Covid-19

17 March 2020 -

In light of the COVID-19 virus in New Zealand, Leukaemia & Blood Cancer New Zealand are following the Ministry of Health guidelines and implementing measures and precautions to ensure the safety of all the patients, whanau and family we support as well as our staff and stakeholders. 

How will COVID-19 affect cancer patients?

Chris Jackson, COVID-19 Clinical Lead for the Cancer Control Agency and Cancer Society Medical Director says all treatment facilities are available to operate during this lockdown period.  Dr Jackson discusses the balance of risks and benefits of some treatments.  Listen here for this important update.

LBC’s Support Services’ in the COVID-19 situation

In response to the COVID-19 situation in New Zealand, the LBC Support Services team are working hard to continue to meet the needs of our haematology patients and families/whanau.  We have made some changes to how we will be providing our support over the coming months with alternative ways to meet our patients’ and families/whanau needs using technology. We will be:

  • Providing regular local and national live-streamed and recorded education sessions and webinars covering a wide range of medical and psychosocial topics.
  • Running regular updates and Q & A sessions with a Haematologist.
  • Running virtual peer support groups via Zoom.
  • Providing ongoing emergency financial support and information.
  • Increasing the frequency of phone calls to check in on those who do not have reliable internet or computer access.

Our Support Services staff continue to be available via phone and online.  Please contact your local Support Services Coordinator on 0800 15 10 15 for further information.  Please also join one of our 7 private Facebook groups for peer support across the country.

What you need to know about blood cancer and COVID-19

In late 2019, a new strain of a coronavirus was recorded called COVID-19. For the latest health updates on COVID-19 visit the Ministry of Health website here.   People who suspect they have COVID-19 should call a dedicated healthline for free on 0800-358-5453.  People who are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 and are visiting a GP or hospital, please phone the facility ahead of time before arriving.

What are the symptoms of COVID-19?

They symptoms of COVID-19 are similar to a range of other respiratory illnesses such as the flu.  They include fever, cough and difficulty breathing.  Difficulty breathing is a sign of possible pneumonia and requires immediate medical attention.

How do viruses like influenza, common colds and, most recently, the coronavirus COVID-19 spread?

These viruses are transmitted through direct contact with respiratory droplets that occur through coughing or sneezing of an infected person in close proximity. It can also be contracted through touching contaminated surfaces.

When you are most at risk of infection

Blood cancer and its treatment can affect the bone marrow’s ability to produce adequate numbers of healthy blood cells. Your blood count (the number of white cells, platelets and red cells circulating in the blood) will generally fall within a week of having your treatment.

The point at which the white blood cell count is at its lowest is called the nadir.  Your treating team may also tell you that you are neutropenic (which means you are low in infection-fighting white cells known as a neutrophils). This is usually expected 10 to 14 days after having chemotherapy.

During this time, you will be at a higher risk of developing an infection. While your white blood cell count is low, you should take sensible precautions to help prevent your exposure to infection. Viruses such as influenza and the common cold typically have peak periods of infection each year, but they can be contracted at any time.

How can I help prevent infection and illness?

While your white blood cell count is low, you should take sensible precautions to help prevent infection.    Here are a few ideas for avoiding illness and infection, particularly when you have a compromised immune system.

Social contact

  • Avoid places where there are likely to be a lot of people such as shopping centres, public gatherings, cinemas, sporting events etc.
  • Avoid contact with those who are already infected and/or contagious, for example, people with colds, flu and chickenpox. These could be your friends and work colleagues but also your family members.
  • If family or friends have recently travelled overseas ensure they’re free of any infection symptoms, or have completed any periods of self-isolation, before visiting them.
  • More information about countries of concern can be found on the Ministry of Health website here .
  • Avoid the use of public transport.

Hygiene

  • Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the bin after you use it.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after you cough or sneeze, use the toilet, or before you prepare or eat food. Alcohol-based hand sanitsers are also effective.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs spread this way.

Lifestyle

  • Get plenty of sleep. Check out this factsheet for more information.
  • Be physically active, if it is safe to do so. This factsheet on cancer-related fatigue has more information.
  • Manage your stress.
  • Drink plenty of fluids and eat nutritious food. The factsheet on eating well has more

Food and drink

  • Only eat foods that have been properly prepared, washed and cooked thoroughly.
  • Avoid raw or under-cooked foods.
  • Only eat and drink pasteurised juice or dairy products.
  • Avoid sharing your food or utensils while eating.

Medical advice and vaccinations

  • If you develop, flu symptoms call your doctor immediately, especially if your symptoms include a fever.
  • As always, your best source of information is your doctor or treatment centre who knows your medical history best.

Vaccinations

There is currently no available vaccine for COVID-19.  However vaccinations, including the flu jab, can reduce your chance of getting certain infections. But if you’ve had a treatment recently, you may not be able to have some vaccinations. Speak to your  specialist about which vaccinations you can have and when.

When should I contact my doctor?

You must contact your doctor or the nursing team for advice immediately (at any time of the day or night) if you are feeling very unwell, or if you experience any of the following:

  • A temperature of 38°C or higher* (even if it returns to normal) and/or an episode of uncontrolled shivering (also called a rigor)
  • Bleeding or bruising, for example, blood in the urine and/or bowel motions; coughing up blood, bleeding gums or a persistent nosebleed
  • Nausea or vomiting that is prolonged and prevents you from eating or drinking, or taking your normal medications
  • Diarrhoea, stomach cramps or severe constipation
  • Persistent coughing or shortness of breath
  • The presence of a new rash, reddening and/or itching of the skin
  • A persistent headache
  • A new severe pain or persistent unexplained soreness
    persistent pain, swelling, redness or pus anywhere on your body.

* A normal body temperature is between 36 and 37°C

How can I prevent the spread of infection?

Those who are living with or are having treatment for a blood cancer are more susceptible to infection.

If you’re not feeling well, you should avoid and limit contact with those with a blood cancer diagnosis.  If this is unavoidable, you should take sensible precautions to help prevent the spread of infection.

Hand washing

One of the most effective infection-control methods is frequently washing hands (up to the elbow, where possible) with soap and water.  When this is unavailable use an alcohol-based hand sanitiser.

Thoroughly washing your hands is key – washing between fingers and on the back of hands for 15-20 seconds is the aim.

Rinse with water and then dry your hands in the same manner with a paper towel or hot air (avoid using fabric towels).

Wash your hands not only after you sneeze or cough but also after using the toilet and before you eat or prepare food.

Cover your cough

Good infection control means coughing and sneezing into the crook of your elbow – not your hands – or into a tissue. If using a tissue, it’s important these are disposed of in bins with closed lids, and your hands are washed.  It is also good practice to avoid close contact with people (like hugging and touching) while you’re unwell.

To wear a mask, or not to wear a mask? 

Masks are an important tool in preventing the spread of viruses. For people with compromised or suppressed immune systems, avoiding contact with the general public as much as possible is key to avoid contracting viruses.

If this is unavoidable, a mask is a practical measure. Speak with your treating team or your GP to understand if this option is appropriate for you and what type of mask you should wear.

Be aware

There are many simple and easy practices that can reduce the likelihood of infection spreading. Be aware of your body and any changes and refer to the list on when to contact your doctor. If you’re concerned you are becoming unwell, contact your doctor for advice.

Travel

Check the New Zealand government’s safetravel.govt.nz website for the latest travel advice before planning any travel.

If you are travelling overseas, check with your doctor or specialist nurse about what vaccinations you may need.

With thanks to Leukaemia Foundation of Australia for supplying aspects of this information.