Coronavirus: What Transplant Recipients Need to Know

If you are a transplant recipient, you may be wondering how the Coronavirus (COVID-19) might affect you. Since it is a new virus, doctors are still learning about it and its potential effect on transplant recipients. Doctors Meenakshi Rana and Andrew E. Esch share tips and answer frequently asked questions.*

Tips to Keep Yourself Safe, provided by Dr. Rana*

Since transplant recipients have compromised immune systems, Dr. Rana says that there is a higher risk of severe complications. Because of this, it is very important that you take preventive measures, and tell your doctor(s) when you aren’t feeling well – including your palliative care team. 

How to Protect Yourself and Stay Prepared

  • Wash your hands regularly, especially if you go outside. This is the most important thing you can do as the virus is spread by direct contact, and is easily killed by washing your hands. Use soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer (with at least 60% alcohol). 
      • Here’s how to effectively wash your hands: start by washing with warm or cold water, then lather the soap for 20 seconds and rub it around the backs of your hands, between fingers and under your finger nails before rinsing.
    • Plan ahead.  Make sure to have a good supply of your regular medicines at home so you don’t run out. Now is a good time to call your doctor to ask for a three-month supply of your transplant medicines. 
    • Don’t cough into your hands – instead, cough into your elbow.
  • Clean common household surfaces with a disinfectant to kill the virus.
    • Follow guidelines from the US Centers for Disease Control about use of masks. Click here for current information.  Also check with your local government.
  • Stay away from people who are sick.
    • Practice social distancing. Stay home as much as possible, and if you have to go out for essentials (e.g. groceries, medicine), make sure to keep six feet apart from other people. 
  • If you feel sick, stay home and call your doctor. If you have symptoms such as a fever, cough, or shortness of breath, call your primary care doctor and/or your transplant doctor. Instead of going straight to the doctor’s office or hospital, call ahead. This will help your medical team know how to best guide you, such as letting you know what to do and where to go. 

Frequently Asked Questions, answered by Dr. Esch*

How do palliative care teams and transplant teams work together? 

Palliative care teams often work with transplant teams to ensure high quality pain and symptom management, as well helping patients achieve the best possible quality of life.  

Since transplant recipients are already at risk of infection, what other measures should be taken to avoid getting sick? Does COVID-19 contribute to rejection?

Because this is a new virus, doctors don’t know everything it can or will do. However, there is no data at this point to show that the virus can or will contribute to rejection. Transplant patients usually have compromised immune systems, so they are at higher risk for more severe consequences of COVID-19 infections. Stay home, avoid crowds, and other people as much as possible. Also, wash your hands thoroughly and often, and avoid contact with anyone who is sick.

My relative recently had an organ transplant and is now home. Is it safe to visit? 

Caregivers, family and others can be “silent” carriers with this virus, so every precaution should be taken. Do not visit them if you have any symptoms of COVID-19, or if you have had recent exposure to anyone who has been sick. It’s best to have your relative call their transplant doctor for further guidance.

I’m on the waiting list for a transplant. How will the increase of COVID-19 patients in hospitals affect me? 

Hospitals are very busy right now, and many expect this to get worse. Stay in contact with your transplant coordinator – transplant centers have plans in place to address the timing of transplant procedures with other needs.

 

For more information about COVID-19 and transplant, see this resource page provided by the American Association for Kidney Disease and this page from the National Kidney Foundation.

Dr. Meenakshi Rana, MD is a transplant infectious disease specialist at The Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City.

Dr. Andrew E. Esch, MD, MBA, is acting vice president of education at the Center to Advance Palliative Care.

*This is not meant to serve as medical advice. Please reach out to your medical team for advice and any questions related to you or your loved one. 

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