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25/Jun/2020

The last week has seen a large number of new cases of COVID-19, particularly in Victoria. With this large increase in the number of active cases, should we be worried?

Well – yes and no. Let’s explore some of the issues.

We’re dropping our guard

SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) is like a mythical beast. It’s caused so much damage and devastation – both here and globally – but most of us haven’t faced it. It’s hard to stay vigilant against something that seems so elusive.

So we drop our guards and our standards along with them.

It’s absolutely understandable – it’s been a long road so far, we’re sick of being isolated, we want life to go back to normal.

“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.
“So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is that to do with the time that is given us.”
J.R.R Tolkien – The Fellowship of the Ring

But because most of us haven’t been exposed to the virus, we’re still susceptible. And some people are more at risk than others of becoming very ill if they develop COVID-19, including people with immune issues and certain other health conditions.

So we need to maintain our vigilance.

Community transmission

Most of the new cases can be linked to people returning from overseas and specific clusters where the origin of the virus transmission is known.

However there are some cases where we have absolutely no idea how/when/where a person became infected. This is known as ‘community transmission’ – a person becomes infected with the virus but they’ve had no contact with a known case.

They may have been in contact with someone who’s asymptomatic (infected but don’t feel unwell or show any symptoms) or someone who’s pre-symptomatic (infected but not yet showing symptoms). Or they may have come into contact with someone who thinks they have a bit of a cold, or even someone who suspects they have the virus but isn’t self-isolating 😪.

The issue of community transmission is why we need to remain on guard against this virus. Just because restrictions have been easing doesn’t mean we can ease up on our physical (social) distancing, washing our hands as often as possible, using hand sanitiser if there’s no access to soap and water, sneezing and coughing into the elbow, staying home when we’re sick and getting tested if/when we develop symptoms, however mild.

Remember, symptoms of COVID-19 are:

  • fever
  • chills or sweats
  • cough
  • sore throat
  • shortness of breath
  • runny nose
  • loss of sense of smell.

For more information about symptoms and to see if you or someone you care for may have the virus, use the healthdirect Coronavirus (COVID-19) Symptom Checker. Answer a few simple questions to find out if you need to seek medical help or be tested. Or call the National Coronavirus Helpline on 1800 020 080, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Winter is here

And for most of Australia there’s is a bit (or a lot) of chill in the air 😱. Which means we’re staying indoors, huddling close together to stay warm, keeping the windows closed to keep the cold out and the warm in. Unfortunately all of these things make it easier for germs to spread. We’re close together and there’s little ventilation. Perfect to help the little buggers move from person to person.

Along with the cold weather, we’re seeing more people gather together as restrictions ease and as boredom well and truly sets in. This’s a big problem. On a recent trip to the local shopping centre I was shocked by how many people I saw –most weren’t allowing 1.5 metres between themselves and others, people were hugging, coughing into their hands, not using hand sanitiser when entering stores…all of these things allow germs to spread through the community. Needless to say I hightailed it to the closest exit and went home 😑

It’s cold and flu season

This pandemic is overlapping with our flu season. Yay 😒 Currently flu numbers in Australia are low due to our physical distancing measures. However, this may change for the same reasons we’ve seen increases in COVID-19 cases.

There’s also the potential that people may become infected with the flu and COVID-19 at the same time, which, to put it mildly, isn’t ideal. While we don’t know if this leads to more severe cases of both infections, the immune system will be weakened by fighting two infections. And if a person’s immune system is already weak due to another health issue, this has the potential for very serious outcomes.

Finally if flu numbers do increase as we continue through our flu season, it will have an impact on our healthcare system, which is already working overtime because of the pandemic. It seems like so long ago, but the 2019 flu season was our worst flu season on record.

So for all of these reasons we’re being urged to get our flu vaccination this year.

This is also a time of year when many of us succumb to colds. Coughing, a runny nose or sore throat may be symptoms of cold, allergies, the flu or COVID-19. If you experience these symptoms, don’t just assume it’s a cold or your allergies flaring up. The same goes with muscle soreness and a fever. For some people with musculoskeletal conditions, this may be a symptom of a flare. Or it may be your body displaying signs of COVID-19. The best thing you can do is stay home and contact your doctor – and if recommended – get tested.

So should we be worried about these COVID outbreaks?

We should be concerned because most of us are still susceptible to the virus, and some of us are at risk of becoming seriously ill if we become infected with COVID-19.

So stay at home if you’re unwell, know the symptoms of COVID-19, wash your hands often and thoroughly, cough/sneeze into your elbow, maintain physical distancing measures and continue to follow the advice of our health officers.

But we shouldn’t become so worried that we don’t get out (safely and responsibly), that we don’t live our lives. We were able to keep the numbers down for months. We can do it again.

Contact our free national Help Line

If you have questions about things like COVID-19, your musculoskeletal condition, treatment options, telehealthmanaging your pain or accessing services be sure to call our nurses. They’re available weekdays between 9am-5pm on 1800 263 265; email (helpline@msk.org.au) or via Messenger.

More to explore


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18/Jun/2020

As a species we’re social creatures. We need our tribe – whether it’s a large extended family group and lots of friends, a small intimate group of nearest and dearest, or somewhere in between. We need our connections.

I think that’s one of the hardest things we’ve had to deal with during this pandemic. We’ve been forced to change how we connect with others. We kept away from our people for months, and now that we can gather, we’re told to keep a distance, don’t touch, hug or shake hands. It feels so unnatural.

That’s the insidiousness of this virus. It’s infiltrated our world and affected the very fabric of our connectedness.

I need to make a confession – I’m incredibly sad as I write this blog. My aunt died today. She was a beloved mother, sister, grandmother, aunt and – like me – a crazy cat lady. She’s been unwell for quite some time, and I haven’t been able to see her for months. With isolation and the very real risk of spreading the virus to someone who was already so unwell, it was not a risk we could take.

And so she died, this wonderful, kind, most incredibly well-read woman. Without all of her family around her. And I’m so very sad.

I know I’m not unique in this situation. So many people have died during this pandemic – due to COVID-19 as well as the many other reasons people leave our world every single day. But sitting at home on a cold Sunday afternoon, I can’t help but reflect on how terribly sad this whole situation is.

We’ve missed, and will continue to miss, our celebrations and milestones. Weddings have been postponed. Babies have been born with far less fanfare than would normally happen. Special birthdays have been and gone without the usual fuss. Students have finished courses, aced exams or have mastered a difficult skill without the jubilant gathering of family and friends to celebrate. And funerals have occurred with only a small number of mourners allowed to attend in person.

And it’s not only the milestones and celebrations we’re missing. It’s the small events, the little encounters that go to the very heart of who we are. The big events are important, but the small things, the everyday incidental stuff with workmates, neighbours, friends, family – they’re the things that make our lives rich.

So we need to find ways to ensure our milestones, gatherings, phone calls, video chats and every day encounters carry as much joy, love, sadness, real emotion and connection as they possibly can.

Celebrate and bask in the little things. Share your day – the highs and lows with your partner/kids/closest friend – and really listen as they do the same. Take time to sit and reflect on what’s been happening in your life and those close to you. Even though it may feel like life is moving slowly at the moment, it’s moving quickly – can you believe it’s almost the end of June? – and so much can happen in a day, a week, a month. Don’t let these moments pass you by.

Tell those close to you how much they mean to you. Extend that support and kindness beyond your own bubble to those you encounter at the supermarket, when you’re driving, talking with your child’s teacher, or when you’re in a work meeting. We’re all dealing with all kinds of stuff – big and small – so let’s discard the petty annoyances and frustrations.

We’re still some way from finding a vaccine or treatment for this virus. It’s vital we continue to support and care for each other in this new normal we live in.

Life is short, and although it’s changed so dramatically, we have so much to be thankful for.

Contact our free national Help Line

If you have questions about things like COVID-19, your musculoskeletal condition, treatment options, telehealthmanaging your pain or accessing services be sure to call our nurses. They’re available weekdays between 9am-5pm on 1800 263 265; email (helpline@msk.org.au) or via Messenger.

Crisis support

If this article has raised some issues with you or you feel like you need help during this stressful time, there’s help available. Contact Lifeline Australia on 13 11 14 for 24 hour crisis support and suicide prevention. https://www.lifeline.org.au/about-lifeline/contact-us

More to explore

It’s okay to feel sad
Better Health Channel

Photo by Hello I’m Nik 🎞 on Unsplash


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28/May/2020

As we come to the end of May 2020, more and more restrictions are easing all over the country. And we’re being told more restrictions will be lifted in June and July. Yay!!

While we’re all understandably excited at the prospect of doing the things we took for granted pre-COVID, there are things we need be aware of. The fact is we’re not out of the woods. And we won’t really return to anything resembling the old ‘normal’ until we have a vaccine. 

So as you make your way out of the front door, blinking into the bright lights of the outside world, make sure you’re ready for it so you and your family stay safe, and you help keep the rest of the community safe.

What’s up with your hair? And what are you wearing?!?

OK so this is a little silly, but for many of us it’s been MONTHS since we’ve had a haircut or had a professional give our hair some TLC. So we’re looking a little wild and woolly. Add in the lack of access to beauty salons and we’re a weird, hairy mess – picture Cousin It from the Addams Family 😂. And for many of us we’ll need scissors and a crow bow to get the trackies and slippers off, because staying at home and trying not to spend too much on the heating bill has led to comfort and warmth winning over style and fashion. So maybe check yourself in a mirror before you venture out 😂

But seriously apart from sorting out our general dishevelment there are some important things to be aware of as our COVID isolation starts winding down and restrictions continue to lift:

Hygiene

It’s still incredibly important. Wash your hands thoroughly and regularly, use hand sanitisers, cough and sneeze into your elbow and avoid touching your face. For a refresher read our hygiene 101 blog for more info.

Physical distancing

We’re able to go to more places and see more people, however physical distancing is still vital. Most of us are still susceptible to this highly infectious virus, so we need to maintain at least 1.5 metres between ourselves and others when we’re out in public. This can sometimes be a bit tricky. With the loosening of restrictions, and because people have felt cooped up for so long, LOTS of people are going out. So you need to ask yourself when you pull into the shopping centre carpark and it’s full, or you can see a line of cars heading to the park you’re aiming for. Ask yourself if you’ll really be able to maintain a safe distance between yourself and others. And if the answer’s no, can you go somewhere else instead? Or do something else? Or come back at another, less busy time?

Gatherings

We’ve missed our family and friends, and although it was helpful, technology – with all the drop outs and weird pauses – can only do so much. We want to BE with our people. And we’re now allowed to do that in greater numbers. But you need to do a few things if/when your gather:

  • Know the relevant guidelines for your state/territory. It’s different all over the country, so it’s easy to get confused. So check the COVID-19 website applicable to where you live.
  • Only visit or have visitors if you’re healthy and well. Even if you’re chomping at the bit and you’re pretty sure it’s only a sore throat because of your allergies, or you think you’re feeling fatigued because of a late night/your MSK condition/home schooling, don’t take the chance. There may be a slim possibility that you actually have the virus and spread it to others – so don’t be that person.
  • No hugs, kisses or handshakes. This is a tough one, especially if you haven’t seen loved ones in ages, but resist the close contact. And it may seem lame but try the elbow bump or foot tap greeting. Better still, make up your own family greeting. Get the kids involved and make it something fun and uniquely yours.

Your mental health

It’s been such a crazy time, and we’ve been isolated in our own cocoons for so long, many of us may be a little anxious or scared about going out. That’s completely understandable. But we do need to go out – for work, groceries, social connection, exercise, healthcare appointments – we need it all.

However if you do feel anxious about heading out into the world, it’s important to understand why you’re feeling this way and then look for ways you can manage it. For example if you’re freaked out by the crowds at the supermarket, try and do your shopping at quieter times. If you’re concerned about using public transport, follow the capacity restrictions for the specific mode of transport, wash your hands after using it (or use hand sanitiser if you have it) and avoid touching your face.

The important thing is to start easing your way back into the world. But if you’re having real issues getting out, talk with your doctor. You may need some professional support. You can do this via telehealth from the comfort of your own home.

There will be outbreaks

That’s inevitable, but we can all do our best to reduce the risk of an outbreak with good hygiene, physical distancing and staying home if you feel unwell.

Exercise venues

Pools, indoor and outdoor gyms and fitness centres are also reopening. This’s great news. We all need a variety of exercises for our general health and wellbeing, and to help us manage our musculoskeletal condition and pain. There are strict guidelines for all public venues about maximum numbers, physical distancing and hygiene that exercise facilities will need to be following. So if your venue hasn’t contacted you to let you know how they’re keeping their clients and staff safe, contact them and ask.

Staying safe with a musculoskeletal condition

If you have arthritis, back pain or osteoporosis, you may need to be careful about a few other things.

  • With more places opening up, venue owners are trying to find ways to enforce physical distancing and capacity measures. However some of the makeshift barriers being used may cause a trip hazard for some of us – because they’re low and not very brightly coloured – for example the humble milk crate or cardboard box. They seem to be a handy partition used in many places to limit the number of people in a space and to direct the flow of traffic. But they’re not always easy to see, especially if there’s poor lighting or you’re hurrying – so be careful of trip hazards and other obstacles when you’re out and about to reduce your risk of falling and getting hurt.
  • You may need to stand in queues, at the supermarket, hardware store and other public venues that are reopening, as they all have a maximum number of people they can let in at one time. This can cause or exacerbate pain and fatigue for many people with musculoskeletal conditions. So wear comfy shoes (including orthotics if you have/need them), grab your walking aid, your shopping list (a foggy brain makes remembering almost impossible) and your shopping buggy/bags. And be kind to yourself as you may feel tired and exhausted for some time after your trip. If your battery was already low before you tackled this, it’s may take some time to feel yourself again.

With restrictions lifting all over the country, we’re getting excited about broadening our horizons beyond our own front doors. But we need to take responsibility and be careful. We’ve done really well at minimising the impact of this virus on Australians – and we don’t want to slide backwards.

So stay informed, follow the guidance of the government health officers, and we’ll get through this next phase of the COVID journey.

Contact our free national Help Line

If you have questions about things like COVID-19, your musculoskeletal condition, treatment options, telehealthmanaging your pain or accessing services be sure to call our nurses. They’re available weekdays between 9am-5pm on 1800 263 265; email (helpline@msk.org.au) or via Messenger.


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13/May/2020

Thanks to one of our MSK Kids parents who has written this blog for us. They have chosen to remain anonymous. 

When our world changed rapidly at the end of March due to COVID-19 social distancing regulations and remote learning, I was amazed that my child wasn’t freaking out about all the changes taking place. I put it down to her wonderful teachers and the fact that she has dealt with a major event in her life already, a chronic health condition and immunosuppressive treatment. Here are some of the ways my child has had the dress rehearsal to COVID-19, and so have we as parents.

Experienced at social distancing

When you have an immune suppressed child you have already had to cancel play dates, sleepovers and extra-curricular activities. Your child has already stopped sport at some stage, and has probably missed important days at school or with friends. You have already been fearful of every cough and sneeze in the classroom and you know the times of the year when chicken pox cases increase.

We’ve been using hand sanitiser already

Ask any parent who has spent time with a child in hospital, and chances are they know the smell of Microshield® very well (the brand of hand sanitiser in most Australian hospitals). We’ve been used to having good hand washing habits and know the importance of alcohol-based agents to clean hands. You probably already had a decent amount of hand sanitizer at home before COVID-19, as well as alcohol-based wipes (especially if you have to administer subcutaneous injections).

We know and appreciate our healthcare workers

It didn’t take this pandemic for us to appreciate our wonderful healthcare workers. We’ve known this for years through our regular interactions with doctors, nurses and allied health workers. Hopefully everyone else now recognises the importance of good health in our lives and our amazing healthcare workers.


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25/Mar/2020

Update – April 2020. This blog has been updated in line with the new restrictions on gatherings and physical distancing.

Ok, so the title dates me…I’m a child of the 80s. Olivia Newton-John was a leg-warmer wearing goddess to many 🤣🤣

During this crazy, unbelievable, unprecedented COVID-19 (coronavirus) time it’s important that we embrace the practice of physical distancing, also called social distancing (your choice whether to do this wearing leg warmers, but please, please, please just do it).

It’s the best option we have for slowing the spread of COVID-19 so that we protect the most vulnerable in our community (our older people, people with suppressed immune systems, people with chronic conditions, pregnant women and people with pre-existing health conditions). Obviously, this list includes many of us, so physical distance is important for protecting our own health and wellbeing, as well as the broader community.

Physical distancing also helps us to flatten the curve. You may have heard this term reported in the media and thought – “huh?? What does that have to do with me?”.  In basic terms when we practice physical distancing we reduce the risk of passing on, or catching the virus and we’re helping to spread out the number of people becoming infected over a longer period of time. By spreading it out, our health system is more equipped to handle the numbers and not become overwhelmed, which would be the case if we all got sick tomorrow.

And it’s not just us – many of our wonderful healthcare workers will inevitably get sick too. Which will affect the ability of the health system to keep up with the demand. So spreading this out over a longer period of time makes a lot of sense. Read more about flattening the curve here. 

Now more than ever it’s important we stay in contact with the people we care about

Personally, I like the term physical distancing. It’s seems to me to be less isolating and now more than ever it’s important we maintain our social connections (just not physically in the same space). By maintaining our physical distance we can still chat and stay in touch with friends, family and colleagues – using technologies like Skype, FaceTime, WhatsApp, Messenger, Facebook, emails, as well as going old school and actually calling someone (insert gasp here) and even send letters (both WHO and CDC have confirmed that you can’t catch the virus through your mail).

So what do you need to know about physical distancing?

Stay informed. This is really important. Misinformation leads normally rational people to buy more toilet paper they can use in a lifetime, causing shortages for others. It leads to fear, anxiety, confusion and anger. So stay informed with accurate, up-to-date information. Go to our website, we have a dedicated section with up-to-date, reliable and practical information on COVID-19.

Maintain your physical distance. But be careful with the pinwheeling arms (if you’re not a child of the 80s look it up). I saw someone doing that today to emphasise that she had enough space around her and she almost took her husband’s eye out (clearly he wasn’t keeping the recommended physical distance).

We’re advised to maintain at least 1.5 metres between ourselves and others. As a guide if you stretch your arms out to your sides (horizontal with the floor) and imagine this amount of space goes all the way around you. Now imagine everyone you come in contact with has the same amount of space around them. This is how much distance you need to keep between yourself and others.

Stay home. We’ve now entered a period that requires us to stay at home as much as possible. The 1.5 metre space around you is a guide for when you HAVE to go out. We’re being advised to only go out when absolutely necessary – when we need to go to the supermarket or chemist for supplies. If you do have to go out, try to avoid crowds and touching too many surfaces.

Now’s the time to embrace your inner introvert! Think about all the times you said you’d like to do X if only you had the time. Well now’s the time! Learn that language, write that book, do something with all your holiday photos, clean the clutter from your cupboard/house/garage, virtually travel the world, live stream the zoo, tune in to the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra online. You’re not only doing something you’ve always wanted to do, but you’re helping to flatten the COVID-19 curve.

Public gatherings. On 29 March the Federal Government brought in restrictions to limit most indoor and outdoor non-essential gathering to 2 people. Places where more than 2 people may gather as they’re considered to be essential are: workplaces (if you can’t work from home), health care settings, pharmacies, food shopping, schools and universities (if you can’t study from home) and public transport. You need to maintain physical distance (i.e 1.5 metres between each person) during this time. Unfortunately many of our favourite places to gather are not considered essential at this time. This includes: libraries, cafes, galleries, movie theatres, markets and places of worship. But this won’t last forever – and just think how much more we’ll enjoy them when we get to go back?? Find out more about these restrictions: Limits on public gatherings for coronavirus (COVID-19).

Look after yourself. While you might be tempted to go full out couch-potato, you need to stay active, eat healthy foods and watch your weight, get plenty of sleep, wash your hands thoroughly and frequently, and generally look after yourself. Also go easy on the alcohol. These things will all help your immune system, and help you feel the best you can. And if you do become sick – whether it’s with COVID-19, a cold or some other illness, you’ll do better if you’ve been looking after your health.

Check in with others. There are many people on their own who may become isolated during this time. Call them. If you don’t know them (for example an elderly neighbour) leave them a note with your phone number and let them know you can help them out if they need groceries or other supplies. Also some people may just need to hear another voice and know someone is looking out for them.

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Musculoskeletal Australia (or MSK) is the consumer organisation working with, and advocating on behalf of, people with arthritis, osteoporosis, back pain, gout and over 150 other musculoskeletal conditions.

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