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    This Is The Best Way To Support Your Immune System, According To A Dietitian

    With the COVID-19 pandemic, most of us are trying our best to keep our loved ones and ourselves safe and protected. From wearing masks to washing our hands regularly to social distancing, we each have to do our part to flatten the curve. And while we’re doing everything we can to protect ourselves from the outside, we should also dedicate time to getting our immune systems in fighting shape.
    “If it’s not already a focus of family life, this is actually an ideal time to prioritise nutrition and health,” says Retha Harmse, a Registered Dietitian and spokesperson for ADSA (Association for Dietetics in South Africa). “As lockdown restriction levels fluctuate; we will have more freedom of movement, but also more risks of contracting COVID-19. Eating a balanced diet plays an important role in maintaining health and supporting the immune system, as well as all the body’s vital systems.
    A balanced diet is the best immune support
    We’ve all seen the Whatsapp group messages that tell you to eat or drink various foods, medicinally-used plants or nutritional supplements as ‘immune-boosters’, treatments or even ‘cures’. But many (if not all) of these are misinformed and have no scientific evidence that can help protect you from the virus.
    “Of course, everyone would like to minimise their risk for contracting COVID-19, however, there is no simple quick fix to boost our immune system to guarantee that we won’t be infected. Simply put, you cannot ‘boost’ your immune system through diet, and no specific food or supplement will prevent you from contracting COVID-19. Good hygiene practice and social distancing remain the best means of avoiding infection,” explains Retha.
    READ MORE: COVID-19: Here’s How Risky Normal Activities Are, According To Doctors
    Maintaining a healthy balanced diet made up of different foods that provide a spectrum of nutrients that include copper, folate, iron, selenium, zinc and vitamins A, B6, B12, C and D is the very best way to support immune function.
    “In addition to a healthy balanced diet, a generally healthy lifestyle is also important to support your immune system,” says Retha, “This means not smoking, exercising regularly, getting adequate sleep and very importantly, minimizing stress, which is very intense at this time.”
    Enjoy a variety of foods
    Although certain foods might be a bit harder to come by, don’t fall in the trap of eating only certain foods. Variety also means including foods from two or more food groups at each meal.
    Support local businesses like Yebo Fresh who deliver fresh fruits and vegetables straight to your door. There are also options for you to donate to families in need.
    Be active
    Regular, moderate exercise is very beneficial for getting outdoors, stress relief and improved immune function. Try some of these lockdown ideas:
    You don’t need big spaces for cardiovascular exercise — running up and downstairs is great; as is skipping, and skipping ropes are inexpensive cardio tools.
    Download exercise apps for daily workouts.
    Similarly, there are many physical activity videos, including dance, martial arts and yoga, available on YouTube (check out our selection of workouts while you’re there).
    If you have a closed-in garden or courtyard-type space, play physical games such as handball, bat and ball, mini-cricket or mini-soccer as a family or couple, combining fun, bonding and exercise.
    READ MORE: How Can I Tell If My Symptoms Are Allergies, Or A Possible COVID-19 Infection?
    Make starchy foods part of most meals
    Choose whole grain, unrefined foods to add more fibre, vitamins and minerals to your diet. Good options to choose are whole-wheat pasta, multigrain Provitas or cracker bread, brown rice and bulgur wheat.
    Eat plenty of vegetables and fruit every day
    This can be challenging while we are under lockdown and want to avoid frequent shopping.
    Choose fresh, whole fruit that is naturally longer lasting such as apples, pineapple and citrus fruits.
    Eat fruits as snacks and desserts. Add sliced fruit or dried fruit to your cereal, muesli or yoghurt.
    As some fresh vegetables don’t last long, blanche or cook them on the day of purchase and then freeze for later use.
    Root and bulb veg options such as carrots and turnips, onions, garlic and ginger are longer lasting.
    Frozen and canned vegetables are also good options.
    Eat dry beans, split peas, lentils and soya regularly
    Dried legumes are not only good substitutes for meat, fish, eggs or cheese, but can also be used as affordable ‘meat extenders’ to make meals go further.
    Have milk, maas or yoghurt every day
    Maas and yoghurt will last longer in the fridge than fresh milk. For more long-term milk options buy long-life milk, skim milk powder or evaporated milk.  Fresh dairy products can also be frozen.  Eat yoghurt, with added fruit, as a snack between meals instead of a packet of chips as this contributes to the day’s nutrient intake and does not contain excess fat and salt.
    Fish, chicken, lean meat or eggs can be eaten daily
    Stock up on tinned fish options such as tuna, pilchards, and sardines. And meals such as quiches and omelettes are an easy and tasty way to use up vegetables that might spoil soon.
    READ MORE: Are COVID-19 Outcomes Worse For People Living With HIV?
    Drink lots of clean, safe water
    This is perhaps the easiest time to get into the habit of drinking enough water because you are confined to one space. Keep a bottle of water nearby so that you can stay hydrated throughout the day.
    Use fats sparingly
    Choose vegetable oils rather than hard fats, and always use only a little, as fats are high in energy but provide relatively few nutrients.

    READ MORE ON: Health Health Advice Healthy Eating Tips More

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    Get A 5-Star Hotel Sleep At Home With These Simple Tips

    A couple weeks before lockdown, I spent a night at The Westin Cape Town to experience their World Sleep Day package. The Westin is a five-star hotel located right next to the Cape Town International Convention Centre and a two-minute walk from those iconic Foreshore high-rises. Many guests are in town for meetings and conferences where they’ll need to be on top of their game. So the Westin takes sleep very seriously. They celebrated World Sleep Day like it was a holiday, right down to reception staff in nightgowns. It was hilarious. Until four-months into SA’s 21-day lockdown when all I could think about was that glorious hotel sleep and why I didn’t treasure it more at the time. Fortunately, it is possible to simulate the experience at home. Use these tips to (finally) get a good night’s sleep during lockdown.
    READ MORE: This Is The Effect Lockdown Is Having On Your Sleep, According To New Studies
    1/ Start with your bed…
    One of the reasons a hotel sleep is so blissful is the bed. The Westin hotel chain has its own signature bed (The Heavenly® Bed) that’s been specially designed to promote deep, restful sleep – from the supportive, padded mattress with its individual pocket springs to the high-thread-count linen. Like I said, they take sleep very seriously. Assuming you don’t have €3 000 to shell out on your own Heavenly® Bed, upgrade your existing one with bedding. Use a fitted sheet that fits your mattress well and won’t come loose. Similarly, your duvet cover should fit your duvet well. If you can’t afford to splurge on a new mattress, splurge on a pillow that offers good support.
    READ MORE: This Might Just Be The Best Type Of Pillow For Every Sleeper
    2/ Set The Temperature For Sleep
    To ensure a good night’s sleep, the room should be a little on the chilly side. Even in winter. This prevents you from overheating during the night, causing you to sweat and toss and turn, which disturbs your slumber. At a hotel you can simply set the air con (I usually opt for a cool 18 degrees). If you don’t have an air con at home, mimic a climate-controlled hotel sleep by cracking the window open slightly. You want it just wide enough for that wintery air to cool the room, but not so wide that it feels like you’re sleeping in a fridge! While you’re at it, make sure your room is properly dark. Light signals your body to wake up and we don’t want that. So you chose your curtains for aesthetic appeal rather than blackout capability? Get a soft, comfy sleep mask.

    The Silk Lady Sleeping Mask
    R 395

    3/ Scent Of Dreams
    At The Westin we got little bottles of lavender oil in the room. Lavender has long been used to promote sleep and relaxation and a number of small studies suggest there could be some truth to this old home remedy. In any case, drifting off to the sweet smell of lavender makes you feel like you’re experiencing an indulgent hotel sleep rather than just a regular Saturday in your own creaky bed.

    Lavender In Lavender Hill Essential Oil
    R 75

    4/Restful Eating
    Ever had a really heavy meal right before bed and struggled to sleep? Or woken up with meat sweats? Not pretty. And, yes, I’ve totally been there. Instead, eat a light supper made with ingredients that promote sleep. Dairy products contain tryptophan, an amino acid that your body uses to help make the hormone melatonin and the brain chemical serotonin, both of which promote sleep and relaxation. If, like me, you have a problem with dairy, other sources of tryptophan include nuts, seeds, honey and eggs. I ordered a cheeseless omelette off the sleep section of the Westin’s room service menu. Yes, for supper. Yes, it was delicious. And I had a five-star hotel sleep that night.
    READ MORE: The 10 Best Sleep Apps To Help You Fall Asleep Faster And Sleep Through The Night
    5/ Start Early
    A good sleep starts before bedtime. You want to lay off the caffeine (the Westin provided chamomile tea) and limit alcohol. I failed on that count. My hotel sleep experience might have been even better had I not climbed into that delicious bottle of red wine in the mini bar. In lieu of a hotel spa treatment, treat yourself to a hot bath or shower just before bed. Cooling down afterwards mimics how your body temperature drops as you fall asleep and helps signal your body to nod off.
    READ MORE: Beginner Yoga Poses To Help You Sleep Better.
    If your mind is racing, try doing a mindfulness exercise to ground you in the moment and clear those racing thoughts: try a guided meditation app like Headspace or do a gentle, restorative yoga practice, focusing on your breath.

    READ MORE ON: Health Health Advice Sleep More

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    Are COVID-19 Outcomes Worse For People Living With HIV?

    South Africa has the biggest HIV epidemic in the world, with close to 8 million people living with the disease. With South Africa having recorded over 373 628 cases of COVID-19 positive cases so far, it’s no surprise that there have been questions around how the virus plays out in those living with HIV.
    New research – considered to be the largest study of a group of people who were both living with HIV and hospitalised with COVID-19 – looked to answer this question. According to the study, being HIV positive does not pose a bigger risk for worse COVID-19 outcomes.
    Why you shouldn’t worry
    The worst had indeed been assumed when no research into this had been done at all, and while the scientists don’t necessarily know why, they found that patients living with well-controlled HIV in their study population didn’t have any worse outcomes compared to a similar comparison group. The scientists did mention that more research would need to be done to confirm this.
    READ MORE: Everything You Need To Know About HIV As A Woman: Latest News, Treatments, Breakthroughs
    “In conclusion, we found no differences in adverse outcomes associated with HIV infection for hospitalised COVID-19 patients compared to a similar comparison group,” the study concluded.
    “Verification of this finding in other large cohorts is warranted to improve understanding of the impact of COVID-19 on people living with HIV. If confirmed, investigation of specific factors contributing to similar outcomes in this large group of patients with immune disturbance may provide greater insight into the pathogenesis of SARS-CoV-2.”
    What you need to know
    If people living with HIV have been anxious about what contracting COVID-19 would mean for them, this study should ease their fears.
    “I’m telling [my patients] ‘look, take standard precautions, but there’s no reason to live in fear that having HIV is causing you to be more likely to die from COVID,” Dr Keith Sigel, lead researcher for the study, said in a statement.
    “Although this, to date, is the largest study that’s been published that has a comparison group, many of the studies without comparison groups have shown a similar finding – that is reassuring.”
    HIV awareness and education organisation Avert offers some other important points people living with HIV should take note of:
    Current evidence suggests that HIV is less of a risk factor for severe COVID-19 than other health conditions.
    People living with HIV not on treatment or virally suppressed may be at a greater risk.
    As with the general population, older people living with HIV and those with other underlying conditions should take extra precautions to prevent illness.
    Try to have at least 30 days’ supply of ART in your home. If possible, ask for three months.
    The new list of underlying conditions that up your risk
    The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention recently published a newly expanded list of underlying conditions that put individuals at an increased risk of getting severely ill from COVID-19. This came after the organisation reviewed published reports, pre-print studies and several other sources of data. Here’s the updated list:
    Chronic kidney disease
    Type-2 diabetes
    COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease)
    Obesity (BMI of 30 or higher)
    Immunocompromised state (weakened immune system) from solid organ transplant
    Serious heart conditions, such as heart failure, coronary artery disease, or cardiomyopathies
    Sickle cell disease
    The CDC also included a list of other conditions that might increase an individual’s risk of severe COVID-19 illness:
    Cystic fibrosis
    Neurological conditions such as dementia
    Liver disease
    Pulmonary fibrosis
    Type-1 diabetes
    Cerebrovascular disease
    They clarified that these lists are living documents that may be updated at any time as the science evolves.
    New isolation guidelines for South Africans
    The minister of health, Dr Zweli Mkhize, announced that the recommended isolation period for someone who tests positive for COVID-19 is now 10 days and no longer 14 days.
    “The presence of a detectable virus when testing does not imply infectiousness – it has been proven that in mild cases, virus cultures are generally only positive for eight to nine days after symptom onset,” Dr Mkhize said in his statement.
    “The duration of infectiousness in patients with severe disease is less well established. In general, patients with severe disease may continue to shed the virus at higher levels for longer periods than patients with mild disease.”
    The new guidelines go as follows:
    An asymptomatic patient can end isolation 10 days after testing.
    A patient with mild disease can end isolation 10 days after the onset of the symptoms.
    A patient with severe disease can end isolation 10 days after clinical stability has been achieved.
    READ MORE ON: Coronavirus COVID-19 Health Health Advice Health News HIV More

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    Your Postpartum Periods Might Be Heavier And More Irregular Than The Ones You Had Pre-Pregnancy

    So you just had a baby, and life is pretty different and all about feeding schedules and new sleeping habits. Through all that new mama craziness (and joy!), you prooobably have a ton of questions about the weird body stuff happening to *you* in those first months, too. Example: WTF is going on with your postpartum periods?
    Your body will be adjusting back to not being pregnant for the first month or two after giving birth, and you’ll experience pretty consistent bleeding. But that’s not actually your period returning to its pre-baby schedule. The first period after pregnancy will likely take a couple of months to get back on track, though it varies from person to person, and on whether or not you’re breastfeeding. And in some cases it may be different than your periods were before pregnancy.
    Ahead, an ob-gyn explains everything you should know about postpartum bleeding, and what to expect from that first real period after pregnancy.
    The immediate bleeding after you have a baby isn’t actually your period, FYI.
    While it might feel like you’re having one long period (and using a *ton* of pads) after giving birth, the bleeding you experience is not actually your period. This post-birth bleeding, called lochia, is your uterus shedding all of the lining that was built up during pregnancy. “The blood, mucus, and discharge that makeup lochia can last up to six to eight weeks after birth,” explains Dr. Kameelah Phillips, an ob-gyn and founder of Calla Women’s Health.
    Lochia can ebb and flow (pun intended) during this postpartum period, Dr. Phillips says. It tends to start out red in colour, and then progress to pink, and then turns to a yellowish-white colour. After that progression, which typically takes a month and a half or two, you may notice your period returning, which will generally be back to bright red or the colour you’re used to seeing. Or, in other cases, it’ll take longer before you menstruate again.
    When your actual period returns may depend on breastfeeding.
    “The return of your menstrual period depends on the individual, and regularity of breastfeeding,” Dr. Phillips says. Sometimes, the longer you breastfeed, the longer it takes for your period to return to schedule. That’s because breastfeeding releases a hormone called prolactin, which can send a message to the brain to delay the hormonal process of ovulation (because you’re literally feeding a baby at the moment).
    “Lactational amenorrhea, which is the absence of the period due to breastfeeding, can last up to a year or longer, depending on the individual,” adds Dr. Phillips. Some people consider lactational amenorrhea a form of birth control (that is if your baby is under six months, doesn’t eat solid foods or formula at all, and you don’t start getting your period), but it’s *not* considered a secure method of preventing pregnancy.
    Other people will get their period back quicker, even if they do breastfeed. Your period doesn’t typically affect your milk supply, Dr. Phillips says (but, if you’re struggling with milk production or with feeding, it’s best to contact your ob-gyn, who can refer you to a lactation consultant). It does mean that as soon as your period returns, you can get pregnant; you’ll likely start ovulating regularly as soon as your period is back on schedule.
    When your first postpartum period does arrive, you can expect it to return to what it was like before you had your baby, though potentially a little heavier.
    Initially, your first postpartum period might be heavier, especially if you had a C-section, Dr. Phillips says. The uterus may still be shedding its lining from pregnancy, so there might be additional blood.
    There is not usually an increase in pain with your postpartum periods, though, Dr. Phillips says. The period of lochia discharge usually involves cramping, as your uterus is contracting and returning to its regular size. But often, your actual period, once it arrives, will be about the same in terms of pain, cramps, and PMS symptoms as it was before you gave birth (unfortunately for some people).
    In terms of regularity, you’ll most likely experience regular periods after birth, Dr. Phillips says, with a cycle of about 21 to 35 days in length (or whatever “regular” means for you). But this, too, can fluctuate based on breastfeeding; sometimes your period will stop and start a few times before getting back to normal. Your second period after birth will tend to be more like your pre-pregnancy periods in terms of flow and length, however.
    You can typically get back on birth control six to eight weeks post-delivery if you want to.
    Getting back to birth control really depends on you and what birth control you were on (or weren’t on) before getting pregnant. But it’s entirely possible that after lochia ends, you could bounce right back and get pregnant again within the first couple of months of giving birth — whether you plan to or not.
    If that’s not something you’re trying to do, talk with your ob-gyn about birth control options. “We typically start birth control six to eight weeks after delivery,” says Dr. Phillips, “but depending on the patient, we may initiate birth control immediately postpartum.” It’s entirely individualized to the patient — you have to decide what works for you, whether or not you want to use hormonal birth control, and how you’d like to space out births if you want more children.
    It’s important to have a thorough conversation with your health care provider about postpartum birth control, because it will affect your menstrual cycle and may change your bleeding patterns, too, Dr. Phillips adds.
    Ultimately, there’s a wide range of what’s considered “normal” for both postpartum bleeding and your first real periods after pregnancy.
    There’s usually no reason to worry if your periods don’t look or feel totally like what you were used to pre-baby. But if you experience any of the below symptoms, it’s a good idea to check in with your doc.
    Heavy bleeding. It’s common to experience heavier bleeding within the first couple of weeks after birth. However, if the heaviness continues beyond that six-to-eight week period, give your health care provider a call.
    Large clots. Passing clots is also normal, but if clots are accompanied by abnormally heavy bleeding and are larger than a walnut, it could be cause for concern, Dr. Phillips says. Pay attention to the heaviness of the blood as well as the size of the clots.
    Bleeding through multiple pads. You’re going to be using quite a few pads, both during the lochia period and once you start your period. But if you need two pads at a time post-birth (during lochia or once your period starts back up) and are still bleeding through them, talk to your doctor.
    Lightheadedness or fainting. If you’re feeling particularly weak, lightheaded, or experiencing fainting during the postpartum period, it might be due to the heavy bleeding. This could be a sign of anaemia, so check in with your ob-gyn to have a blood test.
    The bottom line: Most women start to menstruate again about a month and a half to two months postpartum, though it can vary and depend on breastfeeding. Your periods may initially be heavier and more irregular, too, but will likely return to what you experienced pre-pregnancy.
    This is article was originally published on 

    READ MORE ON: Health Health Advice Menstruation Periods More

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    This 60-Second Hack To Make Your Face Mask Fit Better Is Going Viral On TikTok

    Wearing a mask in public is basically the norm these days (or at least, it should be). But let’s be real, surgical masks aren’t perfect. Namely, they can have a loose fit and allow potentially infected particles to get to your nose and mouth.
    Well, dentist Dr. Olivia Cuid, has a hack for making surgical masks fit better over your face, and it’s genius. (BTW: This can work for cloth face masks, too.)
    Cuid shared the hack in a TikTok that’s already racked up 395,000 views. With a surgical-style mask, “the sides of your face are left very exposed to the outside,” Cuid points out. So, she recommends this trick:
    Fold your mask in half
    Tie a knot with the ear loops on each side as close as possible to the mask
    Open up your mask
    There will be a little opening on the sides next to the ear loop, so tuck that in underneath the ear loops on each side
    Wear your (better-fitting) mask
    “In absence of N95s, this might be a good alternative,” Cuid says, showing how the mask fits well against her face.
    People low-key freaked in the comments. “Wait this is so helpful thank you for sharing!!” one wrote. “What a clever idea,” another said. “Me and my pea head thank you!” someone else chimed in.

    @oliviacuidmdHighly requested 60s version of my viral mask hack ##fyp ##doctorsoftiktok ##masktutorial ##covid19 ##viral ##maskhack ##learnontiktok♬ original sound – oliviacuidmd

    Cuid’s TikTok is already making the rounds. Katie Couric shared it on Instagram, and Kristen Bell reposted it, too.
    BRB: Gotta go work on some masks…
    This article was originally published on 

    READ MORE ON: Health Health Advice More

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    So, Is COVID-19 Actually Airborne Or Not?

    Recently, the conversation around COVID-19 has been centred on how the virus is spread. While it was initially thought that the virus is not airborne, that sentiment has slowly been changing, with mounting evidence pointing to the airborne nature of the disease.
    This came after a letter, co-signed by 239 scientists and engineers, was published in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases, calling for public health agencies, including the World Health Organisation (WHO), to consider the possibility of the virus being airborne.
    In their letter, they wrote:
    “We appeal to the medical community and to the relevant national and international bodies to recognise the potential for airborne spread of COVID-19. There is significant potential for inhalation exposure to viruses in microscopic respiratory droplets at short to medium distances (up to several metres, or room scale), and we are advocating for the use of preventative measures to mitigate this route of airborne transmission.”
    The letter went on to say that this is a matter of urgency now as countries are starting to ease lockdown regulations.
    The WHO’s position
    The WHO has confirmed that airborne transmission can happen in healthcare settings where specific medical procedures, called aerosol-generating procedures, generate very small droplets called aerosols. As for the general public, it’s not yet 100% certain.
    READ MORE: COVID-19: Here’s How Risky Normal Activities Are, According To Doctors
    “Outside of medical facilities, some outbreak reports related to indoor crowded spaces have suggested the possibility of aerosol transmissions, combined with droplet transmission, for example, during choir practice, in restaurants, or in fitness classes,” the WHO said.
    “In these events, short-range aerosol transmission, particularly in specific indoor locations, such as crowded and inadequately ventilated spaces of a prolonged period of time with infected persons cannot be ruled out.”
    What if it is airborne?
    The letter clearly outlines that airborne transmission is especially acute in indoor or enclosed environments, particularly those that are crowded and have inadequate ventilation relative to the number of occupants and extended exposure periods.
    “For example, airborne transmission appears to be the only plausible explanation for several super-spreading events investigated which occurred under such conditions and others where recommended precautions, related to direct droplet transmissions, were followed,” the letter says.
    READ MORE: How Can I Tell If My Symptoms Are Allergies, Or A Possible COVID-19 Infection?
    They agree that there is incomplete evidence, but add that there is more than enough supporting evidence so that the precautionary principle should apply. Their suggested precautionary measures (over and above those already existing) include:
    Provide sufficient and effective ventilation (clean outdoor air, minimise recirculating air) particularly in public buildings, workplace environments, schools, hospitals and aged care homes.
    Supplement general ventilation with airborne infection controls such as local exhaust, high-efficiency air filtration and germicidal ultraviolet lights.
    Avoid overcrowding, particularly in public transport and public buildings.
    It might not be clear whether an airborne transmission is something to be concerned about as yet, but with a virus as unpredictable as this one, taking precautionary measures more seriously, including avoiding indoor spaces with a lot of people in them, should be the order of the day.
    Russia completes pre-clinical trials for COVID-19 vaccine
    Just recently, Russia’s Vektor State Research Centre for Virology and Biotechnologies announced that it had successfully completed pre-clinical trials of a vaccine for COVID-19.
    “Colleagues have finished pre-clinical trials [and] they were successful. We practically have all the grounds to be sure that things will go as we promised [meaning] that we plan to begin clinical trials on July 15,” Anna Popova, chief of the Russian sanitary watchdog, said on Friday.
    READ MORE: 7 Ways To Make Sure Your Salon Visit Is Safe During Lockdown
    This announcement was widely celebrated across the world, including South Africa, with citizens taking to Twitter to share how ‘excited’ they were about the prospect of finally putting an end to the pandemic. But the minister of health Dr Zweli Mkhize quickly reminded South Africans that the road ahead is still long.
    “You have to do work at the laboratories, do research, move to animal studies, and it passes that, you have to move to a human trial,” he said in a statement.
    “The same trial is going on in the US, UK, Brazil and other countries. We’re not yet at a point where we’ve got a vaccine ready – it is good news, but it is still a work in progress and it’s still early days.”
    SA could have vaccine as early as 2021
    One of the 19 vaccines being tested on humans globally is happening right here in South Africa. Led by professor of vaccinology at the University of Witwatersrand Dr Shabir Madhi, it’s believed that if everything goes as planned, the vaccine could be ready early 2021.
    “A vaccine could be made commercial as early as the beginning of next year, but it is completely dependent on the results of the clinical trials.”

    READ MORE ON: Coronavirus COVID-19 Health Health Advice More

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    How Can I Tell If My Symptoms Are Allergies, Or A Possible COVID-19 Infection?

    Allergy season is upon us! And having to deal with the heightened symptoms while also dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic can be both daunting and anxiety-fuelling. So, it’s not weird to have a few questions about allergies right now…
    Fortunately, the Allergy Foundation of South Africa recently hosted a webinar specifically dedicated to answering questions around allergies and COVID-19 with paediatrician and allergologist Dr Candice Royal. Let’s look at some of the most important take-outs from the conversation.
    Q: How can I tell if my symptoms are from my allergy or a possible COVID-19 infection?
    Dr Candice Royal: “Some allergy symptoms overlap with the symptoms of COVID-19. If you’ve got nasal congestion, a sore throat and a cough, you might think you have COVID-19. This is why it’s always important to make sure your rhinitis is under control and that you prioritise taking specific measures to ease your allergy symptoms so you can limit the diagnostic confusion.”
    Q: My allergies make wearing a mask uncomfortable. Is there an alternative?
    DCR: “Just to go over the basics – a mask is worn mostly to prevent your droplets from being spread to other people. So, the primary intention isn’t to protect you, but to protect others. It’s a very important public health measure to reduce infection.
    “But should you find wearing a mask difficult, the alternative that could be considered is wearing a visor/face shield instead.
    “The real question is probably why your allergic rhinitis is out of control and whether there are any simple adjustments to your treatment plan that could further ease your symptoms. I’d suggest getting in touch with your doctor and going over everything again to make sure your management treatment is as efficient as possible and to also make sure you don’t have excess allergen exposure.”
    Q: I carry an EpiPen for my allergy. If I get a severe form of COVID-19 and go into respiratory distress, would the use of my EpiPen help my breathing like it would during anaphylaxis?
    DCR: “An EpiPen is an adrenaline auto-injector and its role is to offer emergency treatment following exposure to an allergen that has produced a severe reaction. It works by giving you a quick dose of adrenaline, which helps to shut off that allergic reaction.
    “So, this is an entirely different mechanism to the respiratory distress that’s caused by illnesses such as COVID-19. Unfortunately, an EpiPen is not going to help should you have respiratory symptoms of another cause – it is specifically for treating anaphylaxis or severe reactions.”
    Q: I have eczema and sanitisers are proving to be an issue for my skin because of the frequent use. What can I do to make this better?
    DCR: “Consider washing your hands with water and a glycerin soap more often than using a hand sanitiser. Of course, as you go into shopping malls or to work, you often have to use a hand sanitiser, and should that be the case – make sure to use emollient cream immediately afterward.
    “Carry emollients with you everywhere you go so that you can make sure that your hands are always being moisturised after using a hand sanitiser.”
    READ MORE: 9 Doctor-Approved Products That Will Help Relieve Your Eczema
    Q: My son was supposed to start peanut desensitisation just before lockdown, but we’ve put a hold on it for now. Is there a timeframe for this in terms of age?
    DCR: “It does seem that the younger you are when you start that process, the more effective it is. But we don’t have an age limit per se. We have seen teenagers go through this process successfully. But the earlier you start, the better.”
    Q: Is there a specific diet that can help with asthma and allergies during this time?
    DCR: “In terms of asthma, there isn’t a specific diet that we recommend. Obviously, if you’ve got a food allergy then you’re going to exclude that specific food type from your diet. But in terms of a healthy diet, it’s not anything complicated. It’s about having a diet with a wide variety of good fruits and vegetables and consuming adequate sources of all the essential macro and micronutrients.
    “We can’t recommend a specific diet for people with asthma and allergies – it’s just about applying general health measures that would apply to the general population.”
    Q: I have idiopathic anaphylaxis [severe allergic reactions with no obvious cause] and suffer attacks three to four times a year. I’m often prescribed steroids and antihistamines for long periods after each episode – do these medicines increase my risk for COVID-19?
    DCR: “It does appear to be the case that steroids can make one more vulnerable to getting infections in general. However, we don’t yet have good evidence that being on steroids makes one more vulnerable to a COVID-19 infection, or a more severe case of COVID-19. We do [however] have evidence that people on steroids may shed the virus for longer.
    “Remember that it’s always better to be on your controlling medication than not, so if that’s the medication you need, it’s advised that you stay on it and not wean yourself off it.”
    Q: I have allergies to paracetamol and anti-inflammatories and I’m worried that if I get COVID-19, it will be difficult to treat. What should I do?
    DCR: “Having an allergy to medications doesn’t make you more vulnerable to either infection or severe COVID-19. But when you have allergies to the medications that we commonly use to treat the symptoms, I’d advise that you speak with your doctor to find an alternative.”
    Q: How should I approach the treatment of my allergies, generally?
    DCR: “It’s important to understand that allergic disorders don’t occur in isolation and need to be treated holistically. They have an impact on one’s entire emotional, psychological and physical wellbeing. For example, having eczema is not just having a skin disorder – it has huge implications on how one feels. Itching and scratching all the time makes one feel irritable, restless, unable to get quality sleep, exhausted and so on.
    “So, it’s important – especially in these anxiety-filled times – to understand that you shouldn’t only focus on the physical management of your symptoms, but also prioritise looking after your emotional and psychological health.”

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