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ARTHRITIS AND COVID-19 —HERE ARE THE FACTS
In recent weeks, the world has been flooded by news of the Coronavirus. The virus, officially called COVID-19, has prompted a lot of worry, largely due to the misinformation circulating on the web. As arthritis sufferers, there’s also a lot of questions regarding how this will affect us.
To that end, we reached out to our medical contacts and scoured credible sources online to answer your most pressing questions about it–
What’s the coronavirus?
The coronavirus actually refers to a large cluster of viruses responsible for everything from causing colds to severe pneumonia. The most recently discovered coronavirus is COVID-19.
COVID-19 is the specific virus that we’re dealing with now. It was dubbed “Coronavirus” when it first started to spread because it was only very recently named by the World Health Organization (WHO). In this context, when people refer to the coronavirus and COVID-19, they are actually referring to the same thing—a type of virus that attaches to cells in your lungs and causes penumonia-like symptoms.
What are the symptoms of COVID-19?
The symptoms of COVID-19 are similar to the flu. According to WHO, over 80% or even more people who tested positive for the virus exhibited mild symptoms that are similar to colds or seasonal flu. These included fever, cough, and shortness of breath—all of which appear anywhere from 2-14 days after infection.
According to statistics, around 80% who contract the virus fully recover without needing special treatment; and around 1 out of 6 cases become seriously ill and develop difficulty breathing. In such cases, these are usually older people with underlying medical conditions such as high blood pressure, heart problems, and diabetes.
Given these symptoms, people with fever, cough, and difficulty breathing should seek medical attention immediately.
Is it contagious?
Yes. People can catch COVID-19 from others who have the virus. It spreads from one person to another through small droplets that are expelled when an infected person coughs or exhales. These droplets can land on objects and surfaces, and when another person touches these surfaces and proceeds to touch their face, eyes, nose, or mouth, they can potentially catch the virus.
Is there anything I can do to protect myself from COVID-19?
Yes–surface viruses can be killed with isopropyl alcohol, hydrogen peroxide, and bleach. Soap and water and disinfectants can also be used.
Always keep the following in mind:
- Diligent hand hygiene is essential. Remember to regularly wash your hands (with soap for at least 20 seconds) or apply an alcohol based hand sanitizer.
- Maintain at lest 1 meter (3 feet) distance between yourself and someone who’s coughing or sneezing to ensure that you don’t breathe in any droplets expelled.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth where viruses can easily enter, especially after you touch high-traffic surfaces.
- If you sneeze or cough, always cover your mouth using the crook of your elbow, your hand, or a tissue. Remember to sanitize after.
- If you’re feeling unwell, stay in. If you think you’re exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19, reach out to your local health authority who can provide you with the most up to date information or provide next steps to follow.
I have autoimmune or inflammatory arthritis—am I at a higher risk for COVID-19?
Because of how new COVID-19 is, information about the virus is limited, so no one knows for sure. However, according to Arthritis.org, “people with autoimmune or inflammatory arthritis with high disease activity are generally at a higher risk of infections because of greater immune dysregulation.”
“For COVID-19 and seasonal flu, we do know that older adults and those with pre-existing health problems – especially cardiovascular disease, diabetes and high blood pressure – and those who have been hospitalized before with infections are most at risk.
The experts emphasize that one of the main concerns for people with autoimmune disease who contract seasonal flu or COVID-19 is secondary bacterial infection, or complications, that may follow the original viral infection.”
Given this, if you start to exhibit COVID-19 symptoms, be sure to reach out to your doctor right away.
Because of my arthritis, I take a lot of medicines that suppress my immune system—does that put me at a higher risk for infection?
We know very little about the virus and how it can potentially impact patients who have to take immunosuppressant drugs.
According to studies however–
“[But] Michael George, MD, a rheumatologist and assistant professor of medicine and epidemiology at the University of Pennsylvania, in Philadelphia, says that in relation to viruses in general, limited data suggest some of the drugs used to treat autoimmune and inflammatory types of arthritis – biologics (for example, Remicade, Enbrel and Cimzia), JAK-inhibitors (Xeljanz, Olumiant and Rinvoq), and corticosteroids (prednisone) – may contribute to higher risk or severity of viral infection. A recent large study of people with cardiovascular disease found that hydroxychloroquine (Plaquenil) does not increase the risk of infection and methotrexate increases the risk of infection only slightly.”
The concern here is that drugs designed to suppress the immune system could make it easier for the virus to replicate. So if you’re taking these kinds of medicines to manage your arthritis and have been exhibiting symptoms, be sure to speak to your doctor and inform them right away.
It’s important to note however that experts warn patients against halting or changing their medications without first consulting their physicians in light of COVID-19.
Can wearing a mask protect me?
WHO recommends people to only wear a mask if they are confirmed to be ill with COVID-19.
The most effective way to protect yourself against COVID-19 is to frequently clean your hands, avoid touching your face, cover your mouth when coughing or sneezing, and maintaining a distance of at least 1 meter (3 feet) from people who are coughing or sneezing.
Is there a vaccine for COVID-19? Are there any drugs or treatment options available?
While there is no vaccine yet available, the scientific community are hard at work to explore possible vaccines and drug treatments that could prevent infections and address the spread of the virus. Still, everyone affected should receive proper medical care to relieve symptoms, while those with more serious symptoms should be hospitalized. Most patients recover after infection.
We strongly encourage this community to regularly check the World Health Organization site to stay up to date with the latest news and updates from a credible source. Rest assured that we’re also doing all we can to gather as much information regarding COVID-19 so we can share it with all of you.