The coronavirus (COVID-19) has reordered most aspects of our daily lives. For many people, it has also created a new sense of awareness regarding how they approach health safety. As the rest of the world learns to modify its behavior by practicing proper hand hygiene and social distancing, people with neurological conditions are wondering what they should know about COVID-19 and their specific level of risk related to the virus. Many are also asking how they can keep themselves safe, and what additional precautions to take to minimize their exposure and chance of infection.
Am I More at Risk?
While we are still very much in the learning stages when it comes to understanding COVID-19, there are a few things that are important for neurology patients to know. Anyone with a compromised immune system has been determined by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control to fall into the high-risk group for COVID-19. Certain neurological conditions, like multiple sclerosis, Guillain-Barre syndrome and myasthenia gravis increase a person’s risk of complications or hospitalization for seasonal illnesses like the flu, as well as pneumonia. Given this reality, medical professionals also assume that the coronavirus would pose a similar heightened risk to these patients.
Patients who have survived a stroke are being warned by the American Stroke Association that they may be at increased risk of complications if infected by COVID-19. To date, the available research does not indicate that people with epilepsy alone are immunocompromised and as such are not necessarily at a higher risk of contracting the disease, nor suffering from increased severity if they have COVID-19. Dementia patients are also not understood to be at a higher risk for COVID-19, although dementia-related behavior and the increased age and health factors that often accompany dementia may heighten one’s risk. There is currently no evidence to suggest that patients with Parkinson’s disease are immunosuppressed.
Whether or not you fall into the CDC’s high-risk category, all patients with neurological disorders should be proactive against contracting the coronavirus and take even more precautions than other members of the community. While different conditions may not leave you immunocompromised, the complications associated with COVID-19 could be more severe because of your current health status.
In early December 2020, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) updated their recommendations regarding COVID-19 exposure quarantine. While this doesn't apply to healthcare workers and other essential personnel, the guidance now states that quarantine can end after 10 days (rather than 14) with no testing and no symptoms. Quarantine can end after seven days with a negative test and no symptoms.
Taking Steps to Stay Safe
The precautions all people should take to prevent and limit exposure to the coronavirus include the following:
- Stay home if possible.
- Practice social distancing and keep 6 feet of distance between you and other people. COVID-19 can be spread by droplets in the air, which are released when people sneeze or cough. The CDC is currently recommending the use of a cloth face covering in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain, like pharmacies and supermarkets. However, a cloth mask is not a substitute for proper social distancing.
- Wash your hands with soap and water frequently throughout the day for 20 seconds each time. Or, wash your hands with hand sanitizer containing at least 60 percent alcohol.
- Avoid touching your face. Cover your sneeze with a tissue and throw it away immediately, or sneeze into your elbow.
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using household cleaning spray or disinfecting wipe.
- Stay away from people who are sick. If you live with someone who is not feeling well, that person should be isolated in a separate part of the home. You should not share towels, dishes, bedding and other personal items. If possible, use separate bathrooms. Do not sleep in the same bed.
- Ochsner patients can message their doctors through MyOchsner if they have concerns and/or develop a fever. Your doctor may decide it is best to conduct a virtual visit with you via smartphone or tablet.
To minimize contact with the general public, patients with neurological disorders should consider having food brought to their homes by family, social networks or restaurant or store delivery rather than visiting grocery stores themselves.
Patients with neurological disorders should create a health plan for themselves in case they do become sick. This includes identifying a caregiver who can bring them the things they will need to recover while they are socially isolating. Stock up on essential groceries and prescriptions to avoid unnecessary trips to the store, and make sure to clean these items once you bring them into your home. Adopt a routine of cleaning heavily used items (keys, cell phones, credit cards) and surfaces like kitchen counters, tables, door handles and light switches.
If you are a patient with a neurological disorder, talk with your doctor about your specific level of coronavirus risk and how to decide if you will need to be tested. Above all, continue to maintain distance from others until the spread has diminished and public health experts have announced that things are safe.
The information in this blog post is accurate at the time of publication. However, as the situation surrounding COVID-19 continues to change, it's possible that information has changed since being published. While Ochsner Health is trying to keep our blog posts as up-to-date as possible, we also encourage readers to stay informed on news and recommendations by using the CDC website.
For the Latest Updates from Ochsner on COVID-19, visit Ochsner.org/coronavirus