How the coronavirus experience may be with us for years to come

Dr Craig Dalton
Dr Craig Dalton

The impact of efforts to flatten the coronavirus curve may be felt for years to come and could also affect the spread of some other common diseases, one of Australia's top public health physicians believes.

Dr Craig Dalton said many people may not yet be aware of the psychological impact of self-isolation and social distancing.

"We have deep-seated reptilian brain responses to ideas of disease. We don't know how much effect this (social distancing) has had on us," Dr Dalton, a Newcastle-based public health physician said.

"I suspect every time someone has thought about shaking hands or not shaking hands over the last month or so, that's had a deep-seated impact in their mind whether they are aware of it or not. When we think the coronavirus crisis is over, I suspect that (memories of social distancing) will still be there and people will think differently about shaking hands."

At the same time, work done to stop the spread of coronavirus may slow or change the pattern of how some other flu-like illnesses spread in the community.

"It might mean that we have a spill over of some bugs that have a sharper rise in the middle of winter. They may not be spreading in the May-June period they may only spread in the July- August period, but it may be at a lower level too due to social distancing," he said.

In addition to viral illnesses, Dr Dalton said he was also expecting to see a decline in cases of sexually transmitted diseases such as gonorrhea and chlamydia as a result of increased social distancing.

Dr Dalton who is also the coordinator of FluTracking, the national online surveillance system for tracking symptoms of COVID-19 and flu in Australia and New Zealand.

Participants have recorded historically low respiratory and cold-like symptoms in recent weeks.

Dr Dalton said social distancing appeared to have decreased the transmission of many different types of respiratory virus - the rate of people with cough and fever has plummeted.

"The social distancing the community have taken up leads to less opportunities to transmit virus between people, so few people are infected and fewer people get sick. The rapid social distancing by the general community may have averted a public health disaster," he said.

"We mustn't relax our vigilance, but these initial findings are early reassuring signs that social distancing is working. We have to continue with strong social distancing measures and aggressive case identification, contact tracing and isolation as well."

Numbers of participants in the FluTracking survey has surged as people all over the country rally to contribute to the control of COVID19 in Australia. Five thousand new people have joined the survey in the last two weeks. Over 60,000 responses are being received in Australia each week and over 40,000 in New Zealand, with researchers expecting the numbers to pass 120,000 in the coming weeks.

The Deputy Chief Health Officer of Australia has encouraged all Australians to join FluTracking to help track the spread of flu and COVID-19 at www.flutracking.net

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This story How the coronavirus experience may be with us for years to come first appeared on The Canberra Times.