Local doctor offers advice for those with autoimmune diseases amid virus outbreak

Tracking Coronavirus

KANSAS CITY, Mo — COVID-19 can be especially dangerous for some people with compromised immune systems.

The number of people killed by the virus continues to mount, and most involve people with underlying medical conditions.

There are more than 200 different kinds of autoimmune diseases, so depending upon what kind, the threat of COVID-19 could be more serious.

“The problem with COVID-19 and with this coronavirus is that none of us have been exposed to it before, so none of us have antibodies to fight it,” said Dr. Jane Murray of Sastun Associates.

When the body senses an outside danger has entered it, the immune system attacks it. In people with autoimmune disease, it also attacks healthy tissue.

“People that have autoimmune diseases may not respond as a person without such a condition to an infection like a new virus bacteria that’s in the environment,” Murray said.

The treatment for some autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis and Crohn’s disease is immunosuppressive drugs to stop the attack. Those people may be at greater risk of developing an infection and more severely.

“It’s possible that they could be in that group that is at much higher risk to develop an pneumonia and pneumonitis that we see people to go to the hospital,” Murray said.

Murray specializes in integrative and functional medicine.

She said folks on immunosuppressive drugs should absolutely stay home. The prognosis for people with other types of autoimmune diseases is not quite as bleak.

“I think you’re in an intermediate category,” she said.

“People with an autoimmune disease like Hashimoto’s and many of the others that are not at the stage of needing an immunosuppressive drug, I think still need to be quite careful. Really be aware of good hand hygiene and I’m now convinced, after some things that I’ve been reading about, wearing masks even if you don’t feel sick is really important.”

Besides following good hygiene and social distancing rules, Murray said the immune system works best when the cells are well supported, which means a healthy diet, a lot of liquids and plenty of sleep.

“It’s not like we’re helpless. It’s not like something just attacked us and we can’t do anything, we can prevent it,” Murray said. “And if we do not feel well, even if we don’t have any kind of autoimmune condition, don’t go anywhere. Stay home. Really be serious about this.”

Experts warns people who are on immunosuppressive drugs might not get a fever, so be sure to be aware of the other symptoms of COVID-19 like a dry cough, tiredness and difficulty breathing.

Do not stop taking any medication without talking to your doctor.

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