With the outbreak of coronavirus (COVID-19) affecting thousands of people around the world, individuals with respiratory conditions such as cystic fibrosis (CF) need to take precautions, according to medical expert Richard K. Mathis, MD.
Mathis is a board member of Claire’s Place Foundation, a nonprofit organization that supports CF patients and their families. He has personally been caring for CF patients for over 40 years.
The term coronavirus refers to a class of viruses that also includes severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS). The name COVID-19 is an acronym for COrona VIrus Disease, and the year that it was discovered, 2019.
COVID-19 is an infectious disease that is believed to be spread through small droplets of moisture produced by sneezing or coughing. The primary mode of transmission is thought to be through person-to-person contact, but the virus can also live in droplets outside of a person. It is not yet known how long the virus can survive under external conditions.
The main symptoms of COVID-19 are fever, dry cough, and difficulty breathing. COVID-19 primarily infects the respiratory system, leaving CF patients particularly vulnerable.
In total, COVID-19 cases have been identified in over 100 countries. The disease has reached “community spread” — a term used when an illness for which the source of infection is unknown spreads throughout a community — in some regions of the U.S.
“COVID-19 is extremely infectious, and has recently achieved community spread status in the U.S.,” Mathis said in a press release. “This status means that individuals with CF and their household members are on the front line of the need for preventive measures.”
“The novel virus affects the epithelial cells lining of the lungs, which is detrimental to the health of someone with CF, as the epithelial cells are already damaged due to CF,” Mathis said.
Mathis strongly recommends people with CF consider whether it is worth attending a particular community gathering, as the risk of contracting the virus increases with the number of people. Public places and schools have already closed in some parts of the world to limit exposure.
Mathis also recommends wearing a N-95 face mask, a respirator mask designed to filter out droplets that potentially carry the virus.
Additional steps one can take to limit the possibility of infection include washing hands with water and soap for at least 20 seconds, using hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol content, and avoiding touching the face and eyes.
Inside the home, Mathis recommends frequently disinfecting any surfaces that are commonly touched, such as TV remotes. This is important because COVID-19 symptoms may not appear immediately, making it possible for a person to be infected and not know about it.
“It is vital that caretakers and family members of individuals with CF do not bring COVID-19 into their home, and follow preventive measures immediately,” Mathis said. “In fact, someone can carry COVID-19 without symptoms, bringing it unknowingly into the home.”
Mathis also recommends being proactive about any possibility of having the virus. If a person suspects he or she has contracted the virus, that person should stay quarantined at home.
“Fever and increased breathing difficulty require prompt medical care,” and CF patients should call their pulmonary or CF doctor if these symptoms appear, Mathis said.
As COVID-19 spread is a developing situation, it is important to monitor the websites of agencies such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and the CF Foundation for updated information, Mathis said. The World Health Organization is also providing updates.
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