Since it was first discovered in late 2019, people have been preparing for the coronavirus to hit their communities, with a focus on protecting those people who are most likely to get sick. While the majority of people who get coronavirus will likely have a mild case, defined as not requiring hospitalization, anybody with a chronic illness or condition who gets coronavirus may experience more extreme symptoms, experts say. Preparing for coronavirus when you have a chronic illness can look like taking extra hygiene precautions, stockpiling medication, and trying your very best to stay calm.
The risk of complications from coronavirus is much higher for people with chronic illnesses and compromised immune systems, according to The New York Times. That's a lot of people. "Around 50% of adults in the U.S. have a chronic condition, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, depression, and migraines," Dr. Jessica Nouhavandi, PharmD, COO of Honeybee Health, tells Bustle.
What Counts As A Chronic Illness For Coronavirus?
When it comes to the risk of contracting coronavirus and experiencing potentially serious complications, all chronic illnesses may cause issues. "The virus usually causes severe complications in those with underlying medical conditions like heart failure lung disease or a weak immune system," Dr. Janette Nesheiwat, M.D., tells Bustle. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that people who are particularly vulnerable to coronavirus complications include older adults and people with conditions like heart disease, diabetes, and lung disease.
What Are the Complications Of Coronavirus?
Coronavirus can cause the illness COVID-19, which affects the lungs. Most people will develop flu-like symptoms, but those can become more severe, especially for people who are at risk. "The severe symptoms usually include fever, shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, cough, and chest pain," Dr. Nesheiwat says.
"It can progress to pneumonia or more severe respiratory disease," Dr. David Weber M.D., the medical director of infection prevention at UNC Medical Center, says. People with pre-existing lung issues are thought to be particularly vulnerable to these illnesses.
What Real Women With Chronic Illnesses Are Doing To Prepare For Coronavirus
"The discussion about coronavirus is real, especially for individuals who are fighting chronic illness," Hannah, 23, who has chronic Lyme disease and co-infections, tells Bustle. "People with chronic illnesses need to treat their bodies with extra care to ensure that they won’t be susceptible to infection. Although I don’t have a peripherally inserted central catheter (PICC) anymore, I still have to take active measures to keep myself safe." She purchased a mask because she's classified as immunocompromised, and is self-isolating and working from home.
Annie, 32, who was diagnosed with Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) at age 28, is also taking precautions. "My immune system is still weakened from years of battling EBV, and any additional heavy viral load leaves me quite weak and entails a longer recovery time than most," she says. She's focusing on nutrition and supplements to improve her immune system.
For Jeni, 38, who has familial cold autoinflammatory syndrome, a lack of information about coronavirus and chronic illnesses is concerning. "There is a lot of misinformation about what the virus does to a healthy body, much less one that has a chronic illness," she says. "I'm very careful what I touch in public, because researchers are finding that the virus can stay active on surfaces for an extended period of time. I don't go out as much."
What Should People With Chronic Illnesses Do To Prepare For The Coronavirus?
One particular area that concerns medical experts when it comes to the chronic illness community is medication, as disruptions to the supply chain may lead to potential drug shortages. Dr. Nouhavandi recommends that anybody who takes daily medication, particularly people with a chronic condition, try to get a 90-day refill of any prescription drug.
Both Jeni and Hannah are mindful of this possibility. "I've researched where my medication is manufactured so I can watch world news and have a better understanding of how it directly affects me; lower stress also keeps me healthier," Jeni says. Hannah has stocked up on an extra month's worth of medication.
It's also recommended that people with chronic illnesses should take particular care of their personal hygiene, but also ensure they have a network of people to check on them regularly. Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said on March 9 that people with chronic conditions should avoid non-essential travel and cruises, crowds, and any contact with people who might have coronavirus.
If you think you’re showing symptoms of coronavirus, which include fever, shortness of breath, and coughing, call NHS 111 in the UK or visit the CDC website in the U.S. for up-to-date information and resources. You can find all Bustle’s coverage of coronavirus here, and UK-specific updates on coronavirus here.
Dr. Janette Nesheiwat M.D., family and emergency doctor
Dr. Jessica Nouhavandi Pharma.D., founder of Honeybee Health
Dr. David Weber M.D., medical director of infection prevention at UNC Medical Center