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What is Coronavirus or COVID-19?

Coronavirus, or COVID-19, is a new strain of coronavirus not previously seen in humans that is spreading quickly worldwide. Four other strains of coronavirus are actually very common and usually only cause mild symptoms (like the common cold). However, some strains, like COVID-19, can cause severe illness in certain groups. For example, older people and people of all ages with severe underlying health conditions — like heart disease, lung disease, and diabetes, for example — seem to be at higher risk of developing serious COVID-19 illness. There’s currently no cure or vaccine for COVID-19.

Who Is at the Highest Risk for Complications Associated with COVID-19?

  • People age 60 and older
  • People with health conditions like
  • People receiving chemotherapy or other treatments for cancer or other diseases
  • People who have had a bone marrow transplant
  • People who are on immunosuppressive medications that purposefully suppress their immune system – for example, treatment for rheumatoid arthritis
  • People who are on opioid medications

Should I Stop Taking Opioid Medications?

Taking chronic opioid medications can suppress the body’s natural ability to fight infections and viruses, which could increase the risk of developing infections such as COVID-19. COVID-19 symptoms include cough, fever, and shortness of breath, and taking opioids can worsen shortness of breath symptoms as well as increase the likelihood of developing pneumonia.

If you are taking opioids for management of chronic pain or other symptoms, please talk with your doctor. The COVID-19 pandemic is another reason to strongly consider stopping opioid medications. If that is not possible, consider tapering opioid medication to a lower dose:

  • The possibility of lowering the opioid dose by 25-30% may be possible for some patients, but any ability to lower dosage should be considered for safety.
  • Know that reducing dosage may cause withdrawal symptoms including pain, anxiety, and depression. Please talk with your doctor about how to manage these symptoms. 
  • Talk with your doctor about Naloxone with your decision to lower your dose or stopping use of opioid medications.

How Can I Protect Myself?

The best way to protect yourself from contracting coronaviruses is by using the same daily habits that help prevent the spread of many viruses, including the common cold and the flu. To help prevent the spread of disease always:

  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Wash your hands with soap and water frequently. Wash with soap and warm water for 20 seconds. If soap and water aren't available, use an alcohol-based hand rub.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Stay home when you’re sick (and keep sick children home from school).
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash and wash your hands. If you don't have a tissue, cough or sneeze into your upper sleeve or elbow, not your hands.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.

Social Distancing

At Home

  • Create a household plan of action and define how you family members can come together to support each other and maintain healthy practices.
  • Immediately cancel social get-togethers beyond your immediate family.
  • This is not a vacation. School-age children must eliminate social gatherings. They’re an integral part of the solution.
  • Stay home when you are sick, except to get medical care.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after using the bathroom, before eating, after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing. If soap and water are not readily available, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.
  • Clean frequently touched surfaces and objects daily (e.g., tables, countertops, light switches, doorknobs, and cabinet handles) using a regular household detergent and water.
  • Friends and family are just a phone call away. Use digital connections and check-ins with those close to you. Facetime, text, video chats are excellent ways to stay connected and feel involved in your network.
  • Plan ways to care for your immediate and extended family who might be at greatest risk for serious complications. Identify ways to support them while keeping them home – crowdsource grocery shopping, food delivery, and medication.
  • Create a list of local organizations that you and your household can contact in the event you need access to information, health care services, support, and resources. Consider including organizations that provide mental health or counseling services, food, and other supplies.
  • Create an emergency contact list. Include contacts for family, friends, neighbors, carpool drivers, health care providers, teachers, employers, the local public health department, and other community resources. If your children are in the care of others, urge caregivers to watch for COVID-19 symptoms.
  • Choose a room in your home that can be used to separate sick household members from those who are healthy. Identify a separate bathroom for the sick person to use, if possible. Plan to clean these rooms, as needed, when someone is sick. Learn how to care for someone with COVID-19 at home.
  • Take care of the emotional health of your household members. Outbreaks can be stressful for adults and children. Children respond differently to stressful situations than adults. Talk with your children about the outbreak, try to stay calm, and reassure them that they are safe.

In Public

  • Your entire family should stay home as much as possible.
  • Do not leave the house if you are sick. Seek medical attention via phone or virtual means whenever possible.
  • Avoid gathering in public places.
  • If you must go out, limit your time.
  • Be very cautious about initiating contact with new people or lingering in any public spaces.
  • Avoid contact with public surfaces.
  • Disinfect your hands thoroughly and often.
  • Visit public locations off-peak hours.

Symptoms

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Symptoms of COVID-19 can include:

  • Fever and/or chills
  • Cough (usually dry)
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Tiredness (sometimes)
  • Aches and pains (sometimes)
  • Headaches (sometimes)
  • Sore throat (sometimes)

Upper respiratory symptoms, like runny nose and sinus congestion, are very uncommon in COVID-19.

The severity of COVID-19 symptoms ranges from mild to severe. If you’ve had recent close contact with a COVID-19 patient or you’ve traveled recently to an area where COVID-19 is active, it may be more likely that your symptoms are due to COVID-19. If you suspect you have COVID-19, call Intermountain Healthcare’s 24-hour hotline, Health Answers, at 844-442-5224 or use Connect Care on your smartphone, tablet, or computer to connect online with an Intermountain clinician who can review your symptoms and give specific care recommendations. If your symptoms are mild you will likely be directed to stay home to protect others from illness and follow the CDC’s recommended guidance for self-care. If you’re referred to a medical facility, remember to call ahead and let them know your symptoms before you go in.

What Do I Do if I think I'm Sick?

According to the CDC's recommendation, if you are sick with COVID-19 or suspect you are infected with the virus that causes COVID-19, you should take steps to help prevent the disease from spreading to people in your home and community.

If you think you have been exposed to COVID-19 and develop a fever and symptoms, such as cough or difficulty breathing, call your healthcare provider for medical advice.

Should I Stop My Cancer Treatment?

Unless your medical oncologist or radiation oncologist tells you otherwise, it’s not necessary for you to stop your cancer treatment. In fact, stopping cancer treatment could be more harmful to your health than the risk of being exposed to COVID-19. You should continue taking oral chemotherapy, steroids, and support medications as prescribed. If you have specific circumstances or concerns, be sure to discuss them with your oncology team.

Should I Stop Taking Immunosupressants?

For patients with autoimmune disease or arthritis who are taking immunosuppressive medications, DO NOT STOP taking them without first talking with your doctor. Consider the following recommendations:

  • The risk of a disease flare from stopping your medication is probably higher than the risk of getting COVID-19. Therefore, do NOT stop taking your prescribed medications.
  • DO NOT STOP steroid medicines such as prednisone, methylprednisolone, dexamethasone, or hydrocortisone, without discussing it with your doctor.
  • It’s dangerous to stop these medicines abruptly. Also, they may help if you do get a respiratory infection due to COVID-19.

There are times when you may consider temporarily not taking your medication. Hold off your medication only:

  • IF you develop a fever, cough, runny nose, or otherwise feel sick. In that case, stop taking the immunosuppressive medicine until you feel better.

Remember, hydroxychloroquine and sulfasalazine are NOT immunosuppressive and should be continued as a part of your care. In fact, there are some signs that hydroxychloroquine may be helpful if you get COVID-19.