Written by: Bonnie Feldman, DDS, MBA, Ellen M. Martin
The COVID-19 Pandemic is upon us, and it is likely the biggest viral outbreak we’ve seen in the 21st Century so far. Given the internet-connected world we now live in, the amounts of information and misinformation about the virus, its spread, and worldwide public health responses have been spreading as fast as the virus itself!
Why should autoimmune patients pay attention?
The emergence from China of a novel viral respiratory disease–for which none of us had any acquired immunity–is particularly dangerous for people with dysfunctional immune systems. Autoimmune patients and their caretakers are already concerned about everyday infectious diseases (including the seasonal flu), as autoimmune conditions and immunosuppresive treatments make patients more susceptible to most sicknesses. There is an even larger cause for concern if you are older than 70 and have other comorbidities (e.g diabetes or COPD).
While many people will get sick, most will get mild cases and recover. So far, this can be likened to a really bad flu year–but it is important to remember that flu kills tens of thousands of people every year in the US alone. The case doubling rate for COVID-19 in many countries is a only a few days, and the threat of overwhelming healthcare systems is already real in China, Iran, and Italy. It goes without saying that it is better to avoid the disease, but as we consider the limited medical resources available, it is imperative that we keep our health in the best condition possible.
Hopefully, you already have 2-4 weeks of supplies to tide you through isolation or quarantine. For autoimmune patients, it is important to have at least a 1-3 month supply of prescription and OTC medicines as well as vitamins and supplements (in particular, there will be shortages of products dependent on Chinese supply sources).
Fresh fruit, vegetables, milk, and eggs may be harder to obtain. There are a growing number of grocery delivery services that will deliver a weekly or monthly box of vegetables to your home. In the Bay Area, where we are under a shelter-in-place order, many of the local grocery stores and restaurants have stepped up to deliver food to people at home. Check in your community to see who is doing deliveries.
We at Your Autoimmunity Connection are sharing some basic background information and links to sites already out there, curated by us with autoimmune patients and caretakers in mind.
General public health guidelines, advice and a visual overview of the disease itself:
- Here is an excellent visual guide to the infection, disease transmission, symptoms, course and care.
- In the United States, the CDC has authoritative guidelines here–this is a good comprehensive resource.
- Worldwide, the World Health Organization (WHO) offers day-by-day updates and information.
- Here’s a quick visual snapshot of what the pandemic looks like today. Click the link to see a table with numbers rather than percentages, including the tens of thousands of people who have already recovered.
- The NIH website is more research oriented, but has useful background (we’ll have more background in our third post) with links to news releases.
As an autoimmune patient, what should I do?
- Don’t panic, just educate and protect yourself.
- Contact your healthcare provider if you need specific health advice.
- Call before traveling to an urgent care center or emergency department.
- If you have difficulty breathing, call 911 or your country’s emergency services.
- In many communities, high-risk people have already been asked to socially isolate, that is, to stay home, send others to do necessary errands, and avoid close contact with people who have been outside.
- If you must go out, use social distancing to reduce your exposure to others who may unknowingly carry the virus. Avoid close contact with people, including hand-shaking and hugging, wear a mask and gloves.
- If you do go out, when you return, take off your mask and gloves and put them in the trash so you don’t touch them again, then wash your hands thoroughly for 20 secs with soap or detergent and water before touching anything else, especially your face.
- Frequent hand-washing reduces spread. Don’t touch your face with unwashed hands! This virus can remain infective for hours on surfaces like an invisible oil spot that you can transfer to eyes, nose, mouth or ears, all entries to your respiratory system.
- Clean counters and surfaces regularly in your home, especially after you bring in groceries or other items from outside. Don’t forget doorknobs, faucet handles and other high-touch surfaces!
- If you feel sick, have a dry cough, or run a fever, stay home and contact your medical provider. Many practices are using telemedicine to screen patients without in-person visits.
- Contact your healthcare provider for advice on whether you should come in for previously scheduled infusions, injections, or blood tests, and ask about whatever else you should do to manage your condition.
- Don’t forget to keep up whatever trigger avoidance you already follow, including food, sleep, and stress (especially since stress will be hard to avoid during a pandemic).
- Exercise however you can. Many of us have lost our regular gym or studio classes or must avoid them out of an abundance of caution. Walk or hike outside or take advantage of online exercise videos to coach you into being as active as you would be otherwise.
- Take charge of your news consumption! There are a lot of emotionally manipulative stories out there, especially on TV. There’s a lot of misinformation and disinformation on social media (although there’s great info, too). If you are confused or upset by what you see and hear, go do something else. Ask family or friends to give you an executive summary once a day.