As families prepare to gather later this month for Thanksgiving, it is important for patients who are immunocompromised to take extra steps to protect themselves from becoming infected with COVID-19. People who are immunocompromised have weakened immune systems, which means they have a higher risk of becoming severely ill from COVID-19.
Among those at heightened risk are cancer and transplant patients who are taking immunosuppression medication, in addition to patients with advanced and untreated HIV/AIDS.
Below are five steps these patients can take to reduce their risk of getting infected with COVID-19:
1. Get vaccinated.
"The single most important step that immunocompromised patients can take to protect themselves from COVID-19 is to get vaccinated," says Raymund Razonable, M.D., a Mayo Clinic infectious disease specialist who works with transplant patients. "It's also critically important that patients who received a vaccine get an additional dose to help boost their immune response."
It is recommended that patients who have a weakened immune system and received the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine get a third dose. Patients who received the single shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine are advised to get a second vaccine dose. These patients can choose among any of the three COVID-19 vaccines for the second dose.
Studies show that getting vaccinated reduces the risk of severe illness, hospitalizations and death caused by COVID-19.
2. Ask friends and family to get vaccinated.
It is especially important for people with compromised immune systems to ask family, friends and other people in their circle to consider getting vaccinated for COVID-19. People who are vaccinated are less likely to spread COVID-19, compared to those who are unvaccinated.
3. Remember to wear a mask, wash hands frequently and practice social distancing.
Don't underestimate the benefits of following basic public health measures. Experts recommend that patients who are immunocompromised wear a mask in public settings and with people who live outside their home. Keeping a distance of at least 6 feet from people also limits the chance of getting sick. Frequently hand-washing is another way to boost protection.
4. Keep track of COVID-19 case counts in the local community.
For people with weakened immune systems, knowing the COVID-19 case trends in their community can help when deciding the risks associated with various activities. Several websites have maps with updated COVID-19 case numbers by county, including Mayo Clinic's Coronavirus Map tracking tool. Mayo Clinic's map also offers predictive modeling that forecasts where hot spots will emerge over the next 14 days.
5. Don't wait to contact a health care provider if exposed to COVID-19.
Patients who are immunocompromised and are exposed to COVID-19 should reach out to their health care provider right away. Patients may be considered for monoclonal antibody treatment as a preventive measure to reduce the risk of severe illness from COVID-19. The first dose must be provided within 96 hours of exposure to COVID-19.
Information in this post was accurate at the time of its posting. Due to the fluid nature of the COVID-19 pandemic, scientific understanding, along with guidelines and recommendations, may have changed since the original publication date.
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