The mass panic that has occurred over the last three months due to the COVID-19 outbreak has been notable, to say the least. Staple items like hand sanitisers and soaps have been flying off the shelves and even selling out completely due to citizens’ increasing fear of contracting the virus. But is this reaction to the coronavirus outbreak really necessary?
According to statistics at the time of writing, COVID-19 has led to over 110,000 infections and almost 4000 deaths globally. On the surface, those numbers may appear high, but taking into account the mild nature of ~97% of cases, there is no need to panic. But what does the coronavirus outbreak mean for immunocompromised patients? If you have a weakened immune system, the risk of contracting any virus grows, and thus extra steps need to be taken to avoid infection. Read on for more information on how to protect yourself from coronavirus.
What is coronavirus?
Coronavirus isn’t one virus in particular, but an entire family of respiratory illnesses. Several coronaviruses have circulated the globe in recent years, including SARS, MERS and COVID-19 (also known as novel coronavirus). The coronaviruses documented in humans are all zoonotic, meaning they have originated in animals and spread to humans.
COVID-19 is the latest version of the virus making the rounds. The strain is believed to have started in a wet market in Wuhan, China, and the first documented case of human infection was made in December 2019. In the ensuing months, the virus spread rapidly throughout China. The fast spread of the disease is what has people alarmed, although the risk of contracting the disease through community transfer is incredibly low in areas where the virus is somewhat contained.
What are the symptoms of coronavirus?
The main symptoms of COVID-19 include cough, fever, difficulty breathing and shortness of breath. In very severe cases, the symptoms can be much more problematic and include pneumonia, kidney failure and, in a very small percentage of cases, death. The overall estimated mortality rate of COVID-19 is currently very low (1–3%). To put that into perspective, the mortality rate of SARS was 9.6%; with MERS, it was 34.4%.
It is assumed that the risk of developing serious complications from COVID-19 is unlikely, mainly occurring in the elderly as well as people with weakened immune systems and chronic illnesses, although no data has been presented to confirm this theory. Those who are immunocompromised should treat COVID-19 just as any other virus and protect themselves as well as they can.
How to protect yourself from coronavirus
The severity of COVID-19 has been generally overestimated, and the majority of people who do contract the illness will be either asymptomatic or present with very mild symptoms. Due to this, it can be hard to discern where the virus is spreading and how to tell if you may have contracted it. As with many other viruses, the best defence against COVID-19 is washing your hands frequently. This is especially important after exposure to the public, shaking hands with others, and handling money or other things that get passed around frequently from person to person.
If the virus has been confirmed to be in your area, avoiding large crowds will also help to protect against catching COVID-19. Avoiding people who appear to be ill will also be a great help in protecting yourself against the virus, along with the avoidance of touching your face (mouth, eyes, nose) as much as possible.
How does the immune system work?
The immune system is made up of two different processes that help protect against viruses. The first is the innate immune system, which acts as a wall or barrier in the skin and mucous. The second is the acquired immune system, which is responsible for creating antigens that the body will ‘remember’ to help ward off further infections.
COVID-19 will be first fought off with the innate immune system, but both immune processes work together in the fight against viruses – and both work better when they’re being given the right tools.
How should immunocompromised patients prepare for coronavirus?
It is paramount to protect your immune system if you are already immunocompromised and a virus is circulating. To prepare for the virus, you should ensure that you’re getting enough good, restful sleep. The ideal amount of time varies from person to person, but between eight and 10 hours a night is a good general rule. Getting enough fluids throughout the day to prevent dehydration will also help to make sure the immune system is ready to combat COVID-19.
Exercise also helps boost the immune system, so ensuring your body is moving regularly is another excellent way to help avoid and protect yourself against the worst-case scenario. Eating a diet rich in vitamins and minerals will also give your immune system the push it needs to help ward off infection. Vitamins A, D, C, E, B6 and B12, as well as zinc, iron, copper and selenium, are all great for healthy immune function.
What to do if you become infected with COVID-19
If you do get infected with COVID-19, it’s important to stay calm. Stress will likely trigger a response in the body that will lead to the further weakening of the immune system. Since the virus has been circulating globally, governments have set up policies and procedures to ensure that care and testing are available. If you suffer from chronic illnesses, speaking with your doctor as soon as you suspect you may have come into contact with the virus will be your best bet.
Self-quarantine has been the main piece of advice from many healthcare officials to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 through communities. If you do have to visit public areas, ensure you wear a mask, cough into your elbow, and avoid physical contact with others to limit the spread of infection. The risk of developing serious complications from COVID-19 is very low, but for those who suffer from a weakened immune system, it’s better to take part in immune-boosting practices so that the body is as healthy as it can be while it fights off the infection.