Australians with flu-like symptoms should use masks: GP

Doug Hendrie

25/02/2020 4:04:32 PM

The calls from a GP who helped defeat SARS come after the Chief Medical Officer said there is no need for unaffected people to wear masks.

Person wearing surgical mask.
Should Australians with upper respiratory tract infections wear masks?

RACGP Victoria member Dr Chris Chau moved to Australia two years ago after working in Hong Kong for many years.
During the 2003 SARS outbreak, he was involved in public health efforts combatting the virus and later worked as the Senior Medical Officer at the Centre for Health Protection, which was established after the epidemic.
Dr Chau believes it is time for Australian people displaying flu-like symptoms to begin using the kind of anti-infectious disease techniques already commonplace in densely populated cities across Asia.
‘I have an impression that awareness of infectious disease in Australia is in general not very high,’ he told newsGP.  
‘It’s not just for [the person infected], but for the protection of others.
‘If [a coronavirus outbreak] happens in Australia, the first doctor in contact will likely be a GP. That means the risk is there.’
The calls come after Australia’s Chief Medical Officer Professor Brendan Murphy said there is no need for Australians who are well to wear face masks.
To date, Australia has had no person-to-person transmission of coronavirus, though new outbreaks are emerging in Iran, Italy, South Korea and Japan.
Health authorities are preparing for the possibility of the coronavirus becoming widespread in Australia, with planning for a potential pandemic under way.
Infectious diseases expert Professor Raina MacIntyre has warned that if the virus becomes entrenched, 25–70% of Australians could contract it. While the virus is mild for most people, the case fatality rate of 2–3% is considered high.
Dr Chau’s calls focus instead on patients with upper respiratory tract infections (URTIs), which include colds and flu, and would help tackle coronavirus if it began circulating in Australia.
Dr Chau recently treated two people with URTIs who coughed and sneezed in his clinic without wearing masks, potentially exposing him to an infection.   
‘In Hong Kong we automatically put on masks if we get symptoms of a transmissible disease. These measures are not being so commonly practised in Australia,’ he said.
‘Because we’ve had the experience of SARS in Hong Kong, people intuitively just try to gear up and do whatever they can.’
Dr Chau returned from Hong Kong in January, where he observed how the city was responding to the coronavirus fears. Mask use was common, as was social distancing.
Dr Chau said such measures would also be effective in Australia.
‘GPs could be saying we would like to see the public more aware of their wellbeing or to take more precautions,’ he said.
‘We can practice social distancing; if you’re sick with a cold or flu, why not stay home rather than mixing with others? Why not change a greeting ritual [to avoid close proximity]?’
Dr Chau acknowledges these types of small cultural changes are ‘easier said than done’.
‘But if GPs send these signals, it can let people know that, okay, it would be good to be more aware of their symptoms,’ he said.
Dr Chau has been wearing face masks in his consultation room since arriving back from Hong Kong.
‘With every patient of mine, I explained to them why I did that and tried to ask how they felt about it when I wear mask,’ he said. ‘They were quite positive about seeing me doing that. That’s the way to test how they feel about it.
‘Public education on this is important, especially since we don’t know who will contract coronavirus or pass it onto others.
‘This is a good opportunity to step up a little bit – not only for our health, but for other people.’  
The RACGP has more information on coronavirus available on its website.

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Dr David Zhi Qiang Yu   26/02/2020 12:11:45 PM

The reason of no person-to-person transmission of coronavirus in Australia is that we do not approve to test it by the Public Health Authority or we do not do it. There are many human-to-human transmissions in many part of the world including USA, Frances, Italy, South Korea, Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan and mainland. China, The new outbreaks are emerging in Iran, Italy, South Korea and Japan.

We are very unhappy Professor Brendan Murphy, Australia’s Chief Medical Officer who said there is no need for Australians who are well to wear face masks. We think that Professor Murphy is misleading the public and setting the wrong direction for the country in public prevention.

My other GP colleagues and I in our practice have wore mask and gown in the daily consultations for the last few weeks. We suggest to wear mask when we to go out in the public areas including but no limiting to on the train, bus, cinema, shopping centre.

Dr Natalie Alexandra Cook   26/02/2020 1:24:31 PM

I think it is a common sense and written everywhere in protocols for accreditation, RACGP guidelines that people with respiratory symptoms should wear masks, I always asks my patients with cough, respiratory infections to wear masks. Some of my patients admitted that they were embarrassed about wearing mask... I think we all should follow respiratory hygiene, since I was wearing mask I am no longer getting URTI/LRTI so as my family members, we always need to protect ourselves and other members of community to prevent spread of respiratory infections, it is shocking when other colleagues tell sick children with obvious URTI/LRTI that it is ok to go back to school and spread ''viral/bacterial'' inf via air droplet!

A.Prof Christopher David Hogan   26/02/2020 1:52:43 PM

There is no conflict- Dr Murphy says people who are well do not need masks
Dr Chau says patients with symptoms DO need to wear masks