Cancer patients and the coronavirus: FAQ’s

What is the coronavirus disease (COVID-19)?

  • Coronavirus describes a family of viruses that can affect humans and animals. This family of viruses is responsible for the common cold, as well as more severe diseases such as SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) and MERS (Middle East respiratory syndrome).
  • More specifically, the current coronavirus has been named “SARS-CoV-2.” The illness the virus causes is COVID-19, which stands for “coronavirus disease 2019.” COVID-19 is the name of the disease, not the virus.
  • This specific virus has not been seen by humans before, and therefore our immune system is not able to mount a response as quickly or effectively. This can result in more severe symptoms.
  • This is especially dangerous for older adults, those who are immunosuppressed or people with diabetes, heart or lung issues.
  • The symptoms of COVID-19 typically include fever, cough and shortness of breath.
  • Symptoms can range from mild to severe, and complications can be more serious in people with the risk factors described above.

What does this mean for our cancer patients?

People with cancer often have weakened immune systems.

Having a weak immune system makes it harder for the body to fight off diseases, so it’s important for people with cancer and their family members to closely follow steps to protect themselves, especially when it comes to frequent hand-washing.

We recommend you speak with your doctor if you have concerns about your risk for COVID-19 being higher as a result of current or past cancer treatment.

Other steps include:

  • Continued training reinforcement and practice scenarios for clinical staff
  • Screening patients and visitors regarding international travel or contact with international travelers, and regarding recent illnesses. This screening is being expanded to travel to areas in the U.S. with high COVID-19 rates.
  • Monitoring personal protective equipment (including masks, gowns and gloves) for proper use and distribution
  • Screening staff returning to work after illness
  • Communicating visiting recommendations to our contractors 

What are we doing to protect our patient, visitors and staff?

  • We are screening all patients and visitors by asking about their recent travel and where the people close to them have traveled, as well as about any signs of illness.
  • To protect our patients and staff, and ensure that healthcare providers and staff are available to care for patients, we have instituted new employee guidelines on both business and personal travel that are in effect until further notice.
  • Any signs of illness at all the staff will stay home and come into work until they are 100%.

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.
  • The CDC has compiled tips on what people can do to help slow the spread of the new coronavirus and make homes, schools, and workplaces safer, including not shaking hands and avoiding crowds, cruise travel, and non-essential travel.

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

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.

Call your doctor if you have symptoms of COVID-19, which include:

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath

We need to keep in mind for some it may be as straightforward as a delay in having elective surgery. For others it may be delaying preventive care or adjuvant chemotherapy that’s meant to keep cancer from returning.

You may need to reschedule appointments, including screenings and your doctor will discuss this with you.  It will require patience, calmness on everyone’s part and stay in touch with your doctor to determine the best course of action for you.

What do I need to do if I am going to an appointment?

If you have cold or flu-like symptoms (fever, cough, difficulty breathing, body aches, or chills), you must call our office before coming, even if you have an appointment to discuss the options and confirm your appointment.

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. 
  • 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.
  • Life goes on and we will all get through this together.

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. According to the American Red Cross, 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.
  • The WHO has a list of myth busters to debunk some claims you may have heard about how the new coronavirus may be transmitted or treated. 
  • Bottom line: Scientists are learning more about the virus every day, and health experts are updating their information daily.

Do I need a mask?

  • Health officials say that unless you have cold or flu-like symptoms, you should not wear a face mask.
  • It is far more important and effective to wash your hands often and not touch your face.

What other advice so you have for me?

Please visit our stay inform page to learn about how to wash your hands properly and how to clean and disinfect.

Our mission at The Central Florida Cancer Institute is to enhance quality of life, facilitate adaptation, and improve health outcomes through evidence-based care.

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