Run on masks, pharmacists to be on Coronavirus alert


The Chief Medical Officer has urged pharmacists to find out their patients’ travel history and consider referring them to GPs, if there are concerns about the novel Coronavirus

Dr Christopher Freeman, national president of the Pharmaceutical Society of Australia, said the organisation is urging pharmacists to be aware of the Australian Government updates on the novel Coronavirus.

He confirmed to the AJP that Dr Brendan Murphy requested that the PSA send information about the condition to its members, and “take precautions”.

As at the time of writing on Tuesday afternoon, the CMO’s advice was that, “I am encouraging pharmacists, in coming weeks, to seek a travel history from such patients, asking them whether they have been in the Hubei province of China (including the City of Wuhan) or whether they have been in contact with people with the coronavirus infection”.

“If the answer is yes, please ask your patient to put on a surgical mask and present to their GP or Emergency Department (after first phoning ahead to warn them that they are coming).

“Clinically nearly all cases have fever, associated with other respiratory symptoms including cough and shortness of breath.”

As at 11.30am on Tuesday, a spokesperson for NSW Health stated that four cases had been confirmed in that state, with another six cases under investigation. A case was also confirmed in Victoria.

As at 1.30pm that day, Fairfax media was reporting that the number of deaths confirmed in Hubei province, China has reached 100, with 2,714 cases now confirmed. 

In confirming the first Australian case last week, Dr Murphy said it was “not unexpected” that Australia would see some cases of the novel coronavirus.

He said that Australia was “very well prepared” though the community of health professionals was “still in a learning curve” about the virus.

“In terms of the Australian public unless you have been in close contact with someone who is unwell and has come from that part of China, there is no need for current concern,” Dr Murphy said on Friday.

“There is no evidence that this virus is being transmitted at all in Australia. But clearly our message is for people who have come from that part of China in in recent weeks who do develop any symptoms particularly: fever, cough, shortness of breath, vomiting, often flu like symptoms and maybe they may just have the flu but to call ahead to their doctor or their hospital nearby to warn them and to come in and get checked out.”

On Monday, AMA president Dr Tony Bartone told Sky News Live’s Kieran Gilbert that all individuals who had been confirmed to have contracted the illness were “stable”.

 

Masks head for shortage

As reported in various media including Reddit – where a thread on a subreddit about life in Sydney featured a picture of a Chemist Warehouse security doorman wearing a sign warning that face masks had sold out – there has been a run on face masks at pharmacies.

Chemist Warehouse security doorman wearing sign saying face masks are sold out
This Chemist Warehouse has run out of face masks. Image: Reddit

Several respondents said that face masks were sold out in the Sydney suburbs of Burwood, Macquarie Park, Penrith, Parramatta, Windsor, Richmond, Top Ryde, Strathfield and Rhodes.

Meanwhile one Redditor said that, “I work at a chemist here in Sydney and some Chinese customers actually said they were shipping them back to their relatives back in China.”

“One of the challenging issues at this point in time for pharmacists is the availability of standard surgical face masks with severe challenges in supply to community pharmacy from major wholesalers and other suppliers”, the PSA’s Dr Freeman confirmed.

We are in close contact with the Department of Health to address this issue as a major priority.”

Fairfax media also reports that RACGP president Dr Harry Nespolon has called on the Federal Government to “urgently” provide face masks from its stockpile, saying that GP surgeries were getting ready for a potential “surge” of cases.

NSW Chief Health Officer Dr Kerry Chant has urged parents of children who have had contact with a confirmed case of the Coronavirus to keep their children home from school, which goes back this week in that state.

She said that any child who has been in contact with an individual known to be infected must not attend school or childcare for 14 days after the last contact with the person.

“14 days represents the internationally recognised incubation period for the disease,” Dr Chant said.

“After this time the child is considered to be not be at risk of infection.”

Students who have travelled to Wuhan and Hubei during the school holidays can return to school but should be carefully monitored for symptoms of coronavirus infection. 

“The most common symptom is a fever,” Dr Chant said.

“Other symptoms include, cough, sore throat and shortness of breath.”

Anyone who exhibits these symptoms should be isolated immediately from other people and seek medical attention as soon as possible, she said.

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