Staying Safe from Coronavirus with a Chronic Illness

It’s a scary time to be someone with a chronic illness right now. Thankfully, endometriosis doesn’t affect my immune system the way chronic illnesses like cancer and cystic fibrosis might. But seeing as most of the deaths from COVID-19 are coming from those with preexisting health conditions, you might be feeling a bit uncertain regarding the relationship between coronavirus and your chronic illness.

The Los Angeles times recently released an (excellent!) article that states that an estimated six million Americans take biologic drugs for chronic health conditions. These drugs can weaken their immune system, making them more susceptible to illnesses like COVID-19.

For the 1 in 10 women like me who suffer from endometriosis, there’s a chance our immune systems may also be weakened: studies have found a close link between endometriosis and other autoimmune diseases (such as lupus), suggesting a strong immune component to endo.

The last thing I think anyone should be doing when it comes to the coronavirus is panicking — but if any young person has cause for concern, it’s a young person with an impaired immune system. Talk about people over the age of 60 dying is masking the very real fears that people like us have about coronavirus taking hold.

So, since our disease response isn’t doing much to support people with chronic illnesses, what can we do to be proactive against COVID-19? I did some research — and here’s what I’ve found.

To prevent the spread of coronavirus….

Wash your hands. If you haven’t heard to wash your hands often (and sing “Happy Birthday” twice while doing it), I have nothing to say to you right now. Wash ya damn hands. That’s all.

Don’t touch your face. Your eyes, nose and mouth should be considered off-limits when you’re out in public. At home, if you must touch your face (for example, if you need to blow your nose), wash your hands afterwards for at least 20 seconds.

Use a face mask properly. If you use a face mask improperly, you are better off wearing no mask at all. Masks are made to be disposed after one use, not reused over and over again. When you reuse the same mask for long periods of time, you actually create moisture that attracts germs.

Avoid contact with people who are sick. Whenever possible, maintain distance between you and people who are sick. If you must be around someone who is sick (for example, if your significant other is sick and you live together), self-quarantine for at least two weeks — or longer if you contract the virus.

Have at least two weeks of groceries on hand. In the event you must self-quarantine, you may need to stay at home for extended periods of time with no warning — hence why so many people are stocking up. Now, you don’t need to go to extremes, but it is a smart idea to have two weeks of nonperishable and/or frozen groceries on hand in the event of an emergency.

If you have a chronic illness….

Stock up on medical supplies. If possible, contact your doctor to receive extra quantities of prescription meds. Otherwise, try a mail order service like Amazon’s PillPack. (This is the service I use for all my meds and I love it!) You should also stock up on face masks, gloves, OTC vitamins and minerals you may take, cleaning wipes and all-purpose cleaner if possible.

Avoid public places as much as possible. When you are especially vulnerable to coronavirus, practice what is called social distancing. Keep contact with your friends via text, call and FaceTime or Skype, rather than meeting in person. Work from home if your boss allows it. Use grocery services like Instacart and Peapod to have food delivered to your home. In the modern era, it’s easier than ever to isolate yourself!

Consult with your healthcare providers. Have a plan in case you get sick of whom you will contact if you exhibit signs and symptoms of COVID-19. Telemedicine appointments are preferred over in-person ones. Talk to your medical team about whom you should call or video chat with if you believe you may have the coronavirus.

If you don’t have a chronic illness….

STOP stockpiling medical supplies. The average person does NOT need to wear a facemask (and may actually put themselves at risk by doing so) or gloves unless they are actively sick with COVID-19. Someone with a serious illness who is at higher risk of contracting coronavirus needs these medical supplies more than you do. You can and should stock up on tissues, cough drops and other items to help you recover at home — but those who have a chronic illness may not be able to recover at home if they contract the coronavirus.