Cancer Council understands that Australians undergoing cancer treatment, cancer survivors and their families and friends may have questions in relation to the recent outbreak of Coronavirus.
What is coronavirus?
Coronavirus (COVID-19) is a flu like virus. It causes an illness called COVID-19 which can affect your lungs and airways. For most people, the virus won’t cause serious problems. But for some people, the virus can have serious complications.
People with cancer are among those at higher risk of complications from an infection. This is because cancer and treatment can weaken their immune systems.
How can cancer and treatment weaken immunity?
If you have cancer your immune system may not be as strong as it is normally so you may feel concerned about the risks associated with the spread of COVID-19 within Australia.
The immune system protects the body against illness and infection caused by viruses like COVID-19. Some people with cancer have a weak immune system which reduces their ability to fight these infections.
Generally, people with cancer should continue to follow any specific advice or standard precautions recommended by their health care practitioners to minimise your risk of infection, during and after treatment.
If you are currently experiencing symptoms of infection (e.g. fever, cough, sore throat, shortness of breath) or are aware you have been in contact with someone with COVID-19 please contact your treatment team. Where possible obtain advice over the phone rather than attending in person to lower your risk of exposure and to reduce the risk of exposing others.
For more information and if you need further assistance call Cancer Council on 13 11 20 for any cancer-related information and support.
What’s the advice for people with cancer?
It’s important that you keep up to date with advice from SA Health via their website here: sahealth.sa.gov.au/COVID2019 and talk to your specialist or treatment team if you have any questions or worries about the COVID-19.
If you are currently undergoing treatment some practical ways to limit your risks of exposure include:
- Wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds, or if not immediately available use an alcohol-based hand rub. It’s a good idea to carry this with you.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth as this can transfer the virus from surfaces and increase the risk of infection.
- Avoid contact with those who are sick or unwell or have been exposed to the virus.
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces (tables, benches, light switches, doorknobs, sinks, toilets, remotes, such as your mobile phone or eating surfaces). Wear gloves (disposable if possible). Clean obvious debris with soap and water. Clean with a 70% alcohol solution or a mix of 4 teaspoons of bleach to 3 litres of water.
- Avoid crowds and crowded areas particularly when you are having chemotherapy and avoid unnecessary physical contact, such as shaking hands, hugging or kissing. This is especially important if you are currently having chemotherapy or are post treatments such as bone marrow transplantation.
- Maintain a 1.5 metre social distancing outside of the home environment by leaving at least one metre distance between yourself and other people.
- Talk to your doctor or member of your treatment team about the times in your treatment when you may be at the highest risk of infection so you can plan your activities accordingly (Unfortunately there are no shortcuts to boosting the immune system beyond adhering to a healthy lifestyle).
- If you do take prescription or over-the-counter medication, make sure you have enough at home or in a safe place that you are able to access. A one month supply is ideal. Do not stockpile to help ensure everyone has enough.
- Call your treatment team to see if you can do you some of your consultations remotely via phone, Skype or Facetime.
- Stay home as much as possible and avoid non-essential travel and avoid public transport if you can.
One way to slow the spread of viruses is by social distancing yourself from others to maintain about 1.5 metre of physical distance. Ways to keep social distance within households, workplaces and schools include:
- Stay at home if you are sick
- Consider if your social gatherings can be rescheduled or cancelled
- Limit food handling and sharing food with others
- Promote good hand and cough/sneeze hygiene and provide hand sanitisers to those around you
- Clean and disinfect shared high-touch surfaces regularly
- Buy more goods and services online to limit your visits to the shops
- Increase the amount of fresh air by opening your windows or adjusting the air conditioning
- Hold meetings via video conferencing or phone call if possible
For family, friends and carers
If you have had contact with someone who could be at an increased risk of having the cororavirus, avoid any contact with anyone who is receiving cancer treatment.
Talk to your health care provider about receiving the influenza vaccination as early in the flu season as possible. This will avoid passing on other infections and avoid risk that you, your family member or friend will need additional healthcare.
Maintaining Social Welfare
Maintaining friendships and relationships can be especially difficult if you need to distance yourself to from others to reduce your risk of infection. Friends and family play an important role in managing your welfare during a difficult and anxious time. Here are some tips for keeping in contact with friends and family:
- If face-to-face contact is not possible try to use video calling tools such as FaceTime or Skype to communicate
- Call friends and family as often as possible and let them know how you’re feeling so they can offer the support you need
- Use group chat tools such as Facebook messenger to keep in touch with many people at once
- Think about whether there are other ways to stay connected while maintaining a social distance. Is there a neighbour you can talk to over the fence?
- Cancer Council’s online community is a place where you can talk to other people who might be in a similar situation to you. Find the online community here (https://onlinecommunity.cancercouncil.com.au/)
If you are feeling anxious, have questions or need support, please remember that Cancer Council’s support and information line is available on 13 11 20 during business hours. Our specially trained team can provide emotional support as well as practical tips for minimising the risk of infection during this time.
Where can I get further information?
SA Health is continually providing updates regarding COVID-19 at via the website here: sahealth.sa.gov.au/COVID2019. It’s important that you stay up to date with this website, as this is the first point of information for South Australians regarding the virus.
You can also contact the Coronavirus Health Information Line on 1800 020 080.
Or call Cancer Council on 13 11 20 for any other cancer-related information and support.