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Should You Self-Isolate Because of COVID-19?

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Closures of bars, venues and restrictions on gatherings around the world are aimed at slowing the spread of COVID-19 by imposing social distancing. It’s important for everyone to limit their contact with other people — even if you feel healthy. However, if you live with a chronic illness or take certain immunosuppressant medications, you should self-isolate now. Here’s what you should know.

What is COVID-19?

COVID-19 (SARS-CoV-2) is a new type of coronavirus that causes flu-like respiratory symptoms including shortness of breath, fever, cough and fatigue. It can range in severity from mild to severe, leading to potentially fatal pneumonia. It spreads when you come in contact with the respiratory droplets when someone who is infected sneezes or coughs.

Who Should Self-Isolate?

According to a Kaiser Family Foundation report, more than 100 million Americans are estimated to be in a higher risk group for having a more severe course of the Covid-19 virus. The majority of those at high risk are people over the age of 65. In addition, nearly 30 million people between the ages of 18-59 are at higher risk due to an underlying medical condition or compromised immune system.

Though more research is needed, experts recommend people with the following chronic illnesses should self-isolate:

  • Heart disease
  • Lung disease, including Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • Cancer
  • Diabetes
  • Autoimmune conditions

According to Alexis R. Ogdie-Beatty, M.D., MSCE, associate professor of medicine and epidemiology at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania/Penn Medicine and a medical advisor to CreakyJoints, those who are taking immunosuppressant medications may also be told to exercise an abundance of caution.

Those taking the following immunosuppressant biologics or oral therapies should consider self-isolation. (Note: This list is not comprehensive, so check with your doctor):

  • Prednisone
  • Methotrexate (brand names Otrexup, Xatmep, Trexall)
  • Leflunomide (brand name Arava)

“We know that our immunosuppressive therapies suppress the body’s response to infections,” Ogdie-Beatty told The Mighty, adding:

That may make it easier to get an infection or it may mean that the infection can take longer to clear or could be more severe.  That said, these therapies are prescribed to treat an underlying overactive immune system. The overactive immune system may similarly put people at risk for infection because your immune system is busy doing other things (i.e., causing joint inflammation).

Why Should You Self-Isolate?

Everyone should practice social distancing at this point because the less contact we have with other people, the faster we can halt the spread of COVID-19. Since it is a new virus without any specific treatments and so many unknowns, your doctor may recommend self-isolation beyond the social distancing recommendations being handed down around the world.

“There is no data on how COVID-19 affects individuals with autoimmune and/or autonomic disorders, but we can hypothesize how they would respond to COVID-19 based on their response to the flu,” Svetlana Blitshteyn, M.D., wrote for The Mighty.

“We don’t really know the right thing to recommend right now,” Dr. Ogdie-Beatty said. “We’ve never seen something like this before and there’s not much data to guide us.”

The Takeaway

It can be scary to know you’re in a higher risk group for the coronavirus, but if you’re feeling anxious, you’re not alone. Many communities have rallied to support those in the community who are elderly or immunocompromised to help you get the essentials like groceries and medications. Plus, you can always reach out to your doctor with questions.

“I know that we are all scared; I know we are frustrated; I know that we have cursed our illnesses a little more over the last couple of weeks,” wrote Mighty contributor Mariana Solarte Caicedo. “It’s OK to be scared, and believe me, I don’t think anyone has an answer for that. We are all just fighters with a whole lotta fears wrapped around faith and hope. And we are not alone — we have each other.”

Looking for support while you’re self-isolated? Here are a few Mighty suggestions:

Header image via gmast3r/Getty Images

Originally published: March 18, 2020
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