What to Know About Rheumatic Disease and the COVID-19 Coronavirus

The Novel Coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) is now a rapidly spreading virus causing concern among our community and the World. The most common signs and symptoms include: Fever, Cough, Shortness of breath. Coronavirus, like other viruses, can cause body aches, fatigue, and Headaches. Our practice is bringing attention and we are educating patients on how to protect themselves and their loved ones. Our Goal is to minimize transmission of the infection and assure that our patients are safe. We are providing helpful tips here provided by the American College of Rheumatology to give accurate information to our patients.

What are the risks of COVID-19 to people with rheumatic conditions?

People with rheumatic disease may be at greater risk of developing infections and more severe infections, although we don’t know this for sure yet. This is due to the diseases themselves and to the medications used to treat these diseases. This vulnerability can affect people with several rheumatic conditions, including: lupusmyositisrheumatoid arthritissclerodermaundifferentiated connective tissue diseasevasculitis and many others.

Other people who may be predisposed to developing serious cases of COVID-19 include those who are aged 65 years or older, have diabetes (type 1 or type 2) or renal (kidney) disease, and women who are pregnant.

What should I do if I feel sick?

If you develop a fever, shortness of breath or a cough, particularly if you have travelled to areas with outbreaks or have been exposed to someone with COVID-19 infection, it is very important to communicate with your health care provider. Communication is particularly essential for older patients, those who are pregnant, those with underlying lung or heart disease and those on immunosuppressive drugs. We don’t advise walk-in visits: Unless you need to get to an emergency room with a true emergency, it is recommended that you call ahead – call your doctor, or an urgent care center, or your hospital – so that you can be advised on what to do and whether you need to be seen in person or not.

Should I stop taking my medications if I have a rheumatic disease and am concerned about COVID-19?

In patients without symptoms of COVID-19, the decision to stop or reduce immune suppressing medications is an individual one, to be shared by physician and patient. In some patients, the risk of a disease flare might outweigh the possible benefits of stopping medications. Little if anything is known about how rheumatology medications affect COVID-19 infections.

How can I protect myself from COVID-19?

As with any respiratory illness there are certain preventive measures that you can take. These include:

  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.

  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.

  • Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer when not near soap and water.

  • Clean and disinfect areas you and others touch often.

  • CDC does not recommend healthy people wear facemasks for protection.

With respect to travel, we are advising many of our patients to limit or cancel unnecessary domestic and international travel. You may also wish to avoid crowded areas and large gatherings, public transportation and working remotely when possible. Immunosuppressed patients may want to reach out to their doctors for letter to work from home if need be.

Where can I go for more information?

Providing more specific recommendations for people with rheumatic diseases is difficult for two reasons: there is much that is not known, and the outbreak is changing rapidly.

However, you can find more detailed and up-to-date information about COVID-19 on the website of the Centers for Disease Control.