How Pulmonary Patients Can Stay Healthy
During the Coronavirus Pandemic

Living with a chronic respiratory condition such as cystic fibrosis, bronchiectasis, COPD or asthma can significantly compromise the immune system, making patients more vulnerable to bacteria, viruses, developing an infection or exacerbation.  With the emergence of COVID-19, a new form of coronavirus that can cause acute infection with respiratory symptoms, it is crucial for people with underlying respiratory conditions to be especially vigilant.  There is a greater concern for both infection and morbidity in patients who suffer from chronic lung diseases.

Keeping informed of the current pandemic and knowing how to protect oneself is key to maintaining respiratory hygiene and health, especially for patients with chronic respiratory conditions or other underlying conditions. Below is some important information about COVID-19 from the Center for Disease Control (CDC), the World Health Organization (WHO) and the American Thoracic Society (ATS), and how to minimize risk of infection and prevent spreading of this new coronavirus.

COVID-19 is a new strain of coronaviruses that was discovered in 2019 and has not been previously identified in humans.1,2,3 While many patients with confirmed COVID-19 infection develop fever and/or signs of respiratory illness such as cough, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties, most patients are either asymptomatic or only mildly ill.4 In more severe cases, infection can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and even death.4

Elderly people and others with pre-existing medical conditions such as cardiovascular disease, respiratory disease or diabetes are more vulnerable to becoming severely ill with the virus.4 It’s not clear why COVID-19 is especially risky for people with these diseases. But in general, respiratory diseases can be particularly dangerous for people with cardiovascular disease. When the lungs don’t function properly, the heart has to work even harder.5 Researchers have also known that diabetes can damage the nervous system and impair the body’s efforts to clear infections from lungs.

Patients needing airway clearance help for respiratory conditions should continue with airway clearance therapy as an integral part of daily lung care. When mucus sits in the airways, it causes inflammation and possibly further damage to the lungs. Mucus also holds bacteria in the airways, leading to more inflammation and recurrent exacerbations. Because of this, it is critical to improve airway clearance to get the mucus out of the airways and maintain clear airways to prevent further lung infection.

Preventing Infection and Community Spread

WHO advises people of all ages to take steps to protect themselves from the virus by following good hand hygiene and good respiratory hygiene.1,2,3  Right now, the best way to lessen the virus’ impact is to slow its spread. This will ensure that healthcare systems aren’t overwhelmed. 1,3   Everyone needs to do their best to avoid getting sick as well as spread the virus to other people. One important thing people need to keep in mind is that you do not have to be sick or have symptoms to transmit the virus. Therefore, it is very important for people to follow basic infection control measures to help prevent COVID-19 and/or other viruses, like influenza.

This includes the following actions3:

  • Wash your hands often. And for at least 20 seconds with soap and water. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol. Washing your hands with soap and water or using alcohol-based hand rub kills viruses that may be on your hands.
  • Maintain social distancing. When someone coughs or sneezes, they spray small liquid droplets from their nose or mouth which may contain virus. If you are too close, you can breathe in the droplets, including the COVID-19 virus if the person coughing is infected.
  • Avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth. Hands touch many surfaces and can pick up viruses. Once contaminated, hands can transfer the virus to your eyes, nose or mouth. From there, the virus can enter your body and can make you sick.
  • Practice respiratory hygiene. Make sure you, and the people around you, follow good respiratory hygiene. This means covering your mouth and nose with your bent elbow or tissue when you cough or sneeze. Then dispose of the used tissue immediately. Droplets spread virus. By following good respiratory hygiene, you protect the people around you from viruses such as cold, flu and COVID-19.
  • Stay at home if you begin to feel unwell. Even with mild symptoms such as headache and slight runny nose, until you recover. Avoiding contact with others and visits to medical facilities will allow these facilities to operate more effectively and help protect you and others from possible COVID-19 and other viruses.
  • Seek medical advice. If you develop fever, cough and difficulty breathing, visit a healthcare facility promptly as this may be due to a respiratory infection or other serious condition. Call in advance and tell your provider of any recent travel or contact with travelers. This will also help to prevent possible spread of COVID-19 and other viruses.

This information is a public service of International Biophysics Corporation.  This content is for educational purposes only. It should not be used as a substitute for the medical advice of one’s healthcare provider.

References

  1. CDC 2019 Novel Coronavirus: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/about/index.html
  2. American Thoracic Society: https://www.thoracic.org/patients/patient-resources/resources/novel-wuhan-coronavirus.pdf
  3. World Health Organization: https://www.who.int/health-topics/coronavirus
  4. Huang et al. Clinical features of patients infected with 2019 novel coronavirus in Wuhan, China. Lancet. Published Online January 24, 2020
  5. American College of Cardiology: https://www.acc.org/~/media/Non-Clinical/Files-PDFs-Excel-MS-Word-etc/2020/02/S20028-ACC-Clinical-Bulletin-Coronavirus.pdf
  6. Pitocco D, et al. The diabetic lung–a new target organ?. Rev Diabet Stud. 2012;9(1):23–35.