Thursday, March 19, 2020, CLEVELAND: Certain populations are more at risk of severe illness and there are extra precautions they should consider taking to protect themselves. U.S.-based Cleveland Clinic’s infectious disease specialist Alan Taege, M.D provides answers to FAQ’s on COVID-19 and Chronic Medical Conditions.
Serious complications from COVID-19 are most likely to develop in elderly people, as well as those who have weakened immune systems, or who are immunocompromised.
Immunocompromised and COVID-19
Dr Taege explains: “When people are immunocompromised, their body has a reduced ability to fight off and recover from infections. This could be because they have a certain chronic condition that affects the immune system. Or it is due to certain medications they are taking. For example, some cancer treatments and medications used for autoimmune conditions weaken a person’s immune response. As do medicines that people take after having an organ transplant.
Unfortunately, there is not yet a vaccine that can prevent COVID-19. So we cannot prevent the disease. However, there are many things you can do to minimize your risk.
- Social distancing,
- Frequent hand washing
- Routinely disinfecting surfaces in your home, such as doorknobs, faucet handles and cell phones
It’s especially important for older adults and those with underlying medical conditions to avoid being exposed to the virus in the first place. It’s spread by droplets that come out the nose and mouth of someone who’s infected when they cough or sneeze.
You can get COVID-19 from being in close contact (within about 2 metres) with an infected person who has these symptoms. You might also be able to get it from touching a surface that’s been contaminated with infected droplets.
It’s also important to maintain healthy habits. These include eating well, getting enough sleep and managing your stress levels, in order to keep your immune system as strong as it can be.”
Dr. Taege answers some of the most common questions about protecting the most vulnerable populations:
Q: Who is most at-risk for getting severely sick from the coronavirus?
A: The coronavirus that causes COVID-19 is new, so we don’t yet understand exactly how it impacts specific groups of high-risk people. But those who are thought to be most susceptible to serious complications of COVID-19 include people who are older than 65. Also, those who are taking medications that suppress the immune system or suffer from conditions such as cancer and hypertension. Lung disease, diabetes, heart disease or other conditions that compromise the immune system.
Q: Why are people over the age of 65 more at risk?
A: Our immune system naturally becomes weaker as we age, which makes it harder for our bodies to fight off infections.
Q: Should someone who is immunocompromised still go to medical appointments?
A: Call your healthcare provider and ask. Some appointments might be able to be rescheduled. Or they should be handled by phone, or if available, virtually through a telemedicine visit or by phone. Healthcare facilities are taking special precautions to protect the health and safety of patients during this time.
Q: Should someone on immunosuppressing medications stop taking them?
A: Do not stop taking your medications without talking to your healthcare provider first. Just as there is risk associated with having a compromised immune system, there is also a risk associated with stopping medication suddenly and potentially having disease flares. If you have questions or concerns, or if you become sick, talk with your doctor.
Q: In addition to the advice on hygiene, social distancing and all the other precautions given to the public, what extra steps could a vulnerable person take to prepare for a COVID-19 outbreak in the community?
A: Consider the following:
Ask your healthcare provider if it’s possible to get an advance supply of your medications, in case there is an outbreak in your community and you need to stay home for more than a few weeks. You can also ask your healthcare provider or pharmacy if ordering medications online and having them shipped to your home is an option.
Have enough groceries and household supplies on-hand so that you could comfortably stay home for a few weeks if you had to. Many grocers offer online ordering and delivery, which could also help you avoid having to go out.
Talk to your doctor to make sure you are up to date on your recommended vaccinations, such as pneumonia and flu shots, which can help prevent those serious illnesses. These will not protect you against COVID-19, but they will protect you from other infections that could require you to seek medical care.
Make a plan for who will take care of you if you do get sick.
If you have a chronic condition and live alone, ask family members, friends or neighbors to check on you regularly during an outbreak. Ask them to call or contact you through email or social media.
Q: How can someone help a loved one who is in the high-risk category?
A: You can start by checking in on your love one’s well-being frequently via phone, email or social media. You might also consider:
Offering to pick up groceries or prescriptions and drop them off at your loved one’s doorstep, so they do not have to go out.
Learn what medications your loved one is taking and help them get extra medication and supplies, if possible.
If your loved one is in a hospital or long-term care facility, check ahead of time to see if they have restrictions on visitation. And never visit when you’re sick.
About Alan Taege, MD
Alan J. Taege, MD, is a Staff Physician in the Department of Infectious Disease and the Director of HIV Care at Cleveland Clinic. He is also an Assistant Professor of Medicine.
Dr. Taege earned a BS in microbiology from the University of Nebraska in 1979. He completed his medical degree at Saint Louis University in 1979 and fellowship in Infectious Diseases at the Cleveland Clinic 1998. He holds dual appointments in Infectious Disease and the Digestive Disease Institute Transplant Center.
About the Cleveland Clinic
Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit multi-specialty academic medical center. The center integrates clinical and hospital care with research and education. Located in Cleveland, Ohio, it was founded in 1921 by four renowned physicians. They had a vision of providing outstanding patient care based upon the principles of cooperation, compassion and innovation. Cleveland Clinic has pioneered many medical breakthroughs, including coronary artery bypass surgery and the first face transplant in the United States. U.S. News & World Report consistently names Cleveland Clinic as one of the nation’s best hospitals in its annual “America’s Best Hospitals” survey. Among Cleveland Clinic’s 67,554 employees worldwide are more than 4,520 salaried physicians and researchers. As well as 17,000 registered nurses and advanced practice providers, representing 140 medical specialties and sub-specialties. Cleveland Clinic is a 6,026-bed health system that includes a 165-acre main campus near downtown Cleveland. 18 hospitals, more than 220 outpatient facilities, and locations in southeast Florida; Las Vegas, Nevada; Toronto, Canada; Abu Dhabi, UAE; and London, England. In 2019, there were 9.8 million total outpatient visits, 309,000 hospital admissions and observations, and 255,000 surgical cases throughout Cleveland Clinic’s health system. Patients came for treatment from every state and 185 countries.