Authored by Dr Vijay Agarwal, Lead & Sr. Consultant – Medical Oncology & Haematology, Aster CMI Hospital
The new respiratory illness which is commonly referred as “coronavirus” or COVID-19 has affected the lives of millions of people across the globe. In order to restrict the spread of the disease, people have been advised to work remotely, cancel events, business meetings, avoid social gatherings and adopt the practice of social distancing. The virus has now been declared as a pandemic as there is no current specific cure, or vaccine.
Transmission of coronavirus occurs from one person-to-another mainly through respiratory droplets released when an infected person with COVID-19 coughs or exhales. These droplets may also land on objects and surfaces. Normal people can catch COVID-19 by touching these objects or surfaces and then touching their eyes, nose or mouth. While most people who get sick recover from COVID-19. Recovery time varies based on the individual and the severity of the illness. People with mild to moderate symptoms may recover in a short period of time. Occasionally it may lead to severe or life-threatening illness and even death can occur.
People with weaker immunity, underlying co-morbids like immunosuppressed hosts, transplant recipients, cardiovascular disease, asthmatics or respiratory diseases have been found to the most affected by the disease and have higher risk of complications. Hence, at such an hour, for patients who have been diagnosed with cancer, it is important to know that some of the cancer treatments such as chemotherapy, targeted therapies, immunotherapy, and radiation can weaken their immune system and can possibly cause lung problems.
In addition to this, many hospitals and healthcare providers are now delaying “elective” surgeries, screenings, and other procedures, which are considered not urgent or not immediately life-threatening. These key decisions are being made on a case-to-case basis to ensure that patients who have been diagnosed with cancer are protected from contracting the virus and also to make sure that healthcare providers have the resources they need to treat cancer patients who do become infected with this virus.
Hence, if someone is receiving treatment for cancer, then here are a few tips that they need to know –
Will chemotherapy increase the risk of contracting COVID-19?
Certain anti-cancer treatments such as chemotherapy or radiotherapy may affect one’s immune system temporarily. If their immune compromised and exposed to COVID-19 then they may be at increased risk of becoming infected. COVID-19 virus is more likely to progress at a greater speed in a cancer patient. It is best to discuss with one’s health care provider to intervene early.
What should a cancer patient do if they test positive or negative for COVID-19?
If they have been tested positive then they will have to maintain good respiratory hygiene and follow their health care provider’s advice. In case a patient has been tested negative then they should get plenty of rest and fluids.
People diagnosed with cancer may be at high risk. However, there are no special steps to protect themselves against COVID-19. It is important to ensure that individuals wash their hands well, and frequently, avoid crowded places as much as possible and get a flu shot each year to help decrease their risk of influenza.
Should I wear a mask to protect myself?
Face masks are not recommended to prevent COVID-19. However, if one is sick with a respiratory illness or looking after someone who may have COVID-19, it is recommended to wear an N-95 face mask.
Can I catch COVID-19 from an animal source?
Possible animal sources of COVID-19 have not yet been confirmed. There are no studies that suggest pets such as cats and dogs have been infected or could spread COVID-19. Also there is no information to suggest that the new coronavirus could be transmitted by mosquitoes.
Handle raw meat, milk or animal organs with care to avoid contamination of uncooked foods and avoid consuming raw or undercooked animal products.
What is the treatment for COVID-19?
To date, there is no specific treatment for corona virus. Antibiotics do not help, as they do not work against viruses. Supportive care treatment aims to relieve the symptoms. One may need to be isolated away from other people until they have completely recovered.