2 May, 2020
Precautionary measures for cancer patients during COVID-19 pandemic

The recent outbreak of the novel coronavirus, called COVID-19, has made a serious impact on many people, including cancer patients, their families, and caregivers. Many countries are badly affected by coronavirus pandemic and have advised their people having symptoms of coronavirus (COVID 19) to ‘self-isolate’, while rest of the people are asked to maintain ‘social distancing’ as a preventive measure against coronavirus transmission among humans.

Along with patients, their caregivers should also take precautions to lower the risk of getting COVID-19. Blood cancer patients, due to the weakened immune systems by cancer itself and its treatment, are at higher risk of acquiring serious illnesses from infections and so for coronavirus.

Cancers affecting the immune system like leukaemia, lymphoma, lower down the capability of body to fight against infections. Such patients of blood cancer are at a higher risk, if they get infected, and also those patients who are undergoing chemotherapy and recently have had received bone marrow transplant.

Patients with blood cancer are at high risk who:

  • are currently affected by blood cancer, irrespective of undergoing any active treatments.
  • have had received chemotherapy in the last 3 months.
  • have had received a transplant in the last 6 months.
  • are taking immunosuppressive medications after a transplant.

Patients with blood cancer, and others at higher risk are advised to be at home and come out only when essential.
‘Shielding’, ‘self-isolation’ and ‘social distancing’ are few related terms and people are being asked to practice them along with hygiene and sanitation measures for an effective prevention from coronavirus.

  • ‘Shielding’ – Advised for people with blood cancer:Refers to staying at home for 12 weeks because people with blood cancer are among the highest risk group.
  • ‘Self-isolation’ – For only people with symptoms:Refers to staying away from other people to prevent transmission of coronavirus to others. A person in ‘self-isolation’ should follow strictly following rules

Do NOT’s

  • Go to work, public places.
  • Use public transport or have visitors to your home.
  • Go to the shops or pharmacy (someone else should bring supplies to you).

Do’s:

  • Follow this advice for at least 7 days, or until your temperature returns to normal.
  • People staying together should also follow this for 14 days.
  • Vulnerable people living in the same home, should stay away or somewhere else for 14 days.
  • If staying away isn’t possible, then try to keep distance, not share a bed, not share towels, and clean surfaces often.

Social distancing – For everyone to follow

Social distancing refers to avoiding any physical interaction with other people as much as possible.

  • Leaving home should be done only to shop for basic essentials, any medical cause, or to travel to work – but only when it is absolutely necessary.
  • You should not see anyone you don’t live with.
  • Use telephone or online services to contact your GP.
  • You should follow the advice strictly if you are over 70, have an underlying health condition, or are pregnant.

General Preventive measures for blood cancer patients against coronavirus

  • For people affected by any type of blood cancer, or at a higher risk from coronavirus, are advised to be at home.
  • People staying with these people should follow strict advice to protect them within the home.
  • Avoiding exposure by adhering to recommended hygiene procedures, isolation of SARS-CoV-2- infected persons and social distancing are the only prevention strategies as per the EBMT guidelines.
  • Strictly avoid contact with someone displaying symptoms of coronavirus (COVID-19) such as high temperature and/or new continuous cough.
  • Leave your house only when essential like medical appointments.
  • Avoid any functions and gatherings with friends and family.

Preventive measures for people in remission

  • The common advice to everyone is to socially distance themselves under the current conditions of COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Patients with CML (Chronic Myeloid Leukaemia) do not appear at a higher risk of getting COVID-19.
  • CML patients can be at a higher risk of COVID-19 infection if they are older (age >70 years), have other medical conditions or are receiving other treatment which will suppress the immune system.
  • Self-isolation (self-quarantine) is recommended for at-risk individuals, but the diagnosis of CML or treatment for CML (Chronic Myeloid Leukaemia) alone does not fall in this category.
  • Myeloma patients, if are at remission, still have a compromised immune system. Such patients should be considered under the category of “currently having any type of blood cancer, whether receiving active treatment or not”. Hence it is necessary to follow the advice on shielding.
  • If there is an option, an oral rather than IV/SC regimen should be considered to reduce hospital visits.

If you fall into any of the higher risk groups, and if you are worried about your immunity, speak to your healthcare team if possible.

References:

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