What Cancer Patients Need to Know About COVID-19

Mar 18 • 2020
Dr. Muhammad Raza

Q&A With Dr. Muhammad Raza: How Patients With Compromised Immune Systems Can Protect Themselves

The new coronavirus disease, called COVID-19, is concerning for many people, especially patients with compromised immune systems and their families. Patients who are immunocompromised have a reduced ability to fight infections because their immune systems are often weakened by a health condition, such as cancer, diabetes or an inherited disease.

It is important that immunocompromised patients and their families take precautions to lower their risk for COVID-19. We sat down with Dr. Muhammad Raza, a Baptist Medical Group physician who specializes in hematology and oncology, to discuss what cancer patients and people with weakened immune systems can do to prevent getting sick.

Q: What should immunocompromised people know about coronavirus?

A: This coronavirus is a novel, or new, virus. Our scientific information about the virus is limited right now. However, we know from other countries, including China and Italy, that it is highly contagious.

Immunocompromised people, older adults and people who have severe underlying chronic medical conditions — such as heart or lung disease or cancer, seem to be at a higher risk for developing more serious complications from COVID-19.

While healthy people may only display mild symptoms when infected, immunocompromised and cancer patients get a serious or aggressive form of this disease. The survival rate is lower in these patients.

Q: What should they do to protect themselves?

A: Follow recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and your local health department. The best way to prevent illness is to avoid being exposed to the virus, which is thought to spread by person-to-person contact and through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person sneezes or coughs.

Protect yourself by avoiding contact with other people. Everyone should follow social distancing guidelines, especially cancer patients and people with weakened immune systems. Additionally, wash your hands often with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds.

If you don’t have soap and water available, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol. Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.

Q: What places should they avoid?

A: Avoid public places, such as grocery stores, restaurants, libraries, public transportation and other crowded spaces. This guideline is true for everyone, but it is extra true for immunocompromised patients. Cancer patients and people who have weak immune systems should stay home too.

Q: What should their family and friends do?

A: Family and friends should follow the same precautions, including observing strict handwashing measures, practicing social distancing and staying home as much as possible. Early studies show people can transfer this virus in the first five days of infection before they even know they have the virus.

A family member could be a carrier for this virus and transmit it to an immunocompromised person without knowing it. That is why it is extremely important for family and friends to take precautions so as not to expose themselves and others who are at a higher risk of getting COVID-19.

Q: Where can people find out more information?

A: Because this is a rapidly evolving situation, people can visit Baptist’s Coronavirus Resource Center, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website or their local health department website for the most up-to-date information. I cannot emphasize it enough — wash your hands, use hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol, and avoid social gatherings and nonessential travel.

Visit our Coronavirus Resource Center to learn more about COVID-19 and get Mid-South coronavirus updates and resources. Find a doctor by visiting our Find a Doctor page.