It’s been just over two months since we first heard reports of the coronavirus (COVID-19) entering the United States. During this time, we’ve learned an astonishing amount of information about where the virus came from, what it does to the body, and most importantly, how to protect ourselves and our loved ones.
While there’s still no cure in sight and it will likely be some time before medical specialists fully understand COVID-19, we have been given five clear and strict rules by the World Health Organization (WHO) that each and every person should follow.
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds
- Avoid touching your face
- Stay home when possible, especially if you’re sick
- Cover your cough with your shoulder or a kleenex
- Practice social distancing
Unfortunately, the above list does not take into account age, medical conditions, or susceptibility; these are simply guidelines that everyone should follow in order to slow the spread of the coronavirus. So, if you’re someone who’s suffering from a chronic illness that makes you more vulnerable to the effects of the virus, you’ll need to take extra precautions.
In this post, we’ll take a look at seven facts you should know about the coronavirus if you or a loved one is coping with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). COPD is an illness that affects around 15.7 million Americans, so it’s imperative that these people are fully aware of how the COVID-19 pandemic affects them. If you have any questions, be sure to leave them in the comment sections or fill out the contact form so we can reach out to you.
What is the Coronavirus?
SARS-CoV-2 is a type of coronavirus that causes coronavirus disease 2019, also called COVID-19 for short. This new type of coronavirus was first discovered in Wuhan, China, a large city in the province of Hubei last December. Since then, it has gone on to infect more than 1,000,000 people worldwide and is responsible for over 70,000 deaths. Since COVID-19 has spread across the whole world at this point, it has earned the title “pandemic.”
In the past, coronaviruses have only been known to infect animals. However, a few have been known to pass onto humans and these are referred to as “alpha” and “beta” coronaviruses. The term “SARS” in SARS-CoV-2 stands for “severe respiratory distress syndrome” which is the primary symptom of most coronaviruses.
It’s a “Novel” Disease
One of the most important things to know about COVID-19 is that it is considered “novel.” What this means is that it’s a new type of coronavirus that has never been seen before. In other words, we don’t have the decades of experience dealing with it like we do with influenza and other common diseases.
Another problem with it being a new disease is that we don’t have an immunity built up for it. Your body has two types of immunity that it uses to protect your body from harm; these include natural or “innate” immunity and “adaptive” immunity. Innate immunity is something that you’re born with. An example of this is mucus, a sticky substance that lines your sinuses, throat, and lungs which protects your body from infection.
Adaptive immunity, on the other hand, is immunity that your body develops over the course of your life. At a young age, you’re very vulnerable to infections like strep throat and ear infections, but as you age, your body develops a natural immunity to these things. Unfortunately, since COVID-19 is new to everyone, nobody has had the chance to build up an immunity to it.
Typically, when there is an outbreak of any type of disease in a particular region, there is enough scientific data from previous outbreaks in order to direct resources and efforts effectively. However, in the case of a new type of disease like COVID-19, it becomes very difficult for medical professionals to make decisions about where and when to divert their resources. We can see this in the United States through the shortage of ventilators and medical face masks which could help to prevent the spread of the virus.
Lastly, the fact that COVID-19 is a new virus means that it’s difficult to accurately depict its severity. While we now know that there are over 370,000 cases and over 12,000 deaths in the United States, back in January when it first entered the country, it would have been impossible to predict just how bad it would get. With that being said, it’s difficult for us to predict how much damage COVID-19 will cause in the near and distant future, so it’s best to be prepared for the worst.
COPD Patients are at a Higher Risk
Since COVID-19 is a respiratory illness, it goes without saying that people who already suffer from a chronic respiratory disease will experience more severe symptoms. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is primarily caused by smoking and it’s characterized by symptoms such as shortness of breath, chest pain, coughing, and wheezing. Millions of Americans already have COPD but experts estimate that as many as 81% of cases worldwide may be undiagnosed.
One of the primary ways COPD affects a patient’s ability to cope with the novel coronavirus is through lung inflammation and a weakened immune system. Most COPD patients develop a condition called immune dysfunction which puts them at a higher risk for exacerbations and compromises their ability to fight off common lung infections. When it comes to a virus that has never been introduced to the general population like COVID-19, the risk of contracting it is even more pronounced.
COPD News Today advises that patients with chronic lung illnesses take the following precautions in addition to the preventive measures listed by the World Health Organization:
- If you are using any type of medication like corticosteroids, bronchodilators, or methylxanthines, you’ll ideally want to stock up on these as much as possible. The more you can limit leaving the house to refill a prescription, the better. Doctors aren’t always able to prescribe a large quantity of a particular drug, but due to the circumstances, they might make an exception. Prescription deliveries are also becoming more common, so those might be worth considering as well.
- Secondly, COPD News Today advises that all COPD patients avoid unnecessary travel and large crowds. Necessary travel means leaving the house to get food or other essential supplies or to visit a friend or loved one. However, COPD patients should have their groceries delivered if at all possible and practice social distancing when visiting family.
- When it comes to medical treatment, it’s important to seek help as soon as possible and be prepared in case of an emergency. COVID-19 exhibits some of the same symptoms as COPD, so if you notice an unusual flare up or you shouldn’t wait to receive medical attention. Keep a list of emergency contacts on hand at all times.
- Last but certainly not least, you should take care to disinfect your home regularly. According to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, SARS-CoV-2 can live on surfaces for several days depending on the surface and the climate. This study found that it can survive 3 hours in the air, 4 hours on copper, 24 hours on cardboard, 48 hours on stainless steel, and 72 hours on plastic. You should take time to disinfect surfaces like door handles, computer keyboards, your cellphone, and tables or counters at least once a day. Also, be sure to use organic cleaners rather than ones filled with chemicals that can exacerbate COPD symptoms.
It’s worth noting that anyone with a chronic health condition is more prone to severe coronavirus disease, not just COPD patients. While there is still limited information on the risk factors of COVID-19, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warns that people with moderate to severe asthma are more likely to experience an asthma attack, pneumonia, or acute respiratory disease.
The CDC lists several other conditions that could lead to a higher risk of experiencing severe symptoms from COVID-19. They include the following:
- People with serious heart conditions
- People with diabetes
- People with liver or kidney disease
- People with an immunosuppressive condition (many conditions can lead to a compromised immune system)
- People with a body mass index of 40 or higher
Older Adults Experience More Severe Symptoms
Another risk factor we’ve been told to watch out for is age. According to CDC reports, fatality is highest among people 85 years of age and older, from 10% to 27%. People between the ages of 65 to 85 had between a 1% and 5% fatality rate and people under the age of 65 have under 1% fatality rates.
You’ve likely heard about fatality rates being unusually high in places like Italy, and this is largely due to the fact that the general population is much older than in other parts of the world. Stat News, a health and medicine news website, notes that the median age in Italy is 47 which is the highest in Europe. What’s more, 23% of the population is over the age of 65 and Italy has reported that 7.2% of people who contracted COVID-19 have died. This is significantly higher than the 1.8% to 3.4% fatality rate reported in the United States.
In many instances, fatality among the older population has less to do with their age and more to do with the fact that older people are more likely to have a chronic illness. According to the National Council on Aging, about 80% of older adults have at least one chronic disease and 77% of older adults have at least two chronic diseases. What’s more, four illnesses cause two-thirds of all deaths in any given year — diabetes, stroke, cancer, and heart disease. When you look at these numbers, it’s not hard to see why COVID-19 is such a significant threat to older generations.
Safety Compliance is Important Regardless of Age
Despite the fact that COVID-19 is more severe in older adults with chronic illnesses, that doesn’t change the fact that slowing the progression of the virus is the responsibility of everyone. While you may have heard individual cases of younger people contracting the virus and not experiencing any symptoms, these people are definitely the minority, so people of all ages and health conditions should take it seriously.
In addition to COVID-19 being a threat to younger generations, contracting the virus could mean passing it on to older generations, because the majority of cases are passed from person-to-person rather than from objects to people. Hospitals and nursing homes are particularly vulnerable to outbreaks so if younger people want to visit their parents or grandparents, it’s best to do so through video conference programs like Skype or Facetime.
Your COPD Treatment Plan is Still Important
We understand that times like these can be stressful and filled with uncertainty. And even when we don’t have a pandemic to deal with, it can be challenging to keep up with everything in your COPD treatment plan including pulmonary rehabilitation, an improved diet, and oxygen therapy. However, if history has taught us anything, it’s that we can achieve better outcomes if we focus on a healthy daily routine.
If your pulmonologist has already set you up with a COPD treatment plan, it’s best to stick with it unless he/she tells you to make adjustments. The reason it’s so important to do this is because it gives you the best odds of coping with COVID-19 if you were to contract it. It’s important to note, however, that simply following your COPD treatment plan won’t prevent the virus; you’ll still need to follow all the safety precautions listed above to prevent getting sick.
Pulmonary rehabilitation is the backbone of any good COPD treatment plan. Most often, your pulmonologist will set you up with a one-on-one exercise training course with a physical therapist. However, due to the current circumstances, it’s unlikely that you will be set up with an in-person pulmonary rehab program. Instead, you will likely be offered some type of online pulmonary rehab like Thrive eLearning where you’ll have access to important information for managing your disease. You’ll also be able to speak with respiratory therapists wherever and whenever you need.
Another aspect of your COPD treatment plan, your diet, can be very difficult to maintain with the spread of COVID-19. Grocery stores are a bad place to be right now because they are full of people and it’s difficult to maintain good social distancing practices. What’s more, grocery stores are on low supply of a lot of foods, so it can be difficult to find exactly what you’re looking for. Sites like Fresh Direct are great options for anyone with a chronic health condition like COPD because you can have groceries delivered directly to your door. If online grocery shopping is not an option, you may want to get a friend or loved one to go shopping for you.
Last but certainly not least, you’re going to want to continue with your oxygen therapy treatment program as advised by your pulmonologist. Oxygen therapy helps to keep your respiratory condition stable, reduce feelings of breathlessness, and most importantly, helps prevent exacerbations and hospitalization due to COPD symptoms. There are many types of oxygen generator on the market, but most doctors recommend portable oxygen concentrators like the Inogen One G5, because they’re lightweight, easy to use, and provide a high oxygen output.
Pay Attention to the News
Whenever there’s a pandemic or any other type of national emergency, you often get two different types of people: the ones who have the news on 24/7 and the ones who try to avoid the news as much as possible in order to avoid anxiety. While we certainly don’t want anyone to sit at their TV all day and stress about the current circumstances, it is important to keep up with what’s going on and understand what the recommended safety guidelines are for dealing with COVID-19.
If you don’t want to tune into the news everyday, that’s understandable. However, be sure to bookmark these pages by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization. Check these sites regularly and they will provide you with up-to-date information about COVID-19 prevention, travel guidance, as well as correcting some misinformation that’s out there in the public.
For many people, these are difficult times. The novel coronavirus has taken a pretty large toll not just on the health of the public but on the economy as well. It’s imperative that everyone — young or old, healthy or not — does their part to limit its spread. This means practicing good hygiene, keeping at least 6 feet of space between you and the nearest person, and staying home as much as possible.
As a COPD patient, you’ll need to take some additional precautions like stocking up on medical supplies, disinfecting your home regularly, and avoiding any form of unnecessary travel. You should continue to follow your COPD treatment plan unless otherwise advised by your pulmonologist.