, coughing up blood, and diarrhea.

What happens if I do catch it? Will I die?

Most people who catch Covid19 will recover fully. We don’t exactly know how many people will be seriously affected, but a suggested fatality rate is 3-4%. It is important to remember that this virus strain is new and medical professional do not have a lot of data to be sure about this number. Covid 19 is more likely to affect older males. Adults are affected more than children. The risk to pregnant women is the same as to non-pregnant women. We know people with heart disease, lung disease, diabetes and other medical problems are less likely to recover. Older people and those with co-morbidities are at greater risk have mortality rates of up to 18% reported.

Why is the government cancelling large events and telling me to stay home? Is this just an over-reaction?

The Australian PM announced yesterday a ban on non-essential events of more than 500 people. In an outbreak, social distancing or staying home as much as possible helps slows spread of the virus. This is necessary because it flattens the curve. Our healthcare system has a capacity. We can only see so many patients in a day, and health care professionals get sick too. If everyone gets sick at the same time, the healthcare system gets overwhelmed, there will be a backlog of patients. This is difficult for everyone to get in to see a doctor. Most people will be fine regardless, but in the older people, people with medical comordibites and those needing to be hospitalized, they cannot receive emergency care and our most vulnerable suffer. If we slow the spread of the virus over a longer period of time, the healthcare system doesn’t have this backlog and people can get the care that they need.

Do I need to panic?

Please do not panic, and please do not hoard food and toilet paper! While Covid19 is a reality of our situation now and we are likely to see some disruption to our daily lives, by minimizing the spread of disease, we all do better. This is scary because it is an unknown disease, but most people recover from Covid19. In the meantime, scientists are working hard for a vaccine and doctors are working hard to manage their patients. By listening to latest health information, following guidelines and keeping up with our normal lives as best we can, we will bounce back from this.

So please stay calm, take care of each other wash your hands, and avoid large public gatherings!


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