It is apparent that in the coming weeks the outbreak of Coronavirus (COVID-19) in China will spread to Australia to a significant degree. The television footage of Chinese health workers head to toe in protective suits, together with many questions yet to be answered about the virus and its health effects, has led to high levels of community anxiety. So, what should we all be doing in Busselton?

The first point to make is that our knowledge of the virus is continuing to evolve and so any advice given now may change over time. It is an important time to stay up to date with health recommendations. The Federal Government website below provides updated information:

COVID-19 is a respiratory virus that initially causes a flu like illness with fever, sore throat, cough and fatigue. For most people this is as bad as it will get, and they will make a full recovery. Current estimates are that about 25% of people in Australia may end up becoming infected should there be an outbreak here.

The virus can cause a pneumonia particularly in vulnerable people such as the aged and those with chronic health diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and lung disease. The experience in China is that the death rate is about 2-3% in all people infected although the rate currently being reported outside of China seems to be lower than this. This is about what can happen with some strains of seasonal Influenza.

It is thought to primarily to be spread by droplets released on coughing and sneezing. People then come in contact with these droplets either through inhaling them or picking up the droplets left on surfaces that may then be transferred by their hands to their mouth, nose or eyes. It is for this reason that good hygiene practices should be adopted when you have symptoms of a cold or flu and those around you should likewise be mindful of how they can catch a virus like this. The WHO website has some excellent information on this.

People who have travelled overseas recently or are planning on doing so may be more at risk than others of contracting the virus. This situation and recommendations are changing as the virus spreads. A good source of information on this is found on the Smart Traveller website.

If you have symptoms of a cold or flu and wish to see a doctor at Busselton Medical Practice, we ask that you take the following steps first:

  • If you have a high fever with shortness of breath or a persistent and productive severe cough, then you should attend the emergency department of the hospital.
  • If the above does not apply, then when you telephone for an appointment or when you arrive at the practice let our reception staff know of your symptoms.
  • If you have travelled overseas in the last 2-3 weeks and have cold or flu symptoms then we ask that you stay outside the building, ideally in your car and telephone our front desk to let us know you are here. You will then be advised of the next steps.
  • Anyone with cold or flu symptoms entering the building will be asked to use the hand sanitiser outside the building and to put on a mask before coming in.
  • Anyone who is at high risk of COVID-19 as determined by triage by our nurses will either be asked to wait in their car or outside. If it is clinically necessary that they must enter the building, then they will wait in a separate room isolated from other patients.

In the event of an outbreak of COVID-19 these steps are necessary to prevent the spread of the virus to other patients and to our staff who are particularly at risk with constant potential exposure.

A large outbreak of COVID-19 will test the health system of the country and our own medical practice. At present, in our local area, the risk of contracting this virus is extremely low and it is important to not unnecessarily consume resources such as face mask and hand sanitiser. These may become in increasingly short supply should an outbreak occur. Again, the following website is a good place to look for information:

Most importantly, stay alert to the changing recommendations and be mindful of good hygiene practices if you or those around you have a respiratory illness. If you feel unwell enough to see the doctor, then ring ahead first so we can plan to manage your case in the safest way for you and the community.