By Dr Stuart Carr, Chief Allergist and Clinical Immunologist of Snö Asthma & Allergy Centre
The emergence of the novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) and its resulting illness (COVID-19) in China, now spreading to many other countries including right here in the UAE, has people understandably concerned. It is therefore important to talk about what this may mean for you, especially if you have allergies and asthma.
First off, having asthma or allergies or other chronic respiratory conditions does not make you any more likely to become infected with 2019-nCoV, although visits to clinics or hospitals, you may have a higher risk of exposure. COVID-19 is caused by a respiratory virus 2019-nCoV. Respiratory viruses can all trigger asthma flare ups, in fact viral infections are the number one trigger of asthma attacks requiring emergency care, in all age groups. So while having asthma does not make you more likely to contract COVID-19, you may become sicker with this virus because of your underlying asthma. It is very important to make sure your asthma is well-controlled and that you have an appropriate written asthma action plan.
The single most important step to help prevent infection is excellent hand hygiene. Washing your hands with soap and water for 30 seconds is effective against the 2019-nCoV virus, and it is important to wash your hands regularly throughout the day, especially after shaking hands or touching potentially contaminated surfaces. Hand sanitizers are a reasonable option when you are out and about, but the scrubbing with soap and water seems to be more effective.
It is also important to try to avoid or minimize touching your face, something we all do more frequently than we realize, because this increases the risk that we will bring virus-containing droplets to our nose, eyes, or mouth, increasing the chance of infection.
Masks are not a very effective way to prevent infection, and may actually increase the risk because we tend to touch and adjust and fiddle with the masks, bringing our hands to our faces more often!
It is always a good idea to cover your nose and mouth when you cough and sneeze, preferably with your elbow. This can help stop the spread of all kinds of respiratory viruses, including 2019-nCoV.
It is also important to stay home and rest if you get sick, and avoid unnecessary trips out in public until you are better. It is better to miss some work or school to recover and help keep your friends and colleagues safe.
Eat healthy foods, keep well hydrated, and get plenty of rest if you happen to get sick, and follow your asthma action plan to give you the best chance of recovering quickly. Did I mention to wash your hands?
Dr Stuart Carr, Chief Allergist and Clinical Immunologist of Snö Asthma & Allergy Centre