Ajankohtaista: koronavirus

Basic information about respiratory diseases and the coronavirus.

 

COVID-19: information sources

More information about the novel coronavirus is made available every day and authorities publish new guidelines and recommendations. In Finland, the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) constantly monitors the situation and provides instructs on what to do and how to protect yourself.

 

Developing the coronavirus disease

What to do if you have symptoms

Check up-to-date instructions on the THL website. The instructions are updated frequently. The general rule is simple: if you get ill, stay at home. If you have mild flu symptoms you should stay at home until you are healthy. This allows healthcare staff to work in peace and concentrate on the more severe cases. 
 

Contacting healthcare services

Telephone services are currently very busy. You should only call healthcare services if home care is not working. A suspicion of a coronavirus infection alone is not sufficient reason to call emergency services or a health center. 

You can use the following electronic symptom checker services online:

When do I need to seek medical attention?

If you suffer from shortness of breath that will not go away (with inhaled medications used to treat your pulmonary disease) and your overall condition gets worse, you should seek medical attention. 

How do I contact healthcare services?

Always start by calling your local health center, your occupational healthcare provider or the medical helpline number 116117. Contact instructions are available on the website of your municipality. Instructions vary by municipality. The emergency number 112 is intended for emergencies only and should be reserved for those in need of immediate help. Employers provide workplace-specific instructions in accordance with THL’s recommendations. 

Telephone helpline and chat

  • The medical helpline at 116 117 will refer you to the correct healthcare provider and provide self-care instructions if you cannot wait for your local health center to open. The helpline is available 24/7. 
    The national telephone service 0295 535 535 does not give health advice and should only be contacted for general information about the coronavirus. Questions are also answered via chat.

 

Risk groups

Everyone who has a pulmonary disease should exercise special caution. 

The more risk factors a person has, the greater the risk of developing a more severe form of the coronavirus disease. 
According to THL (20 April), pre-existing conditions that significantly impair the functioning of the lungs, heart or immune system may increase the risk of developing a severe coronavirus infection. Risk factors include:
  • age of over 70
  • chronic pulmonary disease with poor treatment balance
  • chronic severe cardiac disease
  • diabetes with target organ damage
  • chronic liver or kidney insufficiency
  • chronic disease that weakens the immune system, such as lymphoma
  • medication that severely weakens the immune system.
If necessary, your attending physician will assess whether your pre-existing condition puts you at an increased risk of developing a severe coronavirus infection. 
The coronavirus disease may be more severe than a regular flu for people who have a pulmonary disease.
The severity of a pulmonary disease affects the severity of COVID-19. A pulmonary disease with poor treatment balance increases the risk of developing a severe coronavirus infection, especially for the elderly. If your asthma has a good treatment balance and your lung function is normal your risk of developing a severe form of the disease is not as high as for people who have reduced lung function due to, for example, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, bronchiectasis or lung transplantation.
Although the severity of a person’s pulmonary disease affects the severity of a coronavirus infection, age is a significant risk factor: the greatest number of severe cases have been observed in people over 70 years of age, and people over 80 years of age are at the highest risk. So far, COVID-19 has only caused mild forms of the disease in children. 
Other factors that reduce lung function and may increase the risks that a coronavirus infection poses to your health include:
  • morbid obesity (BMI over 40)
  • daily smoking, including electronic cigarettes.
At this time, there is little information available on the possible effects of COVID-19 on pregnancy and pregnant women, but current scientific evidence would seem to indicate that there are no great risks involved. However, it is recommended that pregnant women exercise special caution and avoid social contact if possible.

Is it possible for a person with a pulmonary disease to only get mild symptoms or will they need to be hospitalized?

People with a severe pulmonary disease are in the risk group. Follow the instructions you have received for exacerbations of your disease. Seek medical attention if shortness of breath does not pass with the help of medication.

I use asthma medication on a daily basis. Am I in the risk group?

Asthma that has a good treatment balance is a minor coronavirus disease risk factor.

Are people with sleep apnoea in the risk group?

People with sleep apnoea are not included in THL’s risk group list, if they have no related conditions. Sleep apnoea does not involve inflammation of mucous membranes, unlike conditions such as asthma.

Are people with a rare pulmonary disease in the risk group? 

Yes, especially if the pulmonary disease has a poor treatment balance.

Are smokers in the risk group?

Smoking reduces lung function and thus increases the health risks related to a coronavirus infection. It is a good idea to quit smoking. The Stumppi.fi service maintained by the Organisation for Respiratory Health in Finland provides online and telephone support to those who want to quit smoking.

Are people who use snus in the risk group?

People who use snus put their fingers in their mouth several times a day when placing snus in their mouth and taking it out. During the coronavirus epidemic, special attention should be paid to careful washing of hands not to infect yourself or others. Touching your face when using snus and insufficient hand hygiene increase the risk of infection. It is a good idea to quit using snus. The Stumppi.fi service offers support for quitting.

I have a severe pulmonary disease and I’m 76 years old. If I get the coronavirus disease will I be treated? 

No one is left without medical care. Everyone’s symptoms are treated, even though there is currently no medication available to treat the actual coronavirus disease.  

 

Prevention

How to prevent infections

The best way to avoid a coronavirus infection is good hand hygiene and common sense. It is important that people with respiratory diseases look after their general health, medication and other treatment in accordance with instructions provided by healthcare professionals.  

Wash your hands with soap for at least 20 seconds. Avoid shaking hands and cough into your sleeve or a tissue. Dispose of the tissue immediately after use. These instructions also apply to the prevention of other infectious diseases. 

How to look after yourself at home

If you have a pulmonary disease you should take your basic medication as instructed by your doctor. It is also recommended that you ensure that you have enough medication at home to last you for a month. At this time, there have not been interruptions in the availability of inhaled medicines. Respirators and face masks do not prevent you from getting infected with the coronavirus. The Organisation for Respiratory Health in Finland and Filha recommend that people with a respiratory disease get vaccinated for flu and pneumococcus.

People with a pulmonary disease should look after their immune system and general health. Regular exercise is important in the treatment of respiratory diseases. On the YouTube channel of the Organisation for Respiratory Health in Finland you can find a variety of exercise videos (in Finnish) to help you exercise at home.

Remind your friends and family that you are in the risk group. This means that they should also exercise special caution. 

I am allergic to pollen. How should I prepare for the pollen season?

You can prepare by purchasing your allergy medicine in advance. Now is the right time to start daily use of corticosteroid nasal spray. You should rinse your sinuses daily using a tool such as a neti pot. This allows nasal medicines to absorb more easily through the mucous membrane of your nose. You should prepare for the pollen season by purchasing antihistamine and eye drops if you need them for your symptoms.

How do I know whether my symptoms are related to my pollen allergy or the coronavirus? 

Symptoms caused by pollen allergy differ in part from symptoms caused by a coronavirus infection. Symptoms commonly experienced with pollen allergy include itchy eyes and allergic rhinitis, which are not typical symptoms of a coronavirus infection. Fever is a common symptom of COVID-19, but not a symptom of allergy. Shortness of breath and cough caused by a pollen allergy may resemble COVID-19 symptoms. You can use the symptom checker on the Omaolo.fi website to find out whether your symptoms resemble symptoms caused by the coronavirus. If shortness of breath becomes very uncomfortable and you get a fever, you should call your local health center. 

 

General information about the coronavirus

COVID-19, the infectious disease caused by the new coronavirus, may lead to complications for people with a respiratory disease (i.e. pulmonary disease) because their lung function is often reduced. A coronavirus infection causes inflammation in the lungs. Because COVID-19 is a viral disease, antibiotics are not effective against it and there is currently no vaccine available.

COVID-19 is a new disease and new scientific evidence becomes available constantly. Based on current estimations, the incubation period of the disease is 4–5 days on average and the individual variation is 2–12 days. The disease is usually mild in its initial stage and may become more severe in the following week. Symptoms of people who have COVID-19 include cough, shortness of breath, fever and related muscle pains and headaches. 

Can an asymptomatic person spread the coronavirus?

Yes, technically an asymptomatic person can infect others, but according to current knowledge the risk is very small. There may not be signs of a fever in the early stages of a coronavirus infection and symptoms can vary. There are known to have been asymptomatic people and people with mild symptoms who have spread the infection.

Who can get tested for COVID-19?

According instructions by THL and Finnish hospital districts, updated on 15 April, testing will be increased in Finland. At this time, all primary and specialized health care patients should be referred to COVID-19 tests if they have symptoms that could indicate a coronavirus infection or if there is reason to suspect a coronavirus infection based on a doctor’s assessment. Personnel working in critical fields, such as social services and health care, are also referred to tests if there is reason to suspect an infection. However, non-targeted testing of asymptomatic population is not practical or necessary at the moment. 

Learn more:

When is there reason to suspect a coronavirus infection instead of an ordinary flu? How can you tell apart an ordinary flu and COVID-19 with mild symptoms?

The severity of symptoms is individual. Symptoms alone are not enough to determine whether the cause of a respiratory infection is the coronavirus or another virus or bacteria. The only way to know for sure is to get tested.

Can COVID-19 cause symptoms similar to tuberculosis?

The symptoms of the coronavirus disease are similar to the symptoms of flu, but some symptoms, such as cough, respiratory symptoms and fever, resemble those of many other pulmonary diseases. The symptoms of tuberculosis are not exclusive to tuberculosis.

How long is the recovery time for COVID-19?

Current estimations indicate that depending on the severity of the disease recovery takes days or weeks.

How long do you stay infectious after symptoms have disappeared?

This is currently not known. THL urges anyone with flu symptoms to stay at home until all symptoms, including mild ones, are gone. 

Can you catch the coronavirus disease more than once? Is the disease more severe the second time?

Current scientific evidence suggests that people who have recovered from COVID-19 develop immunity to it. It is currently not known how long immunity lasts. It is possible to be infected again but the severity of the disease is not known.

If a pregnant woman is exposed to the coronavirus or develops COVID-19 does it affect the fetus?

The new coronavirus is not known to have been transmitted to unborn babies via their mother’s blood. Other forms of coronavirus (SARS and MERS) are also not know to have been transmitted via mothers’ blood to their unborn babies.

Does the coronavirus disease destroy lung tissue?

For some people who have developed COVID-19 the coronavirus has caused extensive lung tissue inflammation that may lead to permanent lung damage. According to current knowledge, the coronavirus disease may leave fibrosis in the lungs even after recovering from the acute disease. Long-term effects are currently unknown.

 

COVID-19 and sleep apnoea

If I get a coronavirus infection, how should I use my CPAP or APAP machine?

If possible, you should continue to use your CPAP machine even if you develop the coronavirus disease. The CPAP machine prevents pauses in breathing related to sleep apnoea and oxygen deprivation caused by such pauses. It is important that you get enough oxygen if you have COVID-19.

A CPAP machine may increase the risk of infecting family members. Therefore, a COVID-19 patient using a CPAP machine should be isolated from the rest of the family, if possible. In any case, people living in the same household with a person infected with the coronavirus have an increased risk of being infected. 

COVID-19 patients with sleep apnoea should always bring their own CPAP machine with them to the hospital. CPAP machines cannot be used to treat respiratory insufficiency caused by the coronavirus, but a CPAP machine can prevent pauses in breathing related to sleep apnoea and help secure enough oxygen during sleep. In hospitals, CPAP machine users may be placed in separate facilities to reduce the risk of infection.

Should I use a CPAP machine while awake if I have COVID-19?

No. It offers no benefits, because a CPAP machine keeps the upper respiratory tract open but does not help with actual respiratory insufficiency. The upper respiratory tract is always open when you are awake. Breathing is at its weakest when you are asleep, and a CPAP machine helps specifically with pauses in breathing during sleep.

 

The coronavirus, vaccines and medication

Does a pneumonia vaccination help with pneumonia caused by the coronavirus?

There is currently no vaccination available for the new coronavirus because the development of a vaccine has only just started. The immune system can become weaker after a viral infection, making it more likely that you could develop pneumonia. Pneumococcal vaccines prevent pneumonia caused by bacteria. A person may develop pneumonia after suffering from COVID-19. Pneumococcal vaccines are recommended for people with a chronic pulmonary disease in particular.

Should I use asthma medication if I get flu symptoms?

Yes, if your doctor has instructed you to do so. Asthma is a variable chronic inflammatory disease that affects the mucous membrane of the bronchial tubes and is treated with asthma medication. Asthma should always be treated according to self-care instructions. Untreated asthma that has a poor treatment balance is always a greater risk to the person’s health.

Can a person with asthma stop using corticosteroid medication? Do corticosteroids have an effect on COVID-19?

You should never stop using your medication without consulting your doctor first. Inhaled asthma medication is used to treat variable chronic inflammation of the mucous membrane of the bronchial tubes caused by asthma. You must not stop the use of your medication.

There is currently no extensive evidence on the effects of corticosteroids on the coronavirus. You should not start taking corticosteroids in tablet form unless instructed to do so by a medical professional. Some people with asthma may have a prescription for corticosteroids in tablet form intended for exacerbations of the disease. It is currently recommended that you do not take such medication without consulting your doctor first, unless you are absolutely certain that you are experiencing an exacerbation of asthma and not the coronavirus disease. 

Which is safer for COVID-19 patients, paracetamol or ibuprofen?

According to FIMEA’s experts, paracetamol is the recommended option. Doubts have been raised regarding the suitability of ibuprofen for COVID-19 patients, but there is currently little evidence on the matter. Paracetamol is known to be safe and its use is recommended. If you have been prescribed a regular anti-inflammatory drug do not stop using it without consulting a medical professional.

Should I hoard medication?

No. Excessive stockpiling of medicines at home ‘just in case’ is not recommended. Normal preparedness is enough. If people do not excessively stockpile medicines, there will be enough of them for everyone.

Are there any drugs that could help with the coronavirus?

There are currently no general medication recommendations for the coronavirus. Medication should be discussed with a medical professional on an individual basis.

Learn more:

COVID-19, sick leave and absence from work

Do people in the risk group need to go to work if remote work is not an option?

You should discuss the matter with your supervisor. This is a contractual matter between the employee and their employer. In some cases, it is possible to involve occupational healthcare in negotiations with your employer and agree on alternative ways of working or change of working conditions.

How can I get a sick leave note from a doctor if visits to health centers need to be avoided?

You should contact your supervisor and discuss whether you need a doctor’s note for sick leave in exceptional circumstances. If your occupational healthcare is provided by a local health center, contact the health center and ask whether it is possible to resolve the matter over the telephone. Some health centers and private healthcare providers / occupational healthcare offer remote services. 

 

Movement restrictions

Where can I go?

The Organisation for Respiratory Health in Finland recommends that, during the coronavirus epidemic, everyone with a pulmonary disease or in the risk group avoid contact with people other than those living in the same household, if possible. 

The restrictions are intended to protect those in the risk group. Follow official instructions and check them regularly as they may change.

 

The coronavirus and ventilation

Can ventilation help spread the coronavirus?

The purpose of ventilation is to introduce outdoor air into a building and remove impurities and moisture from indoor spaces. Efficient ventilation also reduces viruses in indoor air. This means that appropriate ventilation may reduce the risk of exposure to the coronavirus.

 

Other concerns related to the coronavirus

I’m concerned about my elderly relatives and friends. What should I do?

Instead of visiting people who are in the risk group, you should keep in touch with them by telephone or via the Internet. It is recommended that you ensure that your friends and relatives have their grocery, pharmacy and other such needs taken care of. You can deliver any groceries or other items they might need at their front door. 

If your elderly relatives insist on going to public places, continue to discuss the risk of exposure with them. Talk about official recommendations and convey your genuine concern for them. In the end, everyone makes their own choices.

What should I do if the discussion about the coronavirus starts to give me anxiety?

On the website of THL you can find instruction on how to look after yourself and your loved ones if news and discussion about the coronavirus give you anxiety. While at home, it is important to maintain a healthy lifestyle and good daily routines: eat healthy, sleep enough, exercise at home or engage in physical activity in nature, and stay in touch with your family and friends by phone and via the internet.

It is normal to feel sad, confused, scared or angry when facing exceptional circumstances.

Low-threshold crisis support:
  • Mental Health Finland: crisis support line 09 2525 0111.

People with a pulmonary disease should keep in mind the following instructions in particular:

  • Avoid physical contact with other people. Contact others by telephone.
  • Wash your hands and cough into your sleeve or a tissue. 
  • Do not shake hands.
  • Make sure to take your medication. 
  • Look after your general health. 
  • If your condition gets worse, stay home.
  • If shortness of breath does not improve with inhaled medication, contact healthcare services.
  • Follow instructions: www.thl.fi
  • Remind your friends and family that you are in the risk group.

 

Sources

Mervi Puolanne, Organisation Leader, Organisation for Respiratory Health in Finland
Tuula Vasankari, professor, Secretary General, Specialist in Pulmonary Diseases, Filha ry
Miia Aro, Senior Medical Advisor, Specialist in Pulmonary Diseases and Allergology, Filha ry
Tuuli Heinikari, Senior Medical Advisor, Specialist in Pulmonary Diseases and Allergology, Filha ry
Tuomo Oikarainen, Occupational Health Physician, coronavirus advice bot.

Hengitysliitto sosiaalisessa mediassa