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COVID-19 and Chronic Illness

People suffering from a chronic illness are likely to have less reserve to fight off an infection like COVID-19
People suffering from a chronic illness are likely to have less reserve to fight off an infection like COVID-19

During the COVID-19 pandemic we must practice physical distancing, not only to keep ourselves safe, but also to protect vulnerable individuals in the community like those suffering from chronic illness. People with chronic medical conditions may be at a higher risk of severe symptoms and complications, requiring hospitalization, admission to intensive care units and succumbing to COVID-19. Chronic illness may include (but is not limited to): diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity, lung disease, heart disease, liver disease, kidney disease, cancer, people taking medication to suppress the immune system. Even young people who suffer from chronic illness are at a higher risk.

How does chronic illness make us more susceptible?

People suffering from a chronic illness are likely to have less reserve to fight off an infection like COVID-19. Previous illness may have resulted in organ damage, which might make it harder to recover from COVID-19. Overweight and obese persons, as well as diabetics, have more difficulty coping with COVID-19, as their immune systems are compromised by their disease. This is especially true for diabetics if their blood sugar is uncontrolled. Individuals with heart disease or high blood pressure may have weakened heart muscle that may succumb to COVID-19.

If you suffer from chronic illness, how can you minimize the risk from COVID-19?

Follow everyday measures outlined below to avoid risk of exposure to the virus:

  • Avoid large gatherings or crowded spaces where you may be in close contact with others
  • Wash hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds
  • Wear a facemask outdoors
  • Avoid shopping during peak hours, when the market is most crowded
  • Maintain a healthy lifestyle, such as nutritious eating, regular exercise and getting restful sleep
  • Consider quitting tobacco use

Follow these steps to help stay healthy:

  • Continue to take your prescribed medications on time
  • Regularly measure your blood pressure or blood sugar, as directed by your healthcare provider
  • Ensure your vaccines (such as the flu shot) are up-to-date
  • It is understandable that you may wish to avoid going to a hospital now, but do not hesitate to reach out to your healthcare provider if needed, either for an emergency, or for a scheduled screening

If you believe you have been exposed to or have COVID-19, dial 16000 and follow the instructions

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) | World Health Organization (WHO) | Cleveland Clinic | National Foundation for Infectious Diseases | Mayo Clinic

Contributors: Dr. Amit Abraham, Dr. Sohaila Cheema and Dr. Sathyanarayanan Doraiswamy

Editing: Mr. John Hayward