What is COVID-19?
- There are many types of coronaviruses, which can cause different types of viral infections. The type of coronavirus in the news right now is the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2 is the virus that causes the disease COVID-19). Individuals with COVID-19 have mild to severe respiratory (breathing) problems.
What are the symptoms of COVID-19?
- COVID-19 causes cold or flu-like symptoms. These may include fever, cough, difficulty breathing, sore throat, body aches, or chills. It can cause serious problems, such as shortness of breath, pneumonia (from the virus), possibly respiratory failure requiring a breathing machine (a type of life support), and even death, especially in older people and people with other health problems, including cancer. Some people don’t experience any symptoms at all, but could nonetheless spread the virus to someone else.
- Shortness of breath
- If you experience these symptoms, please contact your primary care provider for additional instructions.
- Wash your hands frequently, and in particular after you have been in a public place. Wash for 20 seconds (about as long as it takes to sing “Happy Birthday” twice). Liquid soap is preferred. As an alternative you can use alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 70% alcohol if soap and water are not available.
- Do not touch your eyes, mouth, and nose, especially with unwashed hands.
- Avoid contact with people who are ill.
- Avoid large groups of people.
- Avoid travel to areas of high incidence – please see CDC travel guidelines.
- Avoid crowded public places. As the virus becomes more common in your area, it may be helpful to stay away from public places as much as possible.
- Obtain sufficient food, medications, and other needed items so that you can avoid public places if advised.
- Consider letting people you are socializing with know that you must take extra steps to prevent COVID-19 and ask that they tell you or avoid you if they might have exposure to or symptoms of COVID-19.
- Eat with utensils, not with your hands, and wash your hands before eating
- Avoid shaking hands even in a business setting.
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces, particularly after coming in from outside or after you have had visitors.
Who is at risk of getting sick with COVID-19?
- While anyone can get COVID-19, currently it appears that patients who are older, have suppressed immune systems, or have chronic medical conditions are more likely to experience serious illness with COVID-19.
People who are at higher risk are:
- People over the age of 60
- People who have serious chronic medical conditions like:
- Heart disease
- Lung disease
- People who are immunocompromised
People who do not have a spleen, and who have a normal white blood cell count, should not be at increased risk. The spleen is most important for fighting (encapsulated) bacterial infections and not viral infections. However, if you get sick and you do not have a spleen, be sure to let your doctor(s) know. Also, remember to keep up with the recommended vaccines for patients with asplenia.
Are there special concerns for people with cancer?
- People with cancer often have weakened immune systems. Having a weak immune system makes it harder for the body to fight off diseases, so it’s important for people with cancer and their family members to closely follow steps to protect themselves, especially when it comes to frequent handwashing. We recommend you speak with your doctor/specialist (oncologist, surgeon, or radiation oncologist) if you have concerns about your risk for COVID-19 being higher as a result of current or past cancer treatment.
If I get exposed to COVID-19, will I develop infection?
- Not everyone who is exposed to the virus will become infected. And not all of those who are infected will develop symptoms or go on to have severe disease. If symptoms develop, they will occur between 2-14 days after exposure, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
How is COVID-19 spread?
- If you are within 6 feet of someone with COVID-19 infection, the infection could spread to you through droplets when the person sneezes or coughs.
- If you touch an object – such as a door handle – that has the COVID-19 virus on it, and then you touch your mouth, nose, or eyes, you can infect yourself.
- If you are helping care for someone with COVID-19 and you within 6 feet of them when they cough, sneeze.
- COVID-19 does not travel through the air – other than up to six feet of an infected person as described above.
- Everyone should cover their mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing. The tissue should be thrown away and hands washed or sanitized. If a tissue is not available, they should cough or sneeze into their upper sleeve.
- Facemasks should be used by people with symptoms such as cough, sore throat, or fever, to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 to others.
- There are no available treatments to prevent individuals who have been exposed from becoming ill. However, if you become infected, you could spread COVID-19 to others.
- You may need to “self-quarantine,” staying in your home without leaving for 14 days. Public health authorities will provide instructions regarding any restrictions in your movement.
- Always call 911 for a life-threatening emergency.
- For other situations, you must call ahead to your doctor/specialist’s office for instructions about what to do. DO NOT GO to an urgent care clinic or emergency room.
- If you have cold or flu-like symptoms (fever, cough, difficulty breathing, sore throat, body aches, or chills), please call your specialist’s office before going in, even if you have an appointment. They will ask you about your travel history and your symptoms. If you have been informed that you have recently been exposed to someone who later tested positive for COVID-19, please let your doctor’s office know before coming in.
- We encourage all patients to follow the CDC’s guidelines, which can be found on its website. At this time, it is recommended that all patients at increased risk of becoming seriously ill from COVID-19 avoid all non-essential travel both domestically and abroad. Travel by public transportation may also increase the risk of exposure to COVID-19.
Are there treatments for COVID-19?
- Treatment is supportive. There are no medications available yet that are proven to treat the virus and no vaccination to prevent it. Experimental trials are being developed.
We encourage you to:
- Visit the online support community via Facebook, which is a great source of support and information
- Follow guidelines from CDC and WHO for social distancing, handwashing, and other
- health precautions
- Know the symptoms of COVID-19 and follow guidelines for testing
- Make sure you have an adequate supply of medications and, if possible, an extended supply
- Find out and keep updated on coronavirus specific policy changes and safety instructions for the healthcare facilities where you get treatment or see your doctor
- If you are part of a clinical trial, contact your research team and follow their guidance
- Be prepared. Create a plan and know what to do if you or someone in your household gets sick
- Looking for something fun to do? Print and color in our ACPMP Coloring Page!
- General information from CDC: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/index.html
- Pandemic preparedness:https://www.ready.gov
- Travel information: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/travelers/index.html
- CDC website on handwashing: https://www.cdc.gov/handwashing/
- Global Genes resources list including government resources, entertainment, opportunities for virtual social interaction and more: https://globalgenes.org/coronavirus-covid-19-resources/
Sources: Laura Lambert, MD, FACS – Huntsman Cancer Institute/University of Utah, Salt Lake City, UT and Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center, Boston, MA.