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How to stay safe if you’re immune-compromised amid COVID-19 pandemic

Intermountain Healthcare

Doctors are warning that people who have underlying medical conditions or could be immunocompromised are at higher risk of complications if they contract COVID-19. That is because these patients have a weakened immune system, according to Dr. Timothy Yeatman, executive medical director of Cancer Services at Intermountain Healthcare.

Some of those at risk include:

  • Older adults
  • People with chronic lung disease or moderate to severe asthma
  • People who have serious heart conditions
  • People with diabetes
  • People with chronic kidney disease
  • HIV patients
  • People who are being treated for cancer
  • Pregnant women
  • Another group of patients not often talked about, but who are just as vulnerable, is those who are immunocompromised because of medications they take for other chronic conditions. It’s these medications which make them better from their ailment, but more susceptible to complications from infections, like coronavirus.

There are more than 109,000 Intermountain Healthcare patients who fall into this category, or just over five percent of the people that the health system serves. These types of medical conditions include:

  • Transplant recipients
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Multiple Sclerosis
  • Crohn’s Disease
  • Lupus
  • Psoriasis

Patients take immunosuppressive drugs to stop the immune system from attacking the body, which is normally a main or underlying cause of these conditions. Transplant recipients take the drugs to stop the body from attacking their new organ.

“These patients should NOT STOP taking their medication unless they’ve consulted their doctor first,” advised Dr. Yeatman. “In some cases, not taking the drugs can have a worse effect than COVID-19. In other cases, a doctor may instruct a patient to suspend taking their medication if they start showing symptoms of fever or cough.”

Most importantly, immuno-compromised patients, their caregivers, and their family members should all be extremely cautious and very vigilant about practicing the good hygiene health guidelines put out by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):

  • Wash your hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
  • Wash with soap and water and soon as possible every time you touch a public object (grocery cart, public doorknob, public computer, etc.). If soap and water are not available, use hand sanitizer with 60% or more alcohol.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
  • Clean and disinfect surfaces often. Regular household wipes and sprays will kill the virus.
  • Maintain social distancing (6 feet)
  • Avoid physical contact like handshakes and hugging
  • Avoid people who are coughing or sneezing.
  • Manage stress by getting plenty of sleep, eating healthy, and staying active.

If you develop COVID-19 symptoms (high fever, dry cough, fatigue and shortness of breath), call your doctor or the COVID-19 Hotline (844) 442-5224.

Intermountain Healthcare has also launched a new online digital COVID-19 Symptom Checker. It’s a free online, artificial intelligence (AI) powered tool that’s available to the public on the Intermountain Healthcare website to help people assess their risk for COVID-19 and determine the most appropriate care setting for their condition, if needed.

If you are experiencing severe symptoms, please call 9-1-1.

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