A Kiwi diagnosed with cancer has shared advice on how to self-isolate while living with others and what precautions immunocompromised people should take.
The Government has announced that people travelling into New Zealand, except from the Pacific Islands, have to self-isolate for 14 days.
This has sparked many questions on how self-isolation works and how to deal with it when more than one person lives in a home.
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Auckland man, Earle Wilco, 44, moved to Island Bay, Wellington, from Shanghai when he was diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL) last December.
"Mid-cycle, my immune system drops and I become very susceptible to infections, colds and flu," he said.
He has had to self-isolate during these times while living with his friend and his two children, aged 11 and 14.
After seeing a friend in Wellington seeking advice on how self-isolation works, Wilco has shared his knowledge through his own experiences, which also includes self-isolation during a norovirus outbreak in 2005.
"Self-isolating in a house share is particularly tricky, but it can be done if all the housemates pull together," he said.
"My suggestion for someone returning from overseas who has to self-isolate in a house share situation is this:
"1. Inform everyone of your arrival time so they can clean the house. Make it clear that you'll need help with food shopping and even cooking sometimes, set up bank transfers with all housemates so you can pay them if you ask them to buy you stuff. Set up a special house WhatsApp group chat.
"2. Once home, stay in your room as much as possible. If there's more than one bathroom in the house, have one dedicated only to you, this will remove a lot of cross-contamination potential. Likewise, keep your own sheets, towels and cutlery separately. (If you can't have a dedicated bathroom, make sure you wipe down all surfaces with disinfectant after you use it).
"3. If you have to be out of your room when others are around, wear a mask, wash your hands, and wipe down surfaces that you touch.
"4. Food can be delivered to your bedroom door. They knock, walk away, you retrieve it.
"5. Make sure you have a digital thermometer, and check your temperature regularly. If it gets above 37.5, call your GP or after-hours clinic, outline your situation and wait for advice."
Wilco's advice is very similar to the advice given by the Ministry of Health and other disease experts including University of Otago epidemiologist Professor Michael Baker.
"It's not home detention - people can wander around the streets and get some exercise. The thing is about not infecting other people if you might be in the early stages of incubating this infection," Baker previously told the Herald.
During his chemo self-isolation periods, Wilco said he follows all these guidelines along with more.
"I try to time cooking and using shared spaces when everyone is out," he said.
"This is as much for my safety as the safety of my housemates, as when you're doing chemo, you're awash with toxic chemicals which come out in your body waste."
Wilco said the precautions he is taking now because of the Covid-19 outbreak are the same as he uses when his immune system is low.
This includes limiting travel, staying away from groups of people, sticking to his room whenever possible, eating healthy, washing hands frequently and keeping his distance with others.
Meanwhile, Wilco said he hasn't had any problem with Covid-19 as he left China before the outbreak. However, his wife is stuck in China.
"She went back to Anhui Province for Chinese New Year and got caught there with the city lockdowns, so she was in quarantine for about 50 days, only allowed to leave the house once a day for supplies," he said.
"She has just got back to Shanghai last week and has to self-isolate for another 14 days.
"We also have a lot of friends in Wuhan, so we get lots of information and advice. The stories are frankly heartbreaking."
His last piece of advice was for people not to panic.
"It is a pandemic and it is taking lives, it needs to be taken seriously, so the best thing people can do is limit close personal interactions and practice good hygiene."
According to the Ministry of Health, those who are underlying medical conditions, such as a compromised immune system, liver disease, cancer, kidney disease, heart disease and diabetes mellitus, need to take more precautions to protect themselves from Covid-19.
It recommends immunocompromised people to take the following simple steps to protect yourself and others:
• Avoid close contact with people with cold or flu-like illnesses.
• Cover coughs and sneezes with disposable tissues or clothing.
• Wash hands for at least 20 seconds with water and soap and dry them thoroughly:
- before eating or handling food
- after using the toilet
- after coughing, sneezing, blowing your nose or wiping children's noses
- after caring for sick people.
There are also additional measures that immunocompromised people should take:
• Avoid staying with a person who is self-isolating (because they are a close contact of a confirmed case of Covid-19 or have recently travelled to any country except those listed in the countries and areas of concern under Category 2.)
• Stay at least 2 metres away from people who are unwell.
• Checking safe travel advice about Covid-19 if you plan overseas travel.
• Those who take immunosuppressive drugs we advise that you do not stop this medication without first consulting your GP or specialist.
The Ministry of Health also recommends unwell family members and friends to avoid contact with those who are immunocompromised.
It said at this time, it wouldn't make sense for someone who is immunocompromised to wear a mask when in public to decrease the risk for catching Covid-19.
But if your health care provider advises you to wear a mask when in public areas because you have a particularly vulnerable immune system, follow that advice.
Self-isolation during norovirus outbreak
Wilco also shared his experience during a norovirus outbreak while he was working in Japan in 2005.
Norovirus is a very contagious virus that causes vomiting and diarrhoea. It is also easily spread to others.
Wilco revealed he had to self-isolate in a hotel after he was infected with the virus by a colleague in Tokyo.
"The hotel basically arranged for the same staff to deal with my room.
"They would come and knock on the door, and I would go into the bathroom so they could clean the suite, then they would leave and knock on the way out, so I would leave the bathroom and go to the bedroom, then they would come back in and clean the bathroom.
"Meals were left at the door, and colleagues would also come and bring snacks, knock on the door and walk away.
"This is what made me realise that self-isolating in a house share situation, while tricky, is entirely doable with the support of your housemates."