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HEALTH

France sets up online advice site for people worried they have coronavirus

France has launched a new website with advice for people worried they may have coronavirus.

France sets up online advice site for people worried they have coronavirus
The online test can offer advice on who needs to consult a doctor. Photo: AFP

The site, approved by the French health ministry, offers a way for people to get more information about whether they need medical attention or may be suffering from coronavirus.

France is currently not doing blanket testing of the population, and only people who fit a fairly narrow set of criteria are tested.

READ ALSO Coronavirus testing in France – how does it work and who gets tested?

Screengrab maladiecoronavirus.fr

France’s health minister Olivier Véran has admitted that the lack of widespread testing means that the number of confirmed cases in France – currently more than 16,000 – is a serious underestimate of the number of people who actually have it.

The test was developed as a medical guide, and to offer advice to people who are worried. Although the site cautions users that it does not offer a firm diagnosis and is not intended as a replacement for a medical consultation.

“The test is not a diagnosis, but rather a health assessment so that people know where to turn,” Dr. Fabrice Denis, a member of the newly established Digital Alliance Against COVID-19, which developed the test, told AFP.  

The site (which is in French) asks a number of questions about symptoms, whether people have a cough, a fever, fatigue, a loss of the sense of smell and other possible indicators of coronavirus.

It then asks for general health information such as age, height and weight and then assesses the risk of the patient by asking about underlying conditions such as diabetes, serious respiratory illness or any illnesses that suppress the immune system.

Based on your answers it then offers medical advice such as whether you should contact your doctor or an ambulance or whether you are not at risk.

The test can be accessed online here.

In general the medical advice is that if you believe you have coronavirus and have serious symptoms including difficulty breathing you should call the ambulance number – 15.

If you believe you have the illness but have less serious symptoms contact your usual doctor by phone, or set up an online appointment. Do not go to hospital or your doctor’s surgery, and try to avoid leaving your home if at all possible.

You can also get advice about non-medical matters from the coronavirus helpline – 0800 130 000.

Find the latest on the situation in France here.

 

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HEALTH

Where in France are there concerns about pesticides in drinking water

An investigation has revealed that tap water supplied to some 12 million people in France was sometimes contaminated with high levels of pesticides last year.

Where in France are there concerns about pesticides in drinking water

Data from regional health agencies, and collated by Le Monde, found that supplies to about 20 percent of the population, up from 5.9 percent the year previously, failed to consistently meet regional quality standards. 

The study highlighted regional differences in tap water quality. Hauts-de-France water was the most likely to be affected, with 65 percent of the population there drinking water contaminated by unacceptable pesticide levels. In Brittany, that level fell to 43 percent; 25.5 percent in the Grand-Est, and 25 percent in the Pays de la Loire.

Occitanie, in southwest France, meanwhile, showed the lowest level of non-compliance with standards, with just 5.1 percent of the region’s population affected by high pesticide levels in their tap water. However, figures show that 71 percent of people in one département in the region, Gers, were supplied with water containing high levels of pesticides.

Regional discrepancies in testing, including what chemicals are tested for, mean that results and standards are not uniform across France. Tap water in Haute-Corse is tested for 24 pesticide molecules; in Hauts-de-Seine, that figure rises to 477. 

One reason for regional testing standards are differences in local agricultural requirements.

Part of the increase in the year-on-year number of households supplied with affected water may also be explained by the fact that tests in many regions now seek to trace more molecules, Le Monde noted.

Water quality standards in France are strict – with a limit for pesticide residues set at 0.1 microgramme per litre, so the “high” levels found in tap water supplies may not represent a danger to health.

The question of the level of health risk to humans, therefore, remains unclear. The Agence nationale de sécurité sanitaire de l’alimentation, de l’environnement et du travail (Anses) has not defined a maximum safety level for 23 pesticides or their metabolites. Le Monde cites two metabolites of chloridazone, a herbicide used until 2020 on beet fields, for which only provisional safety levels in tap water have been set. 

Many of these molecules and their long-term effects remain unknown – and “the long-term health effects of exposure to low doses of pesticides are difficult to assess,” admits the Ministry of Health.

Michel Laforcade, former director general of the ARS Nouvelle-Aquitaine told Le Monde that health authorities have “failed” on this subject. 

“One day, we will have to give an account,” he said. “It may not be on the same scale as the contaminated blood affair, but it could become the next public health scandal.”

In December 2020, the Direction générale de la santé (DGS) recommended “restricting uses of water” as soon as the 0.1 micrograms per litre quality threshold is exceeded, in cases of residues for which there is no formal maximum health value.

But this principle is not always applied, according to France 2’s Complètement d’enquête programme.

In December 2021, the DGS asked the Haut conseil de la santé publique (HCSP) “for support on the management of health risks associated with the presence of pesticides and pesticide metabolites in water intended for human consumption.”

The HCSP, in response, said that “an active and urgent policy must be implemented to reduce the contamination of resources by pesticides”.

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