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What is COVID-19?
COVID-19, short for coronavirus disease 2019, is an infection caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). SARS-CoV-2 is a newly identified pathogen that has not previously been seen in humans and is highly contagious. Though it belongs to the same category of viruses as SARS coronavirus (SARS-CoV) and influenza viruses, SARS-CoV-2 is a different strain with its own characteristics.
How does COVID-19 spread?
Because COVID-19 is a new virus, nobody has prior immunity to it, meaning the entire human population is prone to infection.
COVID-19 is primarily spread via respiratory droplets when people cough or sneeze. Scientists have yet to understand how easily and sustainably the disease can spread among people. Based on available evidence, researchers do not think that airborne spread is a major transmission route.
Individuals over age 60 are also at the highest risk of developing a severe case of COVID-19, while children do not seem to be at a higher risk than adults.
There are currently no reports about how susceptible pregnant women may be to COVID-19 or about the transmission of the virus through breast milk.
What are the symptoms of COVID-19?
Common symptoms of COVID-19 begin two to 14 days after exposure. They include fever, tiredness, and dry cough. Other symptoms include sputum production, shortness of breath, sore throat, headache, myalgia (muscle pain) or arthralgia (joint pain), chills, vomiting, and nasal congestion. Less frequent symptoms include diarrhea, hemoptysis (coughing up blood from the respiratory tract), and conjunctival congestion.
Most of these symptoms are usually mild, and about 80% of people who get the virus will typically recover without needing any special treatment. However, about 1 in 6 patients become seriously ill and develop breathing difficulties.
What general preventive measures should people take?
The following simple preventive measures can help minimize the spread of COVID-19:
- Wash your hands often with soap, lathering both the front and the back of the hands and fingers for at least 15 to 20 seconds. If soap is not available, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol. The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control produced a poster detailing effective handwashing.
- Avoid close contact with someone who is ill. (Maintain a distance of at least 6 feet, or 1.8 meters).
- Stay at home if you are sick.
- Use a tissue to cover your mouth and nose if you cough or sneeze and dispose of it properly afterward.
- Disinfect surfaces and objects you touch frequently.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
What about cancer patients?
Because the COVID-19 outbreak is new, there is not much information available on how this virus affects cancer patients. However, patients with cancer are considered among the groups at high risk of developing a more serious illness. Patients with hematological malignancies such as acute myeloid leukemia (AML), lymphoma, and myeloma may be particularly vulnerable as their immune system is weakened by the cancer itself and its treatments.
Those undergoing active treatments such as bone marrow transplants, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy are also at high risk. Even those who are not receiving active therapy still need to be cautious. This is because the effects of past therapy are usually long-lasting. Boosting the immune system by keeping stress levels low, getting adequate sleep, moderate physical exercise, and good nutrition can be helpful.
While cancer patients should follow the general guidelines to prevent the spread of COVID-19, it is important that they consult their doctor on information specific to their condition.
Advice for family members and caregivers
Family members and caregivers of people with cancer should take appropriate precautions and take extra care to avoid bringing COVID-19 home. They should constantly monitor patients and stock medicines and other necessary supplies that can last for several weeks. Storing extra non-perishable food can help minimize trips to the grocery store.
People who show symptoms of COVID-19 should avoid visiting their family members until the self-isolation period is complete.
What should sick individuals do?
If symptoms are present and a COVID-19 diagnosis is confirmed, patients should follow these steps to prevent the spread of the infection:
- Stay at home, preferably in a separate room not shared with others, and isolate themselves, with the exception of getting medical care.
- Avoid public areas and public transport.
- Limit contact with pets and animals.
- Avoid sharing personal items.
- Cover coughs and sneezes with tissues and dispose of them properly.
- Sanitize hands regularly.
- Disinfect surfaces such as phones, keyboards, toilets, and tables.
People should call ahead before visiting the hospital for an appointment. This way, the hospital can take necessary steps to prevent the spread of the infection.
What tests are available?
Many tests for the detection of COVID-19 have been made available under the FDA’s emergency use authorization, including rapid tests that are being developed to detect the presence of the virus within minutes.
Is there a treatment?
There are currently no vaccines available for human coronaviruses including COVID-19. This makes the prevention and containment of the virus very important.
Are there new treatments in the pipeline?
Several clinical trials have been launched or are being planned to test a variety of potential treatments and vaccines for COVID-19. A complete list of all ongoing clinical trials pertaining to the virus is available here.
Immuno-oncology News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.