Extra vigilance needed around current and previous cancer patients during Covid-19 pandemic
There are more than 170,000 cancer survivors in Ireland who may well have an increased risk of developing a more severe case of Covid-19.
Those who are going through active cancer treatment or who have very recently completed their treatment for cancer are among the high risk groups. And former cancer patients who are no longer being actively treated have a small increased risk of developing more severe symptoms compared to the general population.
Other people considered to be at higher risk are those aged over 60, transplant patients and other people with suppressed immune systems, and those with long-term medical conditions such as heart disease, lung disease, diabetes or high blood pressure.
The Irish Cancer Society (ICS) is regularly updating its advice and information for current and former cancer patients in relation to Covid-19.
There are a number of steps that should be taken to reduce the chances of getting the virus, or indeed, other infections including cold and flu.
The ICS advises that cancer patients, survivors and their families practise regular and thorough hand washing with common soap and warm water and use of alcohol-based hand washes. This is especially important when they are in contact with other people, before eating or touching their face, after using the bathroom and upon entering the home.
It is also vitally important that those who are around a cancer patient should practice good respiratory hygiene. They can achieve this by:
covering their mouth and nose with a flexed elbow or tissue when coughing or sneezing;
discarding used tissues immediately into a closed bin, and cleaning their hands with alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water;
not touching their eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands as this can transfer the virus from surfaces;
cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched objects and surfaces;
leaving some distance between themselves and other people, particularly when outside the home and with anyone who is coughing, sneezing or who has a fever;
being cautious around public travel, public events or larger gatherings which might bring them into contact with more people who may be at higher risk of carrying infection, particularly in smaller crowded spaces with poor ventilation;
ensuring that visitors are aware that those affected by cancer are particularly susceptible to infection, and requesting them not to visit if they are displaying any symptoms of illness such as high temperature, coughing, sneezing, headache, etc;
avoiding overseas travel;
limiting direct contact with people who have travelled to Ireland over the last 14 days.
Infections of all kinds are easier to transmit from person to person in the home, so practicing these steps can help to protect from many different diseases.
People are urged to respect the visiting arrangements that are in place for all hospitals, nursing homes and residential care services.
Working from home where possible is also important for former cancer patients and their families, and for everyone in the high risk categories.
What to do if you develop signs of an infection
The symptoms of coronavirus are similar to the common cold or flu. Those who have not recently received treatment for cancer and show signs of possible coronavirus infection or who have been in close contact with a confirmed case of coronavirus in the last 14 days, or anyone who has travelled internationally and/or is showing symptoms (cough, shortness of breath, sudden fever causing you to feel very hot or cold) should:
isolate themselves from other people - this means going into a different, well-ventilated room.
phone their GP, or emergency department.
If symptoms are severe, it is a medical emergency and the patient should call 112 or 999.
As with any infection, coronavirus is more likely to progress at a greater speed in a cancer patient. It is important to seek the expert opinion of a cancer doctor at an early stage, and to intervene early so as to best deal with the impacts of falling ill.
A sudden fever (feeling very hot, or very chilly and sweating) can be a sign of many different types of infection and requires medical advice. All infections in cancer patients must be thoroughly investigated due to the risk that they may become more serious.
If a patient being actively treated for cancer develops signs of infection, for example high temperature (fever), chills and sweating (fever), coughing or shortness of breath, they should urgently make contact with their oncology unit through the liaison phone number they have been given. The nurse or doctor will advise on measures that need to be taken and what this means for their treatment.
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