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COVID-19 Information for Transplant Patients

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COVID-19 (Coronavirus) Frequently Asked Questions   
University of Mississippi Medical Center Transplant Clinic

What is COVID-19?

COVID-19 is recently identified virus that causes an illness that resembles influenza (“the flu”). Although most infected persons experience mild illness and recover with supportive care, persons with severe infection may develop shortness of breath and severe pneumonia requiring hospitalization and possibly intensive care.

What are the symptoms of COVID-19 infection? 

Fever, cough, muscle aches and sore throat are the most common symptoms.

How does COVID-19 spread?

Person-to-person spread

The virus is thought to spread mainly from person-to-person.

  • The disease is typically spread between people who are in close contact with one another (within about 6 feet).
  • The disease spreads through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs.

Can someone spread the virus without being sick?

  • People are thought to be most contagious once they develop symptoms.
  • Some spread might be possible before people show symptoms; there have been reports of this occurring with this new coronavirus, but this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads.

Can the virus be spread by contact with infected surfaces or objects?

  • It may be possible for a person to get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes, but this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads.

If I get exposed to COVID-19, when will I develop symptoms?

Most infected people begin to experience symptoms between two and 14 days after exposure.

What tests are performed to detect COVID-19 infection?

In presence of suggestive symptoms, oral and nasal swabs are collected and sent for analysis. Additional testing may include sputum analysis, chest X-ray and CT scan depending on the severity of symptoms.

Are transplant patients at higher risk for infection?

Based on early reports, elderly people, persons with chronic medical problems like heart disease, diabetes and lung disease tend to be the ones who develop severe infection.

However, because their immune systems have been suppressed, all transplant recipients need to be extra cautious in avoiding the exposure or infection and need to be evaluated medically if they develop the symptoms mentioned above.

How do I prepare myself and what precautions do I need to take?

Take everyday precautions

  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick
  • Avoid crowds, especially in poorly ventilated spaces. Your risk of exposure to respiratory viruses like COVID-19 may increase in crowded, closed-in settings with little air circulation if there are people in the crowd who are sick. For now, it is prudent to avoid movie theaters, going to church, traveling by plane or train and other large gatherings of people.

Take everyday preventive actions

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing, or having been in a public place.
  • If soap and water are not available, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.
  • To the extent possible, avoid touching high-touch surfaces in public places – elevator buttons, door handles, handrails, handshaking with people, etc. Use a tissue or your sleeve to cover your hand or finger if you must touch something.
  • Wash your hands after touching surfaces in public places.
  • Avoid touching your face, nose, and eyes
  • Clean and disinfect your home to remove germs: practice routine cleaning of frequently touched surfaces (for example: tables, doorknobs, light switches, handles, desks, toilets, faucets, sinks & cell phones)
  • Inform visitors or people with whom you socialize that you are a transplant recipient and ask them to inform you if they are sick or had been exposed to people who have infection.

Have supplies on hand

  • Contact your transplant coordinator to ask about obtaining extra necessary medications to have on hand in case there is an outbreak of COVID-19 in your community and you need to stay home for a prolonged period of time.
  • If you cannot get extra medications from your local pharmacy, consider using mail-order for medications.
  • Be sure you have over-the-counter medicines and medical supplies (tissues, etc.) to treat fever and other symptoms. Most people will be able to recover from COVID-19 at home.
  • Have enough household items and groceries on hand so that you will be prepared to stay at home for a period of time.

Do I need to wear a mask to prevent infection?

CDC does not recommend using masks for infection prevention. However, you need to wear a mask if:

  • You have fever, runny nose, cough, sore throat, muscle aches or shortness of breath
  • You have had close contact with someone who may have infection and you are coming to clinic or hospital
  • You have visited somewhere where COVID-19 infection is common in the last two weeks and you are coming to clinic or hospital

Is it safe to travel?

  • We recommend that transplant patients do not travel out of their home state currently.
  • If you must travel within the country, avoid using planes, trains, buses, and mass transit (subways), and avoid locations were COVID-19 infection is common.

Should I stay at home?

  • Avoiding contact with infected persons is an important step in avoiding infection yourself
  • You should avoid going to church, restaurants, movie theaters or any other public location where people gather
  • Avoid out-of-home trips to locations other than grocery stores, pharmacies, and medical visits

What should I do If I develop symptoms of COVID-19?

  • Call 911 for a life-threatening emergency such as severe shortness of breath – remember to let the 911 operator know the nature of your complaint so that the EMS staff can prepare appropriately
  • For non-emergent symptoms, call your primary care physician or the UMMC transplant helpline at 601-984-5065, rather than going to the urgent care or ER where you may infect other people or be exposed to others who are ill
  • Drink plenty of liquids and take acetaminophen (Tylenol) for low-grade fever, sore throat and/or muscle aches

Please visit these websites for additional information:

CDC COVID-19 website
CDC COVID-19 cases in the US
CDC guidance on travel in the US
American Society of Transplantation COVID-19 FAQ for transplant candidates and recipients