Coffs GP issues important message on coronavirus
Amid so much uncertainty, as the coronavirus crisis unfolds, one local GP has given a very clear message.
"The main thing is we want people with mild symptoms to consider themselves a risk to the wider community," Toormina doctor Ashlea Broomfied said.
"If you have travelled overseas and have any symptoms you should ring ahead to your clinic - the same for the hospital, don't just turn up. Stay at home and call rather than venture out into the community.
"Each week the advice is rapidly changing and although we still have a list of 'at-risk countries' the advice is likely to broaden that we need to consider anyone who has travelled as potentially at risk"
Symptoms include fever, sore throat and runny nose, more severe symptoms include shortness of breath, dizziness, feeling light-headed and high fevers.
She has also stressed that at this stage, there are no confirmed cases in the Coffs Harbour area.
Affecting those over 65 with underlying medical conditions more severely, there is still no vaccine.
"For viruses that we know, like influenza, we have both a vaccination available to protect against spread to these vulnerable people and an element of 'herd immunity' where the community has some immunity to the virus which can limit the spread.
"Without a vaccine, and with a new virus the population hasn't seen, it is important to protect our most vulnerable by minimising the amount of people infected in total."
She is receiving regular advice from NSW Health and keeping in contact with Mid North Coast Primary Health Network. Dr Broomfield is the co-vice-chair of the NSW/ACT Faculty of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP).
"We are planning for how practices will respond and often the GP setting is not the right place to get tested because you could potentially expose a high number of people in a clinic.
"If one of our staff becomes positive we would have to close the clinic for two weeks."
Currently her practice (Toormina Medical Centre) like many other across the State, is offering a 'phone triage' service free of charge.
"There is actually no ability for GP practices to get remuneration for phone triage by a GP. We're pressuring the government for more support. Some clinics might be charging over the phone but there's no Medicare rebate at all."
She admits that experts still don't know how deadly COVID-19 is, although current global data suggests it is about 2 per cent.
"We still don't know what the fatality rate is likely going to be in Australia but most people will get better without needing treatment but for those who do, we will need to increase the capacity of our hospital to deal with it. It's not designed for a pandemic and will need to adjust how it responds also."
She says COVID-19 is managed like any other cold or flu-like illness with over-the-counter pain killers if necessary, eating properly, keeping your fluids up and maintaining hand hygiene - and self isolating, keeping away from people in order to prevent infecting others.