Dr Miriam explains what underlying health problems are and who is at risk

With so much new advice and the ever-changing situation with coronavirus, it can be very confusing.

Here, Dr Miriam Stoppard answers your questions on everything from self-isolating to risk groups and future plans…

We are told deaths relating to coronavirus are people with underlying health problems. Can you clarify what these might be?

Brenda Tiley, 69, from Luton

Underlying health problems mean any chronic medical condition such as heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, lung disease, kidney disease and liver disease.

Cancer and cancer treatments like chemotherapy would also make a person vulnerable. These conditions put a strain on the immune system and make the body less resilient, so you should follow all the advice the Government has given us – e.g. self-isolating, not mixing with people, not going out and not travelling.

I’m 73 and have had three heart attacks but feel healthy, should I self-isolate? I also had Asian flu in 1957, will I still have the antibodies from this and will they protect me against Covid-19?

Frank Robinson, Swinton, Manchester

Despite feeling healthy, your three heart attacks put you in the vulnerable group, so you should self-isolate. I wish I could say having Asian flu in 1957 would protect you but I’m afraid it won’t. Each virus is specific and the only thing that would protect us is a specific vaccination for Covid-19.

My daughter and daughter-in-law are pregnant. Both are going to work from home but are pregnant women more at risk from this virus and are there any precautions they should be taking?

Tina Wallman, 60, Camberley, Surrey

Pregnant women are always considered a special group that requires special attention. In this outbreak, that doesn’t change.

In fact, the Chief Medical Officer has put pregnant women into the “vulnerable” group, alongside older people and those that have underlying medical conditions.

So if your daughter and daughter-in-law can, I suggest they self-isolate, stay in their homes, do not mix with other people and do not go outdoors unless necessary.

I’m 71 with underlying health conditions and I play golf regularly. Should I carry on while avoiding physical contact with playing partners, and avoiding the bar and clubhouse? I enjoy the fresh air and exercise.

Peter Sidebotham, Stalybridge, Cheshire

It’s great that you play golf to keep fit but if you have underlying health conditions I wouldn’t advise you continue to play – there will always be mixing with other people and you’d be exposed to contaminated surfaces.

If there’s any way you could play entirely on your own, without any contact with others, it might work. If this isn’t possible you should stop playing golf altogether for the time being.

When should you call NHS 111?

Those experiencing coronavirus symptoms, such as a cough or fever, should self-isolate for 14 days.

You should stay at home if you or or anyone in your household has a high temperature or a new and continuous cough – even if it’s mild.

  • Everyone in your household must stay at home for 14 days and keep away from others
  • DO NOT go to your GP or hospital.
  • Go to NHS.UK to check your symptoms and follow the specialist medical advice.
  • Only call 111 if you can’t get online, you feel like you can’t cope at home, or your symptoms do not get better after the seven days.
  • If you are pregnant you should call 111 if you have any concerns about yourself or unborn baby during self-isolation.
  • Pregnant women are advised to contact their midwife, out-of-hours helplines or a maternity team who will provide information on whether you need to go to hospital.

I have mental health disorders including depression, as well as underlying physical health conditions. I’m worried I’ll become more depressed, anxious and vulnerable if I self-isolate. Should I stop going out because of coronavirus already, and what can I do if I do to help my mental health?

Name withheld

I’m very sympathetic but with your medical background you’d be well advised to self-isolate and put in place some things that could protect you from loneliness.

First, I think you should make a resolution to Skype family or friends at least once a day. Phoning a friend a couple of times each day would help as well. Be more active on social media platforms and engage with your online friends. Make sure you’re eating a healthy diet, not too much coffee, no alcohol – and get a good night’s sleep.

Is delaying the spread the best policy? Won’t it just prolong people’s anxiety?

Ian Mussett

Delaying the spread is the strategy to take pressure off the NHS. There are downsides and you describe one of them. I don’t think anyone will relax until we hit a peak of some sort.

As it happens, it might not be possible to delay the spread. The Government may have acted too late with restrictive measures. To my mind, we should be going further, as they are in France and Spain, with almost total lockdown. It worked in Wuhan and South Korea. Why aren’t we doing it?

I’m 65 with type 2 diabetes and on insulin. I’ve had an aorta valve change and I’m on blood thinners. I have high blood pressure too. I’m due to look after my granddaughter if her school closes but would that be wise?

Alan Bebb, Runcorn, Cheshire

With all your medical complaints, you’re vulnerable. I think you should be self-isolating, only going out to shop for food or get your medication. I don’t think it is a good idea to look after your granddaughter, she’ll probably be OK but she might carry the virus to you. The latest advice is not to even meet up with your family.

My wife and I are in our 70s and she has chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. We have a holiday booked for June 20. I have paid a deposit and need to pay the balance in April to keep the holiday. Should I?

Graham Newnes, Rutland

The NHS has stopped advising coronavirus patients to take ibuprofen amid concerns the anti-inflammatory painkiller could only make things worse.

A statement read: “There is currently no strong evidence that ibuprofen can make coronavirus (COVID-19) worse.

“But until we have more information, take paracetamol to treat the symptoms of coronavirus, unless your doctor has told you paracetamol is not suitable for you.

“If you are already taking ibuprofen or another non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) on the advice of a doctor, do not stop taking it without checking first.”

I don’t think so. The Government’s guidelines say because of your age, you and your wife fall into the vulnerable category – especially as she suffers from COPD. This means you should self-isolate, not travel and not mix with other people, like eating out in cafés and restaurants. It’s a shame but I think you’ll have to lose your deposit.

I’m 78 and my wife is 68 and she is susceptible to pneumonia. We’ve recently moved and don’t have any friends or relatives close by. In the case of self-isolating, we’ll have no one to help. What should we do?

Roger Baber, Bideford, Devon

You could stay in touch by phone, Skype, WhatsApp and social media. By doing this you speak to someone every day. You can also keep your family and friends alert to feeling unwell and they can help you get support.

You or your family could phone the local council to see if there’s a service that would do your shopping. I know it’s hard because a lot of us are going to feel bereft in the coming months but we just have to do what we can.

What’s the best way to help your immune system cope with the virus?

Ray Baguely, 82, Newport

There’s nothing you can do from the outside to boost your immune system. The only way would be to have a vaccination so your immune system produced antibodies specifically against coronavirus. Exposure to the virus could stimulate your immune system to produce those antibodies itself.