COVID-19 or Coronavirus
Please note: Information about COVID-19 transmission is emerging daily. These recommendations are current as of the date of publication. Please consult resources such as the CDC and WHO for the most recent guidance.
What is the Coronavirus?
Coronaviruses are common throughout the world, causing illnesses ranging from the common cold to more severe respiratory illnesses. COVID-19 is a newly emerged member of this family.
While COVID-19 is new to us and research is underway, we are drawing on the knowledge we already have about similar coronaviruses as well as the experience of countries where the disease is now already entrenched. This allows doctors and virologists to be able to advise us how to help protect ourselves and our families against COVID-19.
Prevention of Transmission
The most common way this virus is transmitted is via tiny invisible droplets when someone coughs, sneezes or exhales. We can catch the virus by breathing in droplets from a person with COVID-19. Touching objects or surfaces (including hands) where the droplets have landed and then touching our eyes, nose or mouth can also spread the virus. (CDC, 2020)
This means simple but vital precautions will go a long way to help protect us against COVID-19 and other viruses.
- Frequent hand washing with soap and water for at least 20 seconds (sing ‘Happy Birthday’ twice). Alcohol-based hand sanitiser should be used when soap and water is not available.
- Avoid touching your face with your hands as the virus enters your body via your eyes, nose and mouth.
- Keep a safe distance (at least 1 metre) between you and anyone coughing, sneezing or showing any signs of illness to avoid exposure to any droplets should they cough or sneeze.
- Avoid unnecessary handshaking, hugging or kissing.
NB: Given low rates of transmission of respiratory viruses through breast milk, the World Health Organization states that mothers with COVID-19 can breastfeed.(WHO, 2020) Unicef also encourages mothers infected with COVID-19 to continue breastfeeding while taking the appropriate measures to reduce transmission of the illness, including wearing a mask when feeding or near the baby, frequent hand washing before and after handling the baby and disinfecting all surfaces. Should the mother be too ill to breastfeed, expressed breast milk can be fed to the baby. (Unicef) (La Leche League)
An early, but small study in China found no evidence of the COVID-19 virus in the breast milk of infected mothers.(Chen et al, 2020) These were also the findings of research into similar viral infections.(CDC,2020)
Breastmilk is important to protect the baby against illnesses, including COVID-19. It decreases the severity of illness and speeds up recovery should the baby become ill.
Human Milk Banking and COVID-19
COVID-19 is not expected to pose a risk to human milk banking or donor breast milk recipients due to the characteristics of the viruses and the routine safety measures in human milk banks.
- Viruses are generally very heat sensitive and studies have shown the complete heat inactivation of genetically similar viruses (Miriam et al) (Rabenau et al). All donor breast milk dispensed by Milk Matters undergoes pasteurisation (heated to 62.5°C for 30 minutes) to kill viruses and bacteria.
- A small, early study found no COVID-19 in breastmilk, and similar viruses were not found in breast milk in previous studies.
For more information please see the statement by HMBASA (Human Milk Banking Association of South Africa): ‘COVID-19: Breastfeeding and human milk banking.‘
What are the symptoms of COVID-19 infection?
The virus can cause mild, flu-like symptoms such as:
- Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
- Muscle pain
More serious cases can develop pneumonia and other severe respiratory illness.
Contact your healthcare provider immediately if:
- you develop symptoms similar to that of the flu after you have been in a high risk area for COVID-19.
- you have been in close contact with someone with COVID-19.
Ideally telephone ahead first to avoid contact with others at the doctor, clinic or hospital.
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