I try not to talk about it often, especially with strangers, but I feel like this is important to say right about now: I have an autoimmune disease. And, yes, I am worried about the coronavirus.
In case you don’t know what an autoimmune disease is, here is the best, easiest way to understand it: my immune system doesn’t function properly, and instead of attacking bacteria and viruses (the way it should), it attacks my body, which can cause irreparable damage.
While there are many different types of autoimmune disease, there aren’t very many treatment options available to us. The treatments we do have almost all involve suppressing the immune system, so it can no longer attack the body. Personally, I’ve been prescribed treatments that are more or less chemo therapy, which is used to essentially “kill” my immune system. This weakened state of the immune system is what’s referred to whenever someone is said to be “immunocompromised.”
When the immune system is wiped out by these treatments, we’re not able to fight off illnesses the way people with normal immune systems are able to fight them off. Even when there’s not an international pandemic to worry about, we often have to take precautionary measures, which include washing our hands constantly, using hand sanitizer, wearing masks out in public, avoiding large crowds, etc.
Given the way the coronavirus is spreading, those of us who are immunocompromised face a great threat. Not only is the coronavirus easily spread, but we also don’t know much about it, and we obviously have no treatments or vaccines available.
I know that most people don’t face much of a risk with the coronavirus, because catching it will be comparable to having a severe cold, which they will overcome on their own, without any complications, but seeing all of the jokes online and the way people are mocking it truly does scare me. It makes me think that most people aren’t taking the virus seriously, and honestly, that could put me at even more risk.
If I or any other immunocompromised people catch the coronavirus, it could quickly become life-threatening. It could land us in the hospital, especially given the way the coronavirus seems to attack the respiratory system, and it could even kill us.
I’m far from alone in this.
According to the National Institutes of Health, more than 24 million people in the United States has some kind of autoimmune disease. While not every one of those affected are treated with immunosuppressants, that’s still a lot of people with faulty immune systems.
Immunocompromised people aren’t the only ones who need to be worried about the coronavirus, either (that’s just the type of chronic condition for which I can personally speak). Health officials are warning that Americans with many different underlying chronic health conditions need to worry at this point.
An article in the New York times today estimated that approximately 60% of all Americans have some form of chronic health condition, and out of that 60% figure, another 40% have more than one chronic health condition. These aren’t some sort of rare diseases, either. We’re talking about conditions like heart disease and diabetes, which the New York Times says “can exacerbate a coronavirus infection, studies show, increasing the odds of severe disease and death.”
A lot of people in America could be at great risk.
High blood pressure affects nearly one in three adults in the United States, including one-third of adults in their 40s and 50s. More than one in 10 adults have Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes, including 17 percent of adults aged 45 to 64. At least 16 million Americans struggle with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
That quote from the New York Times article is astounding, and it really puts this coronavirus crisis into perspective.
Older people also face an increased risk. The trend we’ve seen out of China shows that people 80 or older die from the virus at a rate of approximately 15%. While it’s been shown that younger people die at a much lower rate, the death rate does increase with each additional decade in age. For example, only 1.3% of people in their 50s died from the virus, but those in their 60s died at a rate of 3.6%, and those in their 70s died at a rate of 8%.
We know that older adults see a decline in the function of their immune system as they continue to age. We also see that older adults are more at risk of having some form of underlying health condition.
As someone with four living grandparents, all in their 70s, these numbers concern me. I’d be willing to bet that most people in this country have either parents or grandparents in those older ages, many of which do have an underlying health condition, and none of us want to see our loved ones suffer from a virus that diminishes their respiratory function before possibly causing an untimely death.
If we’re going to fight this virus together, there are many steps that we can take, personally, to protect ourselves, our loved ones, and our fellow Americans. While the recommendations may seem simple, it’s important to keep them in mind throughout our daily lives.
Here is what the CDC is recommending to all Americans right now:
- Take everyday preventive actions to stay healthy.
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
- Stay home when you are sick.
- Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe.
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
- Follow public health advice regarding school closures, avoiding crowds and other social distancing measures.
- Stay informed. CDC’s COVID-19 Situation Summary will be updated regularly as information becomes available.
Despite these recommendations from the CDC and the dire warnings that they and the NIH are trying to get out across America, there have still been a lot of misconceptions, misunderstandings, conspiracy theories, and just flat out lies that have been circulating, especially on social media.
As a reminder: just because you see it on Facebook does not mean it’s true.
Vice President Mike Pence, who has been put in charge of combating this virus, recently told the Today Show just how dangerous it can be to buy into the “irresponsible rhetoric” that’s been circulating and downplays the seriousness of the virus.
The Vice President also took the time to let American citizens know that coronavirus will only continue to spread, and we will likely see “thousands” of more cases in the coming weeks and months.
VP Pence also did his best to contradict accusations that the virus is nothing more than “hype” from the “main stream media” and Democrats, as if coronavirus is simply a made-up, non-existent scare tactic meant to achieve political goals. Pence directed American citizens to visit coronavirus.gov, which provides pertinent, factual information from the CDC and other health officials about the very real virus and the seriousness of its spread and impact across the country.
We’re seeing and feeling this impact first-hand.
Schools are now closing. People are being asked to work from home. Sporting events are being canceled. Political rallies are being postponed. Broadway shows in New York can’t perform if there’s more than 500 people in attendance.
If this virus was nothing more than a “hoax” (as previously labeled by President Trump) or some kind of conspiracy theory (like being caused by 5G networks), ask yourself: would something that’s supposedly so benign in some peoples’ minds cause this much of a disruption to our daily lives?
I am pleading with my fellow humans to listen to the Vice President, the CDC, and the NIH: take this seriously. Understand that your actions can have a profound impact on those around you, even if it’s not visibly apparent. Please, disregard all of the conspiracy theories and listen to the health professionals who are working day and night to help everyone stay healthy. Their job is to keep us safe, but they can only do so if we’re willing to heed their warnings.
People like me, those who are chronically ill and/or have a weak immune system, are counting on all Americans to follow these new guidelines. I know it can be an inconvenience, and you might not personally be at great risk, especially if you’re young and healthy, but we’ve already learned that coronavirus can be transmitted very easily, even when you’re not showing any symptoms, so, please, do what you can to help stop the virus from spreading.
I, editor in chief for Channel 27 News, am personally asking you to please do your part. We can do this, but it’s going to require that everyone be compassionate, considerate, and vigilant every single day until we come out on the other side of this pandemic.