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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.

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13/May/2020

For most of the country it’s starting to get really chilly. And if this was a normal year, that’d be fine. Just slip on the comfy tracky dacks, jumper, thick socks…oh wait. That’s my COVID-19 working from home outfit 😂.

But seriously, it is getting quite cold. And because of iso, we’re all staying at home most of the time trying to keep warm. So how do we do this without getting an energy bill shock in the process ?😲

And although we may not be spending as much on going out, or petrol, we are paying more on other things to keep us occupied at home, or equipment and furniture to make working/schooling from home easier. All of this at a time when we’re having to make do with less work hours (or no work at all) so less income. It’s scary.

But it is getting cold and we need to stay warm. People with musculoskeletal conditions like fibromyalgia, lupus, osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and back pain as well as people with Raynauds’s phenomenon, may feel the cold more keenly with increased joint and muscle pain, or lack of blood circulation to the extremities.

So what can we do to keep warm, but also keep the costs down as much as possible?

Dress for success. Let’s start with the basics. We need to dress for the temperature and wear layers of clothing. So put on the warm tracksuit pants and jumper, embrace your inner Wiggle and wear a skivvy, pull on your thick socks and tights. We need to do this when we’re indoors, and add more layers when we go outside – including hat, gloves and a scarf.

Stop up any drafts. Cover the bottom of your door with a door snake or add some door seals. Pull your curtains and blinds over the windows at night and during really miserable days to keep the warmth inside.

Turn down the temperature. While it’s tempting to crank the heat up, the most efficient temperature to set your heater to (if you can set the temp) is 18-20 degrees. While that may not sound all that warm, we’re often outside during the warmer months wearing short sleeves when the temp is 18-20 degrees. It’s just a matter of perspective.

Let the sun shine in. Open your curtains and blinds on sunny days to let the sun shine on your windows. Even if there’s a chilly wind, the sun will bring some wonderful warmth to your house. Don’t forget to close the blinds and curtains when the sun goes down

Cosy up. Snuggle up on the couch with your partner, kids, pets. And don’t forget the warm blanket or doona. Share your body heat and just enjoy being together.

Turn it off at night. You sleep better when your body has a chance to cool down a little, so turn the heater off at night. It’s also safer to sleep with the heater off. You can use a good old fashioned hot water bottle or an electric blanket to take the chill of your bed. Just don’t forget to turn your electric blanket off before you go to sleep.

Get active. Go for a brisk walk outdoors – wearing appropriate clothing – and you’ll soon warm up in no time. When you’re at home, exercise indoors using an online program, a DVD or an app. Play with the kids. Clean the house. Do anything that gets you moving and you’ll feel warmer than you would if you sit in one place for hours on end. However if you’re having a flare or you experiencing a lot of pain, be as active as you can within your limits. And use your heat packs to help relieve muscular pain.

Shorten your shower, if you can. Many of us use our shower to warm up sore joints and muscles so we can get moving. However hot water uses a lot of energy, and even a few minutes extra will add to your bill. If you’re able to, shorten the amount of time you spend in the shower, even if it’s just a little.

Move clotheshorses and other obstructions away from the heater. Apart from being a potential fire hazard, anything that blocks a heater will prevent the warm air from flowing uninterrupted. So move them away from the heat source. And to stay safe, fire authorities say you should keep clothing one metre from your heater.

Use heat packs and hot water bottles. If you’re feeling stiff and sore, heat packs or hot water bottles can help get you up and about and provide temporary pain relief. Always follow the instructions when using them including: don’t overheat them, don’t smother them under blankets or clothes, and let them cool down between use. It‘s also important to let your skin temperature return to normal before using them again. Finally it’s very easy to burn yourself using heat packs and hot water bottles, so don’t place them directly onto your skin and check their temperature before use to make sure they’re not too hot.

If you’re working from home and/or home schooling Energy.gov.au has some simple tips to reduce your energy usage.

Billing and payment help. If you’re struggling to pay your energy bills, Energy.gov.au also has some information to help you, including information about the Australian Energy Regulator’s expectations of energy companies to protect householders and small business customers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Insulate. If your house isn’t adequately insulated, this is something you can do for long term benefit. Obviously there is a substantial upfront outlay, but it may be an option for some households.

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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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