WHEN TO SEEK MEDICAL HELP?

If you have any common cold symptoms – new cough, sore throat, runny or blocked nose or fever – contact your doctor. If you have trouble breathing, along with any of these symptoms, it is important to see a doctor quickly.

All general practices are asking patients to call ahead so they can decide how to keep you and other patients safe during your appointment. Occasionally practices might refer you to other services and clinics in case your situation needs specific skills or resources, like testing for the Coronavirus.

If you have trouble breathing and can’t get an appointment easily, we recommend attending an emergency department as soon as possible. Again, please call ahead. If you have severe trouble breathing or don’t have someone with you call triple zero (000).

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

  • Have recently been overseas
  • Have been in close contact with someone who has been diagnosed with Coronavirus
  • Are in correctional or detention facilities
  • Are in group residential settings

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 see a doctor.

Currently, it is recommended that you will be tested for Coronavirus if you have fever cough/cold/flu symptoms, and:

  • You have recently returned from overseas or travel on a cruise ship
  • Have known contact with someone who has had or got coronavirus
  • The cause is not clear
  • You are a health care, aged care or residential care worker
  • You have lived in an area considered high risk for community transmission
  • You have serious illness
  • You are in hospital

The Australian Government has recently received delivery of millions of testing kits and it is intended that more Australians will be tested, to get a clearer picture of the issue, to design more precise public health responses. Each state and territory may apply their own testing criteria and some states are inviting members of the public to present for testing which is an opportunity to tighten our control of this situation. Take a look at the state health department website and discuss with your health care provider for advice on this. You can also visit the department of health website in your own state or territory.

Further information including resources in another language can be found at health.gov.au

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 often 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.

Health services including hospitals, general practices and other community settings will look and feel very different at the moment but it’s important that you continue to have reassurance that the care and treatment will continue to be of the highest quality.

If you have cough symptoms, even if you’re sure they’re part of your asthma or other chronic condition, it is likely that the staff will isolate you and test for coronavirus. In doing so, they will be wearing gowns, masks and gloves and sometimes face shields. You will likely also be told that you either can’t have visitors, or more than one per day. This will feel very different, it might even feel worrying. It’s important that health services do everything they should to protect everyone in their care from the spread of the virus but it’s also important that you feel safe and respected. Don’t hesitate to ask if you have questions, as you normally would, about your treatment, about your comfort, about your symptoms, pain and any other concerns.

There may be interesting ways to compensate for the lack of face to face contact. Your treating doctor or nurse might be able to remove their mask if they’re behind a screen and talk to you on a mobile phone for example, before coming into your room. Some medical staff have taken to print photos of themselves which they attach to their gowns. It’s normal to feel strange when the familiar personal connection doesn’t happen at hospital and other health services and health service staff understand this. We encourage you to share your feelings with them.

From a medical point of view, it is likely that nebuliser-based treatments won’t be provided, as they might have been previously. Nebulisers have been shown to increase the spread of infectious particles in rooms where they are used. Inhaled therapy, whether to relax the airways or to treat the inflammation, can all be provided using regular inhaler devices and spacer, which is a more effective way of administering the medicine anyway. If you need oxygen, this can be provided alongside the inhaler and spacer without interruption. If you have been used to receiving nebuliser therapy for other conditions, please discuss this with your doctor or nurse, we’re sure a suitable solution will be found for you.

New models of care delivery

The State and Commonwealth Governments are working on supporting ongoing access to essential medical services for people with conditions able to be treated in the community.

Australian Government funded telehealth services are available for:

  • People with chronic health conditions or people with low immunity
  • People isolating themselves as recommended by the Department of Health
  • People aged over 70 years
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People aged over 50 years
  • Parents of babies and infants and people who are pregnant
  • People who report symptoms of Coronavirus.

Telehealth refers to a service provided by telephone or video, which reduces the need for patients to visit their community general practice and may reduce the spread of the coronavirus. Patients will need to have access to a telephone with good network coverage at a minimum to access telehealth services. Telehealth will only be provided where it is safe and relevant.

This means that people with asthma can access health services via telehealth delivered by:

  • GP
  • Nurse, midwife
  • Allied health professionals involved in chronic disease management including but not limited to:
    • Dieticians
    • Occupational therapists
    • Speech pathologists
    • Social workers
  • Mental health professionals (psychologists and psychiatrists)
  • Specialists.

You will need to phone your health service provider to request a telehealth appointment.

Telehealth services must be bulk-billed for patients who:

  • Have Commonwealth concession cards
  • Are under 16 years of age
  • Are vulnerable to Covid-19 (See list above)

Service providers may charge a fee for those who don’t qualify according to the above criteria. If you have difficulty, please discuss this with your service provider.

For more information, you can visit this consumer fact sheet: http://www.mbsonline.gov.au/internet/mbsonline/publishing.nsf/Content/0C514FB8C9FBBEC7CA25852E00223AFE/$File/COVID-19%20Bulk-billed%20MBS%20telehealth%20Services%20-%20Consumer%20060420.pdf

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

If you would like to talk to a specialist asthma educator, please call 1800 ASTHMA 278462.

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 may hear ‘self-quarantine’ which will mean the same thing here in Australia.

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 to keep safe and to not harm others. Many cases where Coronavirus has been spread 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 new or worsening symptoms.

If you need to use public transport to get home to self-isolate:

  • Wear a surgical mask if possible
  • Cover your cough or sneeze
  • Stay more than 1.5m (two arms lengths) from people

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 decide how to

keep you and other patients safe during your appointment. Occasionally practices might refer you to other services and clinics in case your situation needs specific skills or resources, like testing for the Coronavirus.

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.

There are several supports available for people struggling with the pressures of this difficult time, including the consequences of isolation. The Australian Government Head to Health website and linked services is a useful place to start in case you feel you would benefit from extra support and some tools and resources.

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 for some people with asthma.

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