Staying healthy during the COVID-19 pandemic

Dr Anna Samecki, GP, talks about the priorities for staying healthy during the COVID-19 pandemic,

Staying healthy during the COVID-19 pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has overturned our work and home lives and most of us have had to get used to a new kind of normal.

While there is a lot of information out there about how to reduce the risks of being infected with SARS-Cov-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19), there is not so much information about how to look after other aspects of your health.

As restrictions ease, we asked our NPS MedicineWise GP and Medical Advisor, Dr Anna Samecki, about what the priorities are for staying on top of your general health.

 

What’s the most important thing to for me to do right now for my overall health?

Vaccinations

Staying up to date with your vaccinations is extremely important in keeping you and your family healthy. Routine vaccinations, including influenza (flu shot), childhood vaccinations and pregnancy vaccinations such as whooping cough (pertussis), are still available. Don’t delay them because of the pandemic.

The flu shot is particularly encouraged as we head into winter. While it won’t reduce your risk of COVID-19, it does help protect you from influenza and its complications, as it is still possible to contract both viruses at once.

Call your medical practice or pharmacy in advance to make an appointment. Make sure you mention your age, as the type of flu vaccine you need depends on your age group. There can be shortages of vaccines from time to time, so double-check that the one you need is in stock. Some workplaces have previously offered flu shots, so it might be worth checking with your employer if this is still taking place.

Medicines

If you usually take medicine regularly, it’s important to keep taking your medicines as prescribed by your doctor, or as advised by a trusted health professional such as the practice nurse, dentist or pharmacist. Ask their advice if you have any concerns.

 

I’m worried about sitting in my GP’s waiting room during the COVID-pandemic. Is it safe?

Rest assured that your local practice has taken and continues to take the necessary steps to keep you and the community safe.

Practices around Australia have changed the way they operate, from offering telehealth consultations (via phone and internet) to implementing distancing and extra hygiene measures in the practice itself. The practice will advise you whether you need to come in or not when you call to book an appointment, or provide information on their website if you book online.

If you have any other questions or concerns, contact and speak to the practice manager or secretary.

 

I have a chronic condition that puts me in a ‘high risk’ category during the COVID-19 pandemic. Should I be going to the GP for in-person visits?

If you have a chronic condition, regular check-ups with your GP will help pick up any potential issues and complications before they have a significant impact on your health. Therefore, it is important you continue to keep in touch with your doctor if you have a chronic condition such as diabetes, heart disease, or a mental health disorder, during this time.

GPs are still able to continue regular reviews both in person and through telehealth consultations. Don’t delay your regular chronic disease or mental health reviews, even if they seem trivial and you feel well. If you are worried about visiting the practice, you can book a telehealth consultation first and your doctor can advise you if you need to be seen in person.

For people with chronic conditions

For veterans

 

I am due for routine cancer screening, should I go ahead with it?

It is important that you continue to participate in any national screening programs that you are eligible for. This includes cervical cancer, breast cancer and bowel cancer screening.

Cervical and breast cancer screening need to be done in person. Bowel cancer screening can be done at home using the test kit that is sent to those eligible. Find out more about the bowel-cancer-screening test kit from the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program website.

Occasionally, additional testing may be required if an abnormality is picked up. Your GP can advise you how best to do this, and whether you need to attend the practice in person or if you can follow up in a telehealth consultation.

Note that mammograms for routine breast cancer screening were temporarily suspended but are now gradually returning to service. Contact BreastScreen Australia in your state or territory to find out more.

Although skin checks and screening for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) aren’t part of a national screening program, they are still important if you are at risk, so speak to your doctor to find out more.

It is also important to remember that screening means looking for something such as cancer in people who have no symptoms. If you notice any new or changing symptoms, such as a new mole or lump, you need to see your doctor so that your symptoms can be assessed in a timely manner.

 

I’m feeling really anxious at the moment but I have never spoken to a health professional about mental health. What steps can I take?

Your mental health is just as important as your physical health, and the pandemic has presented new and unfamiliar challenges which may be difficult to deal with alone. If you are feeling anxious or depressed, speak to your GP, as there are a number of options and resources available to help you. If you do not have a regular GP, get in touch with your local GP clinic.

NPS MedicineWise resources

Other reliable information

 

I’ve heard that vitamin D can protect me from COVID-19. Is this true?

Maintaining adequate vitamin D levels is important, regardless of the COVID-19 pandemic. In Australia, almost 25% of the population is vitamin D-deficient, and those at greatest risk include the elderly, people who are house or hospital-bound, people with darker skin, people with certain conditions , such as obesity and inflammatory bowel conditions, and those who take medications, such as antiepileptics, that may affect the way the body makes and stores vitamin D. If you are concerned about your vitamin D levels, speak to your GP for guidance.

Vitamin D is produced by the skin on exposure to sunlight. The lockdown restrictions during the pandemic mean that many people are probably spending more time indoors than usual. To make sure you get enough vitamin D, you need to spend around 15–20 minutes outdoors every day when the UV index is low (usually before 11 am and after 4 pm).

There has been research emerging about the potential of vitamin D to protect those with COVID-19 against poor outcomes. We will have more information about this, based on the latest research, soon.

If you are not deficient in vitamin D, taking supplements is unlikely to do you any good or to protect you against COVID-19.