Dear Bellingen Shire
Welcome to reduced restrictions. It would be reasonable to expect that the Shire’s towns will be quite busy this coming long weekend, as there is a pent up demand from the cities to break out. Once again this will present us with some possibility of Covid or Influenza infection entering our Shire.
The good news is that we still have had no new cases in the Whole Mid North Coast Local Health District for 5 weeks now! In the state there are still a few cases bubbling up – 2 community transmissions in the last week and 11 positive cases still returning from overseas in the last week. None on respirators at present! This is a great time to get sorted any health needs you have been putting off – eg physical therapies, podiatry, dentists, optometrists, etc, while there appear to be no community cases.
Out of the state of course there is the tragic case of a young man dying in Blackwater in Queensland. The story, as I understand it, is that he initially did not present for medical help. Unfortunately this has been a characteristic of the Covid infection that the first week of symptoms seem mild, and then the severity hits like a hammer as the immune response is disordered. Hence we will continue to run a testing Clinic so that there is no barrier to someone getting checked out, even with mild or minimal symptoms. There is also a report of a cargo ship arriving in WA with a group of crewmen sick and testing positive for Covid. We still have an international responsibility to care for sick sailors. It is not easy to stay an island, and still enjoy the goods we have come to expect.
If you have been to the clinic in the last few days you may find that the lab – S&N – have started sending out text messages to inform of a negative result. This is very convenient, but there have been some cases slip through with people expecting but not getting that result. And they are only sending the Covid result – not the rest of the tests we are doing, which includes for Influenza and other major viruses. So please (as with all tests) make contact with your normal GP to check the results. In this case usually it takes 2-3 days.
On the topic of other viruses: it has been astounding the lack of influenza cases this year. This may reflect 2 things. Firstly there has been a great uptake of influenza vaccine around the country. This makes it difficult for that virus to get a foot hold. Indeed it historically (in each normal year) killed more people than motor vehicle accidents! The vaccine is not perfect, it cannot cover all strains, but it is very safe and greatly reduces one’s risk of a dangerous infection. People with diabetes are especially vulnerable and are mostly protected by the annual vaccine.
The main illness we have picked up is called Rhinovirus, which causes an irritating cold that sometimes lasts up to 2-3 weeks. The general recommendation is to have at least 24 hours of no symptoms before returning to work or interactive activities (including coming into the shops).
But perhaps more importantly here is again a great big lesson. When everyone who is sick does not go to work, or town, to spread infections around, and when people wash hands, there is less transmission of flu! And the rest. This may be the best year for low influenza infections and deaths for decades!
We have not seen many children at the clinic. This may be partly as there has been confused messaging from our leaders as to whether children can catch Covid. There should be no doubt that kids can get it or transmit it – in fact 2 NSW schools have been shut down in the last week for deep cleans for positive cases. However it would seem that kids mostly don’t get it so badly. Nevertheless, there are reports from UK that Covid19 has been associated with a spike in cases of a rare autoimmune disease that affects children. We will look forward to the evidence of this. It reminds us that this national, and indeed world wide, response (sacrifice) is not to just protect the oldest generations, but has relevance into the far reaching future for younger generations – some of whom will not fully recover. Yes, it is not easy to convince kids to have a nose swab – though a throat swab is not so difficult. Please consider getting young ones checked out.
There is a report in Medical news papers from last week that over 1000 health care workers have so far died around the world from Covid 19. This statistic alone should carry some weight for those that still like to pretend the whole disease is a hoax, not much worse than a bad cold. Please feel free to especially pass it on to the fool (if you know them) who has been grafittiing our medical practices. Personal Protective equipment is the key to your health care workers’ survival from our perspective, and in the Bellingen Shire clinic we have been blessed by the support of community members and council in obtaining supplies. We have been much luckier than some of our rural GP colleagues who have struggled to get equipment.
There is rising debate about masks outside of hospital settings. Information seems to be emerging that there is a role for masks in public spaces, but it is contested. If you feel safer wearing a mask in town – especially this busy long weekend with lots of visitors in town then please do not hesitate. And wash your hands again and again.
Stay safe, while clever people continue to sweat away in their labs working on trying to find a safe treatment.
Dr Trevor Cheney
This is one perspective based on evidence available – please check in with your GP.