The Coronavirus and Cancer Patients
- There are currently only 13 confirmed cases of the coronavirus in the U.S.
- Given that it’s flu season, hospitals are mostly enhancing implemented precautions to help protect patients from the coronavirus
- Precautions for doctors include performing hand hygiene before and after contact with patients, wearing gloves when touching respiratory secretions or contaminated environmental surfaces, and avoiding work when experiencing influenza like illnesses
For the most part, experts say, hospitals are not overly concerned about the pneumonia-like virus. While there’s always the potential that the infection will spread, there are currently some 13 confirmed cases in the U.S. Compare this to the flu: The Centers for Disease Control estimates that so far this season there have been at least 22 million flu illnesses, 210,000 hospitalizations and 12,000 deaths from the flu.Read More
Dr. Pallawi Torka at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center in Buffalo, N.Y., also tells SurvivorNet that “since the beginning of the flu season, we have been following standard precautions, which are also [applicable] to prevent coronavirus infection.”
The standard precautions outlined by Torka are as follows:
- For doctors, performing hand hygiene before and after contact with patients, and wearing gloves when touching respiratory secretions or contaminated environmental surfaces
- Patients with influenza or influenza-like illness are placed on a protocol called “Droplet Precautions,” or a list of posted dos and don’ts, e.g., a patient may only leave their room when medically necessary and wear a mask when they do
- Persons with influenza-like symptoms are asked not to visit patients
- Health care personnel who have an influenza like illness are advised not to come to the work
Dr. Torka also says they put “sign boards in the hospital and on our patient portal saying, ‘If you have traveled internationally or have had close contact with someone who has recently traveled internationally and was ill and are experiencing fever, cough, trouble breathing, rash, vomiting or diarrhea, please tell staff immediately.'”
The MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston has activated what it calls its Incident Command structure to monitor developments, ensure infection control supplies are adequate, and to stay prepared for the possibility of more cases in the U.S., according to Dr. Sairah Ahmed, an associate professor in the department of Lymphoma/Myeloma and Stem Cell Transplantation & Cellular Therapy at the center.
When it comes to contagious diseases like the #flu, cancer patients are among those most vulnerable to infection.
MD Anderson Cancer Center (@MDAndersonNews) February 6, 2020
Like the other centers, it is also “enhancing protocols and screening campus visitors to identify if anyone or someone in their household is sick or has traveled to an endemic area. We are also restricting access to visitors on floors or clinics with highly immunosuppressed patients,” Dr. Ahmed says.
She also notes that if someone is sick they should refrain from going to work or school until free of symptoms for at least 24 hours, and that patients take basic preventive measures like frequent hand washing and avoiding touching your eyes, mouth and nose.
Every person who works at MD Anderson is also required to get the flu shot, she says, and it’s recommended that the center’s patients and their families also get the vaccine to help prevent influenza.
Do Surgical Masks Help?
In what seems to be the latest study on surgical masks and the flu, a 2013 report from researchers at the University of Maryland showed that for patients with the flu, the number of large viral droplets in the air around the patients decreased by 25% in patients who wore a surgical mask. Masks were less effective in reducing fine viral particles in the air around patients with the flu.
Dr. Ahmed recommends that immune-compromised patients wear a mask when exposed to large crowds, and Dr. Heather Yeo, colorectal surgeon and surgical oncologist at Weill Cornell Medicine and NewYork-Presbyterian, told SurvivorNet in a previous conversation that "there is some evidence even for healthy individuals that as long as they're also taking other precautions, like washing their hands, masks can [in general] help prevent the spread of infection."
But they note that they are far from a fool-proof method.
For doctors, the N95 respirator is the mask most commonly used to prevent the spread of contagious disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
"That's what we wear around a lot of the more contagious illnesses in the hospital environment," said Dr. Yeo.
An N95 respirator, is "a respiratory protective device designed to achieve a very close facial fit and very efficient filtration of airborne particles," according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The mask is designed to block at least 95 percent of very small particles.