Expert Advice – COVID-19

Dr George Heriot PhD FRACP Infectious Diseases Physician

The emergence of the new virus causing COVID-19 disease has certainly been a cause for concern among health professionals and the general public.
There are a lot of worrying stories coming from other countries, and the course the disease will take in Australia remains very uncertain. It has all definitely taken the gloss off any exciting plans for the near future.

Although information is still emerging, it is possible to be cautiously optimistic about some aspects of this disease. It is very clear that large numbers of healthy young people have contracted this disease all around the world, but very few have had severe disease or even required admission to hospital. This also applies to pregnant women and those who have recently delivered, which is quite different to bad strains of influenza (such as the 2009 “swine flu”). Young children and infants seem to have particularly mild infection, with most having few symptoms, if any.

Because COVID-19 is still relatively new, not many women have delivered babies after being infected during pregnancy. The limited information we have is reassuring. Similar coronaviruses (SARS and MERS) have not caused poor pregnancy outcomes such as miscarriage, birth defects or premature delivery. Some small studies have already suggested that this virus does not infect babies in the womb, unlike zika virus. There is also no reason to think that any of the medicines or procedures used for assisted reproduction place healthy young women at any greater risk of getting the disease or having complications if they do become infected. Women with severe pre-existing medical conditions will need to discuss their individual situation with their medical team.

The best source of up-to-date, relevant and reliable information about COVID-19 is the Victorian Department of Health and Human Services website at https://www.dhhs.vic.gov.au/victorian-public-coronavirus-disease-covid-19.

The most important advice will remain the same: wash your hands, avoid touching your face, stay at home if you are sick, and remember to look after yourself while you are caring for others.

Dr George Heriot PhD FRACP
Infectious diseases physician