Understanding COVID-19/Novel Coronavirus: What Lymphoma Patients Need to Know

What is COVID-19/coronavirus disease?

The novel SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus that has recently been in the news is a virus that has not been previously identified.  The virus currently causing coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is not the same as the coronaviruses that commonly circulate among humans and cause mild illness, like the common cold. This virus was first detected in Wuhan City, Hubei Province, China. The first infections were linked to a live animal market, but the virus is now spreading from person-to-person. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is studying the virus as well as the number of new diagnoses in the United States. The CDC is the original source of information regarding the virus for this fact sheet.

Information regarding COVID-19 is evolving on a daily basis. The latest updates are available on CDC’s COVID-19 website,
which may be found the below link: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-nCoV/index.html.

HOW DOES THE VIRUS SPREAD?

People who are infected with SARS-CoV-2 can spread the virus to others by respiratory droplets. This is now acknowledged to be possible even before symptoms develop. For this reason, social distancing is the best way to prevent spread. COVID-19 is now spreading in communities around the United States (“community spread”) in certain geographic areas. Community spread means people have been infected with the virus in an area, including some who are not sure how or where they became infected. In the healthcare setting, the CDC recommends that these patients be isolated from contact. Patients who do not require admission should remain isolated at home until they are well.

WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF THE VIRUS?

For confirmed COVID-19 cases, the following symptoms have appeared 2-14 days after exposure in infected people:

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath

Reported illnesses have ranged from mild symptoms to severe illness. The CDC recommends that you contact your doctor immediately if you think have been exposed to COVID-19 and have symptoms. Please call ahead and take advantage of any phone triage or telehealth options if you think you may have COVID-19 in order to reduce spread of the virus.

WHICH PEOPLE ARE AT HIGHEST RISK?

Older adults, people living with cancer, people currently in treatment, people that are post-treatment and people who have serious chronic medical conditions (like diabetes, respiratory disease or heart disease) may be at higher risk for more serious COVID-19 disease.

If you are at increased risk for COVID-19 complications due to age and/or because you have an underlying medical condition, it is especially important for you to take actions to reduce your risk of exposure (see list below). Some steps you can take include washing your hands well and washing them often with soap. If there’s a community outbreak, try to avoid large crowds and non-essential travel. Make sure to have enough medicine (such as important medications, prescriptions, and over the counter medicine) for up to a month. In addition, you should consult with your own health care provider regarding your health and your treatment, especially if you are currently in active treatment for your lymphoma/CLL.

CAN THE CORONAVIRUS DISEASE BE PREVENTED WITH MEDICAL TREATMENTS?

There is currently no vaccine or antiviral medication to prevent COVID-19. Talk to your health care provider if you are considering other vaccines like the influenza, tetanus or hepatitis.

HOW CAN PEOPLE AVOID GETTING THE CORONAVIRUS DISEASE?

The best way to prevent illness is to avoid being exposed to this virus. Without a vaccine or antivirals, we have to rely on consistently practicing these CDC recommended actions:

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom; before eating; and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing
  • If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol. Always wash hands with soap and water if hands are visibly dirty
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick. Stay at least 6 feet from others whenever possible
  • Avoid crowds, stay home if at all possible
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth
  • Stay home when you are sick and call ahead before seeking treatment unless it is an emergency
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash. Wash your hands afterwards
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe multiple times a day
  • Work from home if you can. If you can’t, make sure to disinfect surfaces and clean your hands frequently. Keep your distance from others, even if they seem to be well
  • Follow CDC’s recommendations for using a face mask if needed (see CDC website). Improper use of face masks can actually increase your risk of infection so be careful

These habits may not seem like enough to protect you from a pandemic, but they are exactly what doctors and hospitals have relied on for years to prevent spread of infection. The CDC also has specific guidance for travelers on the CDC website, but those who are older or have other medical problems should not travel right now unless it is essential.

Before traveling to an appointment to see your health care provider, please call ahead and consult with your doctor about the safest method of travel if you rely on public transportation.

QUESTIONS TO ASK YOUR DOCTOR

People with lymphoma/ CLL should consult with their health care provider for more information about monitoring their health for symptoms suggestive of COVID-19, as well as the impact of public health measures currently endorsed by the CDC. Also tell your health care provider (oncologist and primary care physician) about any other health issues or medications you’re current taking.  Communicating with all of the members of your health care team will improve the quality of the care you receive.

Questions you can consider asking your health care provider to begin this conversation include:

  • Am I at high-risk to develop serious disease if I am exposed to the virus?
  • What should I do if I experience any of the symptoms of COVID-19?
  • Will the current public health measures in place impact my lymphoma/ CLL treatment? (If in active treatment.)
  • What is the best method/practices for me to travel to receive treatment if I rely on public transportation?
  • Should I alter any part of my daily routine?
  • What coverage can Medicare provide if I test positive for COVID-19?
  • If I’m newly diagnosed, should I start treatment?

Consider having your questions written out and with you during your appointments.

Download the Understanding COVID-19/Novel Coronavirus: What Patients Need to Know Fact Sheet.

Medical Reviewers:

Peter Martin, MD (Weill Cornell Medicine)
Emily Landon, MD (The University of Chicago)

LRF Helpline

The LRF Helpline is available to help patients and their loved ones better understand their lymphoma diagnosis so that they can feel empowered to make the most informed decisions about their treatment and long-term care.  The Helpline can also connect patients to financial assistance resources, legal, and insurance help.

Feel free to contact the LRF Helpline with any of your lymphoma-related questions, Monday through Friday from 9:30am – 7:30pm Eastern Standard Time (ET). Call (800) 500-9976 or email at helpline@lymphoma.org.