What Cancer Patients Need To Know

About The Coronavirus

Shared by American Cancer Society (19th March 2020)

The new coronavirus disease, called Covid-19, is front and center in many people’s minds. This is likely to be worrisome for many people, especially for cancer patients and their families. Cancer patients are among those at high risk of serious illness from an infection because their immune systems are often weakened by cancer and its treatments. Usually the risk is temporary. Cancer patients who finished treatment a few years ago or longer have immune systems that have most likely recovered, but each person is different. It’s important that all cancer patients and survivors, whether currently in treatment or not, talk with a doctor who understands their situation and medical history. It’s also important that patients and their caregivers take precautions to lower their risk of getting COVID-19.

How can I protect myself from getting Covid-19?

According to the CDC and WHO:

  • Wash your hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds because it’s one of the best ways to kill germs on your hands and prevent the spread of germs to others. If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth because if you picked up the virus, you could infect yourself by allowing the virus to enter your body. 
  • Avoid close contact – being within 6 feet – from people who are sick, especially those who are coughing or sneezing.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash, or sneeze into your elbow.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe.
  • Stay home when you are sick.

What else do cancer patients need to know about the coronavirus?

Avoid being exposed to the virus

The Covid-19 outbreak is still new, so doctors do not have a lot of specific information on this coronavirus for cancer patients. But they do have a lot of information regarding the risk of infections in general for cancer patients.

Doctors and health officials agree the best way to prevent illness is to avoid being exposed to this virus, which is especially important for cancer patients because they are at higher risk for serious illness, if they get infected, particularly patients who are in active chemotherapy and bone marrow transplant patients. That’s because their immune systems are suppressed or eliminated by the treatment.

Symptoms of Covid-19 include:

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath

Other Common Questions About the Coronavirus:

What is a coronavirus?

Coronaviruses are a family of viruses that can cause common colds, as well as more serious respiratory diseases such as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS). The first coronavirus was discovered in the 1960s.

What is Covid-19?

Covid-19 is the name of the illness caused by a new coronavirus that has led to a large outbreak in China, which was first reported in December 2019.  The name of this new coronavirus is “SARS-CoV-2.”

Principal Deputy Director of the CDC, Dr. Anne Schuchat, says this new coronavirus is “spread in a similar way to the common cold or to influenza.”

How serious is the Covid-19 illness?

“The vast majority of individuals who contract the novel coronavirus, they will experience mild to moderate symptoms and their treatment will be to remain at home, treating their symptoms the way they would a severe cold or the flu,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) at the National Institutes of Health in a statement. “For some individuals, a smaller percentage, especially those who may be medically fragile, they will require medical attention including possibly hospitalization.”

The WHO says “the most common symptoms of COVID-19 are fever, tiredness, and dry cough. Some patients may have aches and pains, nasal congestion, runny nose, sore throat or diarrhea. These symptoms are usually mild and begin gradually.”

The CDC and WHO say that based on the cases they’ve seen so far in China, older adults, and people with weakened immune systems are at greater risk for serious complications if they are infected with this new virus. The CDC says possible risk factors for developing severe COVID-19 illness may include, but are not limited to, older age and underlying chronic medical conditions such as lung disease, cancer, heart disease, kidney disease, liver disease, diabetes, and pregnancy.

How does the virus spread?

According to the CDC, the virus spreads mainly from person-to-person:

  • When somebody who is infected and coughs or sneezes, the virus can be spread in respiratory droplets.
  • These droplets might reach the mouths or noses of people who are in close contact (within about 6 feet), which could lead to an infection.

The droplets can also land on surfaces, which people might then touch. This could potentially lead to an infection if a person then touches their mouth or nose.

The WHO says “studies suggest that coronaviruses (including preliminary information on the COVID-19 virus) may survive on surfaces for a few hours or up to several days… If you think a surface may be infected, clean it with simple disinfectant to kill the virus and protect yourself and others.”

Can I get COVID-19 from a blood transfusion?

No. There is no evidence that this new coronavirus can be transmitted through a blood transfusion.

Is there a vaccine against the new coronavirus?

There are no treatments or vaccines available yet against the virus that causes COVID-19. Several pharmaceutical companies are working on vaccines and treatments. The first clinical trial for a COVID-19 vaccine just started, however, it will likely be at least a year or a year and half before a vaccine might be available, according to the NIH’s Fauci.

Can antibiotics be used to treat COVID-19?

No. Antibiotics only work to treat infections caused by bacteria, not viruses. No medicines have been approved specifically to treat COVID-19 at this point, although some medicines might be helpful in treating symptoms from the disease.

And despite some claims now appearing online and elsewhere, no dietary or other supplements have been shown to help against COVID-19.