Why is everyone buying toilet paper and when should you get tested for the novel coronavirus — these are the questions Australians are asking this week, according to Google Trends.
As the outbreak continues, you’re asking the internet how to protect your health and that of your families.
And it turns out, a lot of you are confused about the skyrocketing demand for dunny roll. Let’s see if we can put some of these questions to rest.
1. Why has Italy got coronavirus so bad?
Italy has so far been the epicentre of the novel coronavirus outbreak in Europe.
This week, the country announced nation-wide travel restrictions in an attempt to halt the disease’s spread among its population of 60 million people.
Italy’s battle with the disease began in earnest when a man was diagnosed with COVID-19 in the country’s north about two weeks ago. Testing quickly revealed more cases throughout the Lombardy region.
More than 600 people have so far died in Italy, but why the nation has been so badly affected is still under investigation.
A number of public health experts have suggested the virus could have been circulating undetected well before the first diagnosis, or the country could be testing more than its neighbours.
The comparatively mature-aged population of Italy has also been put forward as a possible factor in its death rate, as it appears the virus can be more dangerous for older people and those with pre-existing conditions.
2. Why is everyone buying toilet paper?
Social media has been inundated with videos of shoppers rushing to grab packs of toilet paper off the shelves. There have even been fights and police warnings.
But why toilet paper, and why so much? It’s unlikely there is just one cause of the panic buying. Instead, a few things are happening.
Australians have been told by health experts to stockpile about two weeks’ worth of supplies in case of quarantine — food and medication, for example, so it makes sense to add a few extra rolls.
In a lot of people’s minds, health is about cleanliness, and we don’t want to deal with the alternatives if we run out of supplies for the bathroom.
Brian Cook, who works on the Community Engagement for Disaster Risk Reduction project at University of Melbourne, told The Conversation it may be one way people react to stress.
“Stocking up on toilet paper is also a relatively cheap action, and people like to think that they are ‘doing something’ when they feel at risk,” he said.
Or it could just be because it’s such a visible item at the supermarket, according to Alex Russell of Central Queensland University’s School of Health.
We see a huge pile of white rolls someone else’s trolley, and we don’t want to miss out.
Media reporting about empty shelves also likely contributed to the feeling of panic and scarcity.
3. When to get tested for coronavirus?
There are two things doctors take into consideration when it comes to deciding whether you need to be tested: your symptoms and your history (the likelihood that you have been exposed to the illness).
Symptoms of novel coronavirus can feel like a cold or flu and include:
- a dry cough
- sore throat
- a runny nose
- shortness of breath
- diarrhea and nausea have also been reported but are less common
At this stage, testing is recommended only for those who have symptoms and may have encountered the illness. This includes people who have returned from overseas within the last 14 days or those who have been in contact with someone known to have the illness.
If you are concerned that you or someone in your family may have coronavirus symptoms and should get tested, then it’s best to call coronavirus health information hotline on 1800 020 080 for advice.
This hotline has been expanded to a 24/7 operation that will triage people to a fever clinic or suggest they phone their local GP for follow up.
If you are going to you visit your doctor, call ahead. This will ensure the clinic can take steps to protect staff and other patients, and also check whether you’re likely to be at risk.
Doctors may ask if you’ve recently been in countries affected by coronavirus, such as mainland China, Iran, South Korea or Italy, or if you have been in contact with someone who has a confirmed or suspected case of the disease.
“It is important that [the individual] calls ahead of time to book an appointment and tell the medical professional about their symptoms, travel history and any recent close contact with someone who has COVID-19,” said a spokesperson from the Department of Health.
If you do go to get tested, ask your doctor what precautions to take — whether you should wear a mask, for example.
4. Where to get tested for coronavirus?
The COVID-19 test can be ordered by a specialist coronavirus clinic, your local GP or a hospital emergency department.
The Federal Government has announced plans to create up to 100 coronavirus pop-up clinics across the country.
But these testing facilities vary state by state, so it’s best to first be in touch with the coronavirus health information hotline on 1800 020 080 for advice.
Testing methods may include a blood test, a swab test inside your nose or in the back of your throat, or a sputum (mix of saliva and mucus) test.
Remember, you may still need a GP referral before attending new clinics, so be sure to check first.
Medical and mental health staff will soon be able to bulk-bill sessions conducted over video conferencing services like FaceTime, Skype and WhatsApp.
5. When will the coronavirus end?
Unfortunately there isn’t a clear answer to this question.
Modelling by Australian scientists, including James McCaw a the University of Melbourne, may hold some clues.
He said it was likely COVID-19 would become a permanent, seasonal disease in humans after this initial epidemic.
“Just as for [2009 swine flu], the virus will cause a large initial epidemic, perhaps followed by subsequent waves of infection, and then reduce to low levels,” Professor McCaw said.
“But it is unlikely to truly disappear, just like seasonal influenza doesn’t truly disappear each year.
“This is different to SARS — which we truly eliminated because we successfully controlled it before it could fully establish itself in the human population.”
But other experts have differing views.
“My personal opinion and my hope is that …. [the COVID-19 outbreak] will disappear with time, rather than becoming established in the population,” William Rawlinson, senior medical virologist with NSW Health Pathology told the ABC last week.
WA Premier Mark McGowan has said modelling indicated coronavirus would be spreading in Australia in April or May, and the peak of the epidemic would happen in August, and Professor McCaw said these time frames were consistent with the models he’s been working on.
6. Should I get tested for coronavirus?
See question three for more details.
7. How to get tested for coronavirus?
See question four for more.
8. Where did coronavirus come from?
In late December 2019, doctors began seeing a new type of viral pneumonia – involving fever, cough and difficulty breathing – in people who worked at or visited a wet market in the suburbs of Wuhan in China.
At first, it was thought that those who caught it did so directly from the market, where the first cases were traced to.
We now know these pneumonia cases were caused by a new type of coronavirus which has since spread to more than 100 countries.
The virus probably originated in bats and then came to humans via another intermediary animal, but researchers still aren’t sure which.
The new virus is closely related to severe acute respiratory syndrome or SARS, which broke out in 2002, but it has differences, hence its official name, severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2, or SARS-CoV-2.
9. How long does coronavirus last on surfaces?
It’s a question a lot of people have been asking, and science is starting to give us a clearer picture of the answer.
One study that brought together data from 22 previous studies on coronaviruses (but not this new 2019 strain) found human coronaviruses could theoretically last on surfaces at room temperature for up to nine days.
That sounds like a long time, but a lot of factors come into play, tweeted Angela Rasmussen, a virologist at Columbia University in the US.
Some of these factors include:
- The type of surface: Viruses survive on shiny, hard surfaces longer than soft ones
- Whether it’s exposed to sunlight: UV radiation kills viruses
- Temperature and humidity: Viruses last longer at lower temperatures and lower humidity
The study concluded that disinfecting surfaces with 0.1 per cent sodium hypochlorite or 62–71 per cent ethanol significantly reduced the infectivity of coronavirus on surfaces, and that the authors expected a similar effect against the SARS-CoV-2.
Another crucial way to avoid getting infected from touching a contaminated surface? Keep your hands clean and don’t touch your face. Here’s a reminder on how to wash your hands effectively.
10. How long does the coronavirus test take?
Testing methods for the coronavirus may include a blood test, a swab test inside your nose or in the back of your throat, or a sputum (mix of saliva and mucus) test.
This won’t last long, but the time it takes to get results may vary according to your location.
A Department of Health spokesperson said the timeframe depends on where the specimen is collected, among other factors.
Patients are asked to isolate themselves while waiting for a result.
The recommendations about testing and quarantine are being updated daily as the situation evolves.