Patients with a compromised immune system are more susceptible to the coronavirus, including those with cancer. Here are four key things patients with cancer should know about the novel coronavirus.
The outbreak of the coronavirus disease (now known as COVID-19) that was first reported in Wuhan, China, in 2019, has quickly spread throughout China and to 31 other countries including the United States. It’s no longer a matter of if there is an outbreak in the U.S. but a matter of when, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
“(Patients need to know that) all individuals with weakened immune systems might be at higher risk for complications associated with the virus that causes COVID illness,” Dr. Christina Tan, state epidemiologist, assistant commissioner, New Jersey Department of Health, said in an interview with ContagionLive®, a sister publication of CURE®.
As of Feb. 23, 2020, according to information from the CDC, there were 76,936 reported cases of coronavirus in mainland China and an additional 1,875 cases elsewhere. Globally there have been 2,462 deaths associated with COVID-19, but none in the U.S. As of this writing, there have been 14 cases of coronavirus reported in the U.S. with an additional 39 cases from people returning from high-risk areas, meaning people need to prepare for the chance of a possible outbreak, especially patients with cancer that are already immunocompromised and susceptible to other illnesses.
Here are the four key things that patients with cancer need to know as they prepare for the coronavirus:
Take Preventive Measures Like You Normally Would
COVID-19 is not the only coronavirus in the world. In fact, there are other coronaviruses out there that are common and cause mild illnesses that many would call the "common cold." The understanding of how the new coronavirus spreads is based on these, meaning patients can expect to undergo the same preventive measures they would for other common illnesses.
“It’s those commonsense steps people can take, wash your hands frequently, make sure you cover your cough and your sneezes, stay home when you’re not well and also to make sure to call your healthcare provider in the event that you have concerns about your health,” explained Tan.
Make Sure You Get The Flu Shot
As COVID-19 makes its way through the U.S., it’s important to understand that we are still in the midst of flu season and patients with cancer must take this into account. Certain therapies, such as targeted drugs, steroids and immunosuppressive therapies, and particular cancer types, like blood cancers, can be associated with reduced immunity.
“People with cancer who develop influenza may need to delay chemotherapy, radiation or surgery,” Dr. Roy Chemaly, professor of medicine in the department of infectious diseases, infection control and employee health at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, said in a recent interview with CURE®. “Those who are having stem cell transplant may need to delay treatment by a couple of weeks," making a flu vaccine vital for patients to help avoid this disease, he added.
While there is no vaccine for the current coronavirus, there are ones available for the strains of flu that patients are more susceptible to.
Only Testing Can Determine If You Have Coronavirus
The three main symptoms of COVID-19 are fever, cough and shortness of breath, along with a runny nose. Symtoms can range from mild to severe illness and death. Because the coronavirus is easy to mask with other common illnesses, it creates the potential for health care professionals to miss such symptoms and for patients not to report them.
According to a recent report from ContagionLive®, the CDC will begin testing patients with influenza-like illness for the novel coronavirus in health labs in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, Chicago and New York City. The only way to tell if a patient has the coronavirus is through testing, as of now, only through the CDC.
Cancer Drugs Manufactured Overseas Are Ok
As the health care industry continues to understand COVID-19, it’s understandable that patients with cancer may feel alarmed about the supply of their treatments that come through China. For instance, Imbruvica (Ibrutinib) has much of its product manufactured in China but its manufacturer, Pharmacyclics, has stated that they do not expect coronavirus spread to impact their ability to manufacture the drug. At this time, no other companies have sounded an alarm to impact the patient's supply of treatment.
Moreover, the CDC has said there is no evidence supporting the transmission of the disease through imported goods. Currently, it’s only known that the spread of the disease outside of China happens between person to person.
Editor’s Note: Since the time of this publication, COVID-19 has spread across the world impacting many countries. Just today, the World Health Organization has officially labeled COVID-19 as a pandemic. In the United States, the number of known cases of COVID-19 has grown dramatically as testing efforts increase. As of March 11, 2020, there have been 938 confirmed cases in the US and 29 deaths attributed to the virus. According to the CDC, 92 of these cases are travel-related, 75 are due to person-to-person spread, and 771 cases remain under investigation. This is a rapidly developing situation — check back here with CURE for all the latest information patients with cancer need to know about COVID-19.