Updated 30 March 2020

Table of Content

What is Coronavirus (COVID-19)?
When to seek medical help?
Coronavirus (COVID-19) – How it spreads
Prevention – how to protect yourself against Coronavirus (COVID-19)
Prevention – how to protect the community against Coronavirus (COVID-19)
What does Coronavirus (COVID-19) mean for people with asthma?
Asthma medication – One month of supply
Do the steroids in my asthma inhaler weaken my immune system?
Online Ordering
Other considerations
Information Sources, and further information

What is Coronavirus (COVID-19)?

Coronaviruses are a family of viruses that make people sick, such as common colds and other upper respiratory tract infections.

COVID 19 is a kind of coronavirus which is causing more people to be sick and develop more serious illness than other coronaviruses.

The World Health Organisation declared COVID 19, originating in Hubei Province, China, a global pandemic in March 2020 due to its rapid spread throughout the world.

Latest information and resources

Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak is changing rapidly. The most up-to-date information for Australians is on the Australian Government website here. You can also access helpful resources such as fact sheets and FAQs (including in languages other than English) here.  If you have any concerns that are not covered in these resources, the Australian Government has set up a Coronavirus Health Information Line on 1800 020 080.

COVID-19 symptoms

COVID-19

According to the World Health Organisation, “the most common signs of infection are fever, tiredness and dry cough”. Other symptoms, including aches and pains, runny nose, blocked nose, sore throat and occassionally diarrhoea may be present also. Most of the time symptoms are mild and begin gradually. Some people can become infected without feeling unwell and around 80% recover from the infection without needing special treatment.

Some people who get infected develop serious illness which means difficulty in breathing. People with difficulty breathing, fever and cough should seek medical care quickly.

 

When to seek medical help?

If you experience shortness of breath, along with fever and cough, it is important to see a doctor quickly.

All general practices are asking patients to call ahead so they can make arrangements to keep you and other patients safe during your appointment.

If you can’t get an appointment easily, we recommend attending an emergency department as soon as possible, please call ahead. If you experience difficulty breathing call triple zero (000).

For people with asthma, we recommend following the instructions on your written Asthma Action Plan. In general, in case of asthma symptoms, take your prescribed dose of your blue reliever medication and if your symptoms don’t improve or return within three hours, call triple zero (000) and start Asthma First Aid. Again, if you have viral symptoms, call ahead so the practice can make the appropriate arrangements to keep you and others safe.

We would also recommend people with asthma having a discussion with their doctor about their asthma control, even if not experiencing viral symptoms. General practices will mostly be able to offer consultations by telephone or video under the Medicare Benefits Scheme (MBS) and this could be a great opportunity for you to review your asthma control, preventer use, device technique, asthma action plan, trigger management and management of other conditions that affect your asthma.

Updated 29 March:

Bulk billed telehealth services are available to people with chronic health conditions. This mean that people with asthma can access their GPs and other essential health services via telephone and video conference from their home. This is an important way to ensure people can continue to access vital health support – including those who need chronic disease management support

Phone your regular GP and you should be able to schedule a time for a telephone or video consult free of charge (bulk billed via the Medicare Benefit Scheme).

Via telephone or video conference, you can now have a consultation with your GP if you are concerned about things like:

    • A cough
    • Getting a script for your preventer medicines
    • Getting a written Asthma Action Plan or having your GP review your current plan

For more information, you can visit these websites:

https://www.health.gov.au/sites/default/files/documents/2020/03/covid-19-national-health-plan-primary-care-bulk-billed-mbs-telehealth-services_2.pdf

http://www.mbsonline.gov.au/internet/mbsonline/publishing.nsf/Content/Factsheet-TempBB

In Australia, the people most at risk of getting the virus are those who have:

  • recently been to a high-risk country, view here.
  • been in close contact with someone who is a confirmed case of Coronavirus

If you develop any symptoms within 14 days of last contact with a confirmed case or within 14 days of returning to Australia, you should. Your doctor will tell you if you need to

Currently, the criteria for testing for Coronavirus include:

  • Illness after recent return from overseas
  • Known contact with someone who has had or got coronavirus
  • You have pneumonia and the cause is not clear
  • Health care worker who has become ill with fever.

We expect new testing recommendations to be released by the Australian Department of Health this week and will update our website accordingly. Further information including resources in another language can be found at health.gov.au

If you have concerns

Call this line if you are seeking information on Coronavirus (COVID-19). The line operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week. 1800 020 080

If you require translating or interpreting services, call 131 450 or via this website  health.gov.au 

Self-isolation

Self-isolation can effectively prevent the spread of the virus between yourself, if you are carrying it without knowing, and others. This is a very important containment measure and something we all have control over.

You need to self-isolate from others for 14 days if you:

  • have recently returned from overseas,
  • if you have a known COVID-19 infection
  • If you have had contact with known cases of coronavirus

Self-isolation means staying at home or in a hotel and not having contact with anyone outside your home or hotel. It is important that we all respect and follow these guidelines carefully even if we think we know better. Many cases of transmission have been linked to where persons ignored self-isolation recommendations.

If your situation is any or all of those listed above:

  • Go home directly (don’t stop at a shop or visit a friend on the way)
  • Stay home and away from other people for the entire 14 days (don’t visit the beach or go for a run)
  • Contact your doctor if you have symptoms.

At home, it is important to avoid all unnecessary contact with others in your home and to maintain strong hygiene practices, regularly washing hands and surfaces.

It is ok to go into your garden if you live in a private house, provided there are no other people there. You can also visit a hotel or apartment garden if there are no other people there. If you need to pass common areas, you need to wear a surgical mask to protect others.

If you live with others, you should avoid close contact with them. If you are confirmed to have Coronavirus, your housemates will need to self-isolate. During self-isolation, it’s important to regularly clean surfaces that are frequently used, like door handles, light switches, bathroom and kitchen benches.

If you become unwell during self-isolation you should seek medical attention. It is important to call ahead to your treating medical facility so they can make arrangements to keep you and other patients safe during your appointment.

During recovery you must remain isolated either in your home or a healthcare setting until public health authorities inform you it is safe for you to return to your usual activities. View Isolation Guidance.

It’s important to keep looking after yourself whilst in isolation:

  • Maintain telephone contact with friends and family
  • Learn about Coronavirus
  • Reassure young children
  • Maintain a healthy diet and regular exercise
  • Do things to help you relax.

Is it always good practice to avoid contact with others if you have cold and flu symptoms even if you don’t have Coronavirus. Like coronavirus, these symptoms can spread easily and can cause people problems, especially some people with asthma.

If you have questions about Coronavirus and your asthma, don’t hesitate to call Asthma Australia on 1800 ASTHMA (278462).

 

Coronavirus (COVID-19) – How it spreads

The Coronavirus is most likely to spread from person-to-person by:

  • Close contact with a person while they are infectious
  • Close contact with an infected person who coughs or sneezes
  • Contact with contaminated surfaces.

It may be impossible to know if a person or surface is infectious which is why personal hygiene – regular hand washing, covering coughs and sneezes, maintaining clean environments – and social distancing is so important and can be effective in reducing transmission within the community. See more below.

 

Prevention – how to protect yourself against Coronavirus (COVID-19)

The best way protect yourself against coronavirus infection is to avoid contact with people and environments which might be infected or contaminated by the virus.

This includes washing hands regularly with soap and water for 20 seconds, or with an alcohol based handrub and maintaining good social distancing practices.

Social distancing for people who are well means keeping approximately 2 metres between yourself and others at all times. It also means not engaging in any unnecessary social activities. Visits to the supermarket, attending school and work are considered acceptable activities.

If you have a chronic medical condition like asthma, it is important to do everything you can to maintain good control including taking your regular preventer medicines as prescribed, ensuring your asthma action plan is up to date, useful and you understand how to use it, managing and avoiding your other known triggers where possible, managing and living well with your other long term conditions and making good lifestyle choices around diet and exercise and avoiding risky behaviours like smoking. Vaccination against the influenza virus is also recommended as soon as it’s available in Australia.

Finally, as usual, it’s important that you have a reliable supply of your reliever and preventer medicines.

 

Prevention – how to protect the community against Coronavirus (COVID-19)

In these difficult times many of us are feeling a loss of control but actually we all have some control over how this virus will impact our community and its most vulnerable members. And this will come down to how well we follow the hygiene, social distancing and self-isolation directions provided by the government.

People who are unwell should practice strict self-isolation and avoid any unncessary contact with others including school, work, public transport. This also includes extended family and friend networks. Refer to ‘when to seek medical help’ (above) for information to help you work out when to seek medical help for you or loved ones.

For the general public, the Australian Department of Health is reinforcing its call for us to practice strict social distancing measures. This means:

  • Maintaining approximately 1.5 metres between you and the nearest person
  • Avoiding non-essential engagements and travel
  • Avoiding physical and close contact with people more vulnerable to the development of serious symptoms (elderly, people with multiple complex or severe chronic disease, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People)
  • Essential gatherings outdoors must not be greater than 500 people who ensure5 metres distance between each other
  • Essential gatherings indoors must not exceed 100 people who maintain 1.5 metres of distance between each other

To improve the likelihood that social distancing will be successful, the government has ordered the closure of the following institutions:

  • Pubs, clubs and hotels (excluding accomodation)
  • Gyms and other indoor exercise settings
  • Cinemas, entertainment venues, casinos and nightclubs
  • Restaurants and cafes (except for takeaway orders)
  • Religious gatherings.
  • food courts (except for take away)
  • auction houses, real estate auctions and open houses
  • personal services ( beauty, nail, tanning, waxing and tattoo salons)
  • spa and massage parlours, excluding health related services such as physiotherapy
  • amusement parks, arcades and play centres (indoor and outdoor)
  • strip clubs, brothels and sex on premises venues.
  • galleries, national institutions, historic sites and museums
  • health clubs, fitness centres, yoga, barre and spin facilities, saunas, bathhouses and wellness centres and swimming pools
  • community facilities such as community halls, libraries and youth centres, RSL and PCYC
  • gaming and gambling venues
  • indoor and outdoor markets (excluding food markets). States and territories will make their own announcements about this.

There are specific instructions around weddings and funerals; hairdressers and barbers; bootcamps and personal training and hotels, bed and breakfast, campsites, caravan parks and boarding houses.

View more specifics.

Practising good hand and sneeze/cough hygiene is the best defence against most viruses. You should:

  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
  • Stay home when you are sick and avoid contact with others
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash
  • If you do not have a tissue, cough or sneeze into the bend of your elbow or in your upper sleeve.
  • Wash hands thoroughly, regularly, after toilet, before and after eating and after coughing/sneezing or blowing nose:
  • With soapy water for 20 seconds
  • With alcohol-based handrub
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe.

Should I wear a face mask?

You do not need to wear a mask if you are healthy. While the use of masks can help to prevent transmission of disease from infected patients to others, masks are not currently recommended for use by healthy members of the public for the prevention of infections like Coronavirus.

Visit Department of Health for further information on face masks.

Am I at risk?

In Australia, the people most at risk of getting the virus are those who have:

  • been in contact with a person with COVID-19
  • visited or transited through a higher risk country in the previous 14 days

Some people who are infected may not get sick at all, some will get mild symptoms from which they will recover easily, and others may become very ill, very quickly.

From previous knowledge of other Coronaviruses, the people most at risk of serious infection are:

  • people with compromised immune systems (e.g. cancer)
  • people with diagnosed chronic medical conditions
  • elderly people
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

Early information out of China, where COVID-19 first started, indicates that people with underlying illnesses makes them more vulnerable to respiratory viruses, including those with diabetes, chronic lung disease, kidney failure, people with suppressed immune systems and older people are at a higher risk of serious disease.

The risk COVID-19 poses for people with asthma is not clearly understood yet. We recommend that people with asthma and other respiratory illnesses are vigilant about the measures that they can adopt to avoid infection, stay generally well and maximise their control.

 

What does Coronavirus (COVID-19) mean for people with asthma?

There is no specific data as yet to determine if people with asthma are at a higher risk of contracting the virus. However, it is accepted that people with long term lung conditions may experience a higher likelihood of becoming seriously ill if infected  and should therefore take every precaution to avoid infection, including those described above.

When it comes to managing your asthma, consider the following checklist:

  • Ensure you are taking your preventer medicine as prescribed
  • Ensure your preventer and reliever device technique is correct and have this checked by your doctor, nurse or pharmacist
  • Obtain, update and use your written Asthma Action Plan. This will provide instructions for when and how you should adjust your treatment as symptoms worsen and when to seek medical assistance
  • Maintain good overall health and wellbeing
    • Which includes managing other long term conditions
    • And also includes focusing on your wellness (think nutrition, exercise, stress management)
  • You can go back to your GP at any time if you think your medication needs adjusting or if you don’t have a written Asthma Action Plan. You might like to ask your medical practice if they provide telephone or telehealth consultations
  • Ensure you always have access to a reliever puffer and spares (when you leave the house, at school, at work – depending on schooling or work at home arrangements)
  • Ensure you can identify asthma symptoms and can treat them properly; do you know asthma first aid?
  • Ensure you understand what your asthma triggers are and how to manage these (it will help to have a written Asthma Action Plan), including allergies
  • If you have allergies such as hay fever, make sure you’re on the right treatment for them, and;
  • Tell your family and friends you have asthma and make sure they also know your triggers and how to provide asthma first aid.

You can ask us any questions about your asthma and the points above by emailing us or by calling us on 1800 ASTHMA

 

Asthma medication – One month of supply

Asthma Australia is aware there are some temporary shortages of Salbutamol (SABA) and some preventer medications in some local pharmacies due to higher than expected demand. Advice received by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) (the Government agency responsible for the quality and availability of medicines in Australia) is that there is plenty of medication in Australia and stock is being replenished in affected pharmacies.

We strongly urge people to be considerate of their purchasing so that everyone can access what they need. Stockpiling medications is resulting in challenges for people to access vital medication and placing them at risk.

People with asthma are advised to have access to at least 30 days of prescription medications. A blue or grey asthma reliever (SABA) puffer contains 200 metered doses and most preventers are designed to last at least one month. Asthma Australia encourages people to use a spacer with all metered-dose (canister) inhalers to draw maximum benefit from their medication which might also reduce the amount required and minimise side effects.

Read the full statement here.

If you do not have access to blue or grey reliever medication and you are experiencing difficulty in breathing, call triple zero 000 immediately.

Inhaled corticosteroids

People with asthma should continue to use their inhaled asthma preventer medications during the COVID-19 epidemic as prescribed.

Some sources have suggested that “corticosteroids” should be avoided during the COVID-19 epidemic. This advice is not directed at people with asthma and their health professionals who use inhaled corticosteroid-based preventer or those with asthma who need to use oral corticosteroids to manage their flare-ups (attacks).

People with asthma should not stop their prescribed inhaled corticosteroid preventer medication (or avoid using their prescribed oral corticosteroids). Stopping inhaled corticosteroids often leads to worsening of asthma, and avoiding oral corticosteroids during severe asthma attacks may have serious consequences. Long-term oral corticosteroids may sometimes be required to treat severe asthma, and it may be dangerous to stop them suddenly. Always discuss with your doctor or nurse before stopping any asthma medication.

Keep taking your inhaled asthma preventer medication, and if your asthma gets worse, follow the instructions on your asthma action plan for how to change your asthma medications and when to seek medical help.

Do the steroids in my asthma inhaler weaken my immune system?

The corticosteroid in your asthma preventer inhaler doesn’t affect your body’s ability to fight against viral infections like coronavirus.

Online Ordering

Online medication ordering is available. To help you social distance and access medications, people with asthma can order reliever or preventer medication at some outlets, online. Note that dispensing restrictions apply to reliever puffers, one per person, and some outlets aren’t offering reliever puffer sales online. It is always helpful to call your local pharmacy to check stock levels ahead and ask if they have an online ordering service. Here are some options we’ve come across if we’ve missed some comment below.

Read the advice around buying medicines online here

Other considerations

Health and aged care sector

Consistent with the directions from the Australian Department of Health, we call on the community to do all within its means to protect the elderly from infection with coronavirus by:

  • Not visiting aged care facilities or contact elderly family, friends or community members if you’ve recently returned from overseas
  • Not visiting aged care facilities or contact elderly family, friends or community members if you’ve been in contact with someone with a known or suspected case of coronavirus
  • Not visiting aged care facilities or contact elderly family, friends or community members if you have a fever or symptoms of respiratory illness
  • Limiting and shortening visits to the elderly
  • Ensuring visits are capped at 2 visitors at a time
  • Not visiting elderly in communal areas where there are many elderly people in close confines
  • Not visiting the elderly as part of a school group
  • Prohibiting children under 16 from visiting aged care facilities.

Please refer to the Australian Department of Health guidelines for aged care facilities and staff.

Travellers

All people returning to the country will be required to self-isolate for 14 days. You may also be screened at the airport if you are unwell. Such screening may occur at the port you intend to board the plane or ship. You may be prevented from boarding the plane or ship in case of symptoms. If you become unwell during the flight, the airline staff will implement a range of strict procedures aiming to avoid the potential spread of your illness to other passengers and staff.

International travel advice provided by the Australian Department of Health can be found here.

Advice for local travellers and use of public transport

We reinforce Australian Government recommendations for all people, including people with asthma, to avoid non-essential travel.

In terms of crossing Australian borders, state governments are at liberty to apply their own entry and exit conditions. Each state and territory status update can be found here:

We reinforce the Australian Department of Health recommendations to avoid all non-essential travel on all forms of public transport including trains, buses, trams and passenger ferries. When using taxis, people with asthma should sit in the back where possible. Where possible on other forms of public transport, we recommend all people, especially people with asthma, to try to find seats 1.5 metres away from other passengers.

We recommend that before and after public transport, taxi and ride share use people, especially those with asthma, wash hands thoroughly, per instructions here.

Asthma Australia also supports the Department’s recommendations to employers to enable working from home arrangements so staff can avoid use of public transport where possible.

Information Sources, and further information

Australian Government Department of Health