When You Have a Weakened Immune System During COVID-19

When You Have a Weakened Immune System During COVID-19

As healthcare experts around the world rush to contain the dangerous spread of COVID-19, new and effective strategies for managing the disease are becoming increasingly necessary. For the majority of people who are young and healthy, practices such as social distancing, disinfecting surfaces, and frequent washing of hands offer common-sense solutions that keep themselves and others relatively safe from infection. But for the subset of the population who are immunocompromised, there are a few added considerations that must be taken into account if they hope to stave off an outbreak. While preparedness is a strong ally when preventing the spread of a contagion, awareness is just as important.

What does it mean to be immunocompromised?

To begin with, it’s necessary to distinguish what it means to be immunocompromised. Living with altered immunocompetence can be classified as either primary or secondary. People with primary immunodeficiencies are born with them – whether a disease or other genetic condition like a low white blood cell count. When an individual’s immune system is compromised by outside factors such as medication – used to combat serious diseases – or malnutrition, this is classified as a secondary immunodeficiency.

Which conditions and medications increase your risk?

The most serious effect of a compromised immune system is the inability of the body to fight off infections. Conditions such as Crohn’s Disease and HIV, where the immune system is overactive to the point of detriment and must, therefore, be suppressed using certain medications in treatment, render the patient susceptible to outside infections because of this. 

Life-threatening rheumatic diseases (lupus), and others such as cancer also require higher doses of strong medication (ex. chemotherapy) that make infection detection difficult due to a lack of symptoms exhibited by the patient. Individuals over the age of 70 with hypertension, lung disease, heart disease, and diabetes are also at higher risk of contracting COVID-19.

How can you boost your immune system?

When living with a compromised immune system, a balanced diet coupled with regular exercise offer the best methods for staying healthy.  Planning meals that contain broccoli, ginger, garlic, spinach, poultry, yogurt, almonds, and turmeric are great examples of foods that can strengthen immunodeficiency. Some individuals might consider temporarily ceasing their immune-suppressing medications during this time for added protection. It is critical to consult with your healthcare practitioner before taking any steps such as this, as doing so can risk flare-ups of the conditions the drugs are meant to treat.  

How you can help a loved one at risk?

Perhaps it isn’t yourself who suffers from immunodeficiency, but rather a friend or a loved one instead. On top of using the information above to help keep them healthy and prepared, there are a few other things you can offer to do as well to aid in this regard. Offering to pick go and pick up groceries for this person so that they do not have to venture outside the safety of their own home and thus risk exposure is one such example. You could also learn which specific medications your friend or loved one is currently taking, and if possible, work on helping them secure an extra supply to avoid the risk of any potential shortages. Finally, in the unfortunate circumstance that you have a friend or a loved currently in a hospital or long term care facility and living with a compromised immune system, always take extra precautions when visiting them and never visit when you are sick yourself. With your added help, you can keep the risk of contracting COVID-19 low for them. 

This is more than the flu.

Though millions suffer from the flu each year, many otherwise healthy people often make quick recoveries. In actuality, it is often a secondary infection such as pneumonia that can turn influenza fatal for those at risk. The difference with COVID-19 is that it is much more infectious than the flu, and the risk of developing pneumonia for those with compromised immune systems is much higher. If you are currently living with an immunodeficiency – or have a friend or loved one that is – it is critical to consult your primary health practitioner and get tested if you begin to experience any of the associated symptoms. Early recognition is vital in treating the disease. 

The best chance to prevent the spread of COVID-19 is to be prepared and aware. Making sure to have enough groceries or medications on hand so that you can remain indoors, refraining from travel or events with large crowds, rescheduling any minor medical appointments after consulting with your doctor, or having family or friends regularly call to check on you if you live alone are all effective ways to make living with a weakened immune system during COVID-19 much more manageable.

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