Important info on Covid-19 (Coronavirus) for women with breast cancer

As New Zealand moves to halt the spread of the new flu-like virus COVID-19  (Coronavirus), we have pulled together this information for New Zealanders with breast cancer and their families and whānau. This virus can affect lungs and airways, and has been declared a pandemic by the World Health Organisation.

As at 1pm 31 March 2020, we have approximately 647 confirmed and probable cases in New Zealand, and the Government has measures in place in a bid to reduce its spread. We are encouraging all women with breast cancer to be particularly vigilant for symptoms because of the higher risk of complications from the illness for those with cancer. This is because cancer and its treatment can weaken immune systems.

Following an announcement by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern 23 March 2020, all New Zealanders are required to spend most of their time at home and non-essential businesses are required to be closed from midnight Wednesday 25 March. 

See: Government advice on self-isolating

See: BBC article on social distancing and self-isolation   [Note: The info at the end on ‘Will I still get paid’ applies only in the UK].

How can cancer and treatment weaken immunity? *

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.

Some treatments, like chemotherapy, can stop the bone marrow from making enough white blood cells which are part of your immune system. This is most likely to happen during a course of cancer treatment, but the effects can last for some time afterwards.

When your ability to fight infection is lowered, the symptoms of any infection can be much more severe and may become dangerous.

Immediate steps:

  • The Ministry of Health says:
    • If you have been overseas within the last 14 days and develop a fever, cough or shortness of breath, phone Healthline’s dedicated COVID-19 number 0800 358 5453 or contact your GP, including phoning ahead of your visit.
    • For COVID-19 health advice and information, contact the Healthline team (for free) on 0800 358 5453 or +64 9 358 5453 for international SIMS.
  • Get the influenza vaccination – phone your doctor’s clinic for advice or phone a local pharmacy to inquire if they can do it for you.

Recommendations:

  • Connect with your medical team if you have any concerns about COVID-19 and discuss any extra precautions they recommend you take. Confirm the best ways to contact them.
  • Contact your clinical trial team if you are involved in a clinical trial to discuss what actions they recommend you take.
  • Carry out the widely publicised hygiene recommendations such as thoroughly washing your hands – wash often, use soap, wash for 20 seconds then dry.
  • Remain as up to date as you can about the latest advice on Covid-19. We include good sources of information at the end of this article.

Preparation:

  • Arrange contacts for people who can help you since you aren't supposed to leave the house except for emergencies. (E.g. arrange someone to drop off shopping to your doorstep if you are unable to shop online).
  • Ensure you have the following to hand in case you need to go to hospital:
    • Your medication.
    • Your cancer treatment plan if you have one.
    • Contact information for your family, caregiver, GP, cancer team.
       

Social distancing:

You may find the following recommendations for social distancing from Public Health UK helpful:   

Public Health UK recommends the measures below to reduce face-to-face interaction between people, in order to reduce the transmission of COVID-19.  It says these measures are particularly important for people with underlying health conditions. However, everyone should be trying to follow these measures as much as is pragmatic.

  • Avoid contact with someone who is displaying symptoms of COVID-19. These symptoms include high temperature and/or new and continuous cough.
  • Keep in touch with friends and family you don't live with by using remote technology such as phone, internet, and social media.
  • Use telephone or online services to contact your GP or other essential services.

Sources of information:

Good sources of information include:

* A big thank you to Cancer Research UK for their information in the section above called How can cancer and treatment weaken immunity? 

- Updated 31 March 2020

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