Covid-19: The Coronavirus and COPD

Our youngest is due home from school next week for spring break. Today, we received an email from his college president containing a number of warnings and suggestions about Covid-19 – the Coronavirus.

It has become inescapable

It has become inescapable. Every day there is another story in the news about a new outbreak and casualties from the virus’ effects. But what was beneficial and educational about the spring break email was information from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) concerning travel during the break which, for many kids, is a big part of it. The CDC travel information can be found here.

The current toll of the coronavirus

As a reminder - the coronavirus, also known as Covid-19, was first encountered in Wuhan, China, in December 2019. As of the publishing of this article, it has infected over 93,000 people in over 80 countries around the globe, causing over 3,000 deaths.1

Bad enough for healthy folks

The virus can cause pneumonia which is bad enough for healthy folks. I don’t think I need to say what it can do to those of us with COPD. Since this is viral pneumonia, antibiotics apparently can’t help. It’s important for those of us with COPD to be especially mindful of the virus and what it can do to already impaired immune systems like ours. This virus is spread in large droplets by coughing and sneezing.

This means that the air will not infect you. BUT all the surfaces where these droplets land are infectious for about a week on average - everything that is associated with infected people will be contaminated and potentially infectious.2

No strong conclusions at this point

People with heart problems or lung issues like COPD are also at a higher risk for severe disease and death, says Jeanne Marrazzo, MD, director of the Division of Infectious Diseases at the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Medicine.3 Early data suggests that men may be more vulnerable to the virus. We account for more than half the cases according to the Center for Disease Control.

Michael Mina, MD, PhD, an assistant professor of epidemiology at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, says men might account for more cases because they were tested more often, but the “evidence is not strong to make any good conclusions.”4

Smoking in China

In China, more men are likely to be smokers. They could be hit harder than women. A recent World Health Organization study from 2019 found that 47.6% of Chinese men smoke, compared to only 1.8% of Chinese women. Women also generally mount stronger immune responses than men.5 China, in total, has the largest number of smokers in the world. — 316 million people. That accounts for nearly one-third of the world’s smokers and 40 percent of tobacco consumption worldwide.6

Not just China

But it’s not just China that has been hard hit. For instance, it was just announced that the outbreak in Italy has now surpassed 3,000 infections and 100 deaths. All schools have been closed. Testing here in the United States continues to show more infections. The first death in California was announced on March 3rd. It is the first death outside Washington state and the 11th death in the United States as of this writing.7 There are plenty of suggestions from friends and family and from all over the internet about how to deal with the coronavirus.

CDC recommendations

The most practical advice I have found are these measures recommended by the Center for Disease Control (CDC):8

  • Wash your hands often with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and warm water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand gel.
  • Sneeze and cough into your elbow or cover your mouth and nose with a tissue.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick. If you are sick, stay home from work or school.
  • Do not share utensils, water bottles, or other personal items. Many germs that cause viral illness are spread through saliva.
  • Wipe down common items like phones, keyboards, doorknobs, and railings with a disinfectant.
  • Do not travel if you are sick. And if you have a recurring fever, and/or difficulty breathing, seek medical care.

Restricting travel

My own pulmonologist told me that since I’m 65, I shouldn’t travel anywhere that wasn’t absolutely necessary and then said that “if it’s totally just for fun, it’s not a horrible idea to cancel or postpone a trip.” As many of us know, it’s pretty difficult to be at Stage 3 or 4 and travel around the corner! So that advice will not be difficult to follow at all.

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