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Am I at risk of getting coronavirus?

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Coronavirus (COVID-19) is increasingly spreading outside of China and taking hold across the globe. Early March, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced that the novel coronavirus has infected more than 90,000 people across 65 countries. WHO has confirmed 277 cases of coronavirus in the UK. The novel coronavirus is a virus that causes flu-like symptoms such as fever and fatigue. Although the novel coronavirus has been getting a lot of attention because of its pandemic potential, the good news is that no less than 80% of infected patients recover without medical help. However, groups that are at increased risk of infection should be extra careful. We’ll help you estimate the risks.

Age plays a role

In general, older people are more likely to be infected. This has to do with quality of the immune system and its effectiveness. People with a healthy lifestyle and fit body tend to have stronger immune systems. This is true for people of all ages, including older people.

Heart patients have extra reasons to be alert

Based on early reports, 40% of hospitalised COVID-19 patients in China had cardiovascular disease. Whether they are also more prone to infection has not been confirmed. Virologist Van der Eerden of Erasmus University Medical Center (Erasmus MC) in Rotterdam suspects they are. Other sources, including Harteraad, the centre of expertise for patients with cardiovascular disease, state that heart patients with coronavirus are more likely to develop complications; not that they are more likely to be infected with coronavirus. The risk of complications occurs because the diseased heart has to work harder to get oxygenated blood throughout the body, and because the virus can increase the chance of heart attack.

Immunosuppressant drugs

Patients who take medication that suppress the body’s immune system (immunosuppressants) appear to be more likely to become ill due to coronavirus. This doesn’t mean they are likely to become infected faster or easier, but they do develop symptoms sooner. Immunosuppressants are used to treat patients with many different conditions and diseases, such as rheumatism and Crohn’s disease. Discontinuing medication is strongly advised against. However, it is important to pay extra attention to basic hygiene and hand-washing practices.

No additional risks

If you are pregnant, have a lung disease or condition (e.g. asthma, COPD, respiratory failure) or spleen problems, then you are not likely to be at greater risk of coronavirus, according to Van Gorp, Professor of Clinical Virology at Erasmus MC in Rotterdam.

When are you likely to get coronavirus?

If you have symptoms of the flu, there’s no reason to panic. According to the Dutch National Institute of Public Health and the Environment (RIVM), you are only at risk if you have specific symptoms and have also been in an area with high risk of coronavirus or have been in close contact with someone with coronavirus. RIVM guideline:
• You have a fever in combination with respiratory symptoms, such as shortness of breath and coughing, and
• You have been in one of the countries or regions with high risk of coronavirus in the past two weeks (China, Singapore, South Korea, Iran, northern provinces of Italy) OR have been in contact with a patient with the novel coronavirus in the last two weeks.

Do you suspect you may have been infected? Then contact your GP or NHS 24 by telephone. They will be able to advise you. At present there is no vaccine against the novel coronavirus. An antimalarial drug that has been on the market for many years, chloroquine phosphate, appears to have a certain curative effect on the novel coronavirus.

Preventing infection

It goes without saying that everyone should take basic protective measures against the new coronavirus. These basic measures are:

• Wash your hands with soap and water regularly.
• Keep a distance of at least one metre from people who are coughing or sneezing.
• Avoid touching your face, specifically your nose and mouth, with unwashed hands.
• Use paper tissues.
• Cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze. Cough and sneeze on the inside of your elbow.

WHO stresses that the use of jet-air hand dryers, UV lamps and alcohol-based hand sanitisers and gels does not prevent coronavirus infection. If you feel unwell, contact your employer and discuss the possibility of working from home to avoid infecting others and to monitor your own health.

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RIVM. (2020, 2 March). Vragen & antwoorden nieuw coronavirus (COVID-19). (Novel coronavirus (COVID-19) questions & answers). Consulted on 2 March 2020 on

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