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The spread of the novel coronavirus, which causes the illness COVID-19, is at the top of everyone’s mind. And people with health conditions, such as transplant candidates and recipients (and their loved ones), are especially interested in staying up to date. 

Our top concern is keeping our patients and members, their families and our communities safe and healthy. 

Read on for guidance and ways you can protect yourself and your loved ones.

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Here’s what you need to know

People who have received an organ transplant have a higher risk for complications from COVID-19. 

In general, people who have received a transplant (including kidney, liver, lung or heart) are more likely to experience symptoms and complications when infected with a virus, including the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19. People who have had an organ transplant don’t have a higher chance of contracting the virus — but they may have worse outcomes.

Why?

Because antirejection medications can weaken the immune system.

That’s why it’s important for patients and their caregivers to take steps to lower the risk of contracting COVID-19.

Anyone who has received an organ transplant or is waiting to receive an organ donation should talk with a doctor who understands their current health status and medical history to assess their risks related to COVID-19.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also offers specific recommendations for people at risk for serious illness, including COVID-19.

People who are awaiting a transplant should take extra precautions.

If you’re waiting for a transplant, the best way to protect yourself from COVID-19 is through common-sense prevention measures, including practicing physical distancing and washing your hands thoroughly and frequently.

Those who are awaiting a transplant should know that the risk of acquiring COVID-19 from organ donation is low.

We’re diligently screening all potential donors for COVID-19 symptoms and potential exposure to the virus. Many organizations that procure organs are also testing donors for COVID-19. The American Society for Transplantation offers additional insight for anyone who has had or is awaiting an organ transplant.

Your transplant team will discuss any risks and answer any questions you may have.

Information for people who are considering becoming a living donor 

If you’re a potential living donor, we’ll ask you specific questions related to:

  • Potential exposure to COVID-19
  • Symptoms of respiratory illness or flu, such as a fever (100.4° F or higher), a new cough or shortness of breath

Depending on your risk of exposure, you may be asked to postpone donation.

If you feel like you’re developing symptoms, call your doctor.

COVID-19 symptoms can resemble that of a cold or flu and can last up to 14 days:

  • Fever
  • Cough 
  • Runny nose
  • Shortness of breath

COVID-19 symptoms can appear as early as 2 days and as late as 14 days after exposure. 

If you’re having symptoms you think may be related to COVID-19, call your doctor or our 24/7 hotline at 570-284-3657 for care guidance. Do this before visiting an emergency room or clinic. 

It’s especially important to call if:

  • You’ve been in close contact with a person who has flu-like symptoms, confirmed flu or has tested positive for COVID-19.
  • You live in or have recently traveled to an area known to have an outbreak of the disease. 

Watch for emergency warning signs.

Seek immediate medical attention if you develop emergency warning signs for COVID-19, including:

  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • Persistent pain or pressure in the chest
  • Bluish lips or skin 
  • Sudden confusion or inability to arouse

In an emergency, call 911 or head to the nearest emergency room

What if a family member develops symptoms?

Take the following precautions if a family member shows symptoms of flu or COVID-19:

  • Wash your hands often, and make sure your family member does the same.
  • Keep surfaces in your house clean.
  • Maintain a safe distance.
    • Sleep in different rooms.
    • Don’t eat at the same table.

Following these guidelines can be difficult if you have children. We encourage you to have a candid discussion with your family about the risks you face and your need to maintain a safe distance and keep the house sanitized. 

Should I keep regularly scheduled follow-up appointments?

If you’re feeling healthy, consider contacting your doctor to ask if routine follow-up care is necessary right now. Avoiding a hospital visit would limit your risk.
And if you have mild symptoms of fever, runny nose and cough, stay home, just like you would if you had a cold.
If you have mild symptoms and must visit a clinic, be prepared to put on a mask when you arrive. This will keep your care team and others in the waiting room safe. 
If you have any doubts or questions about visiting a healthcare site, call the Geisinger coronavirus hotline — 570-284-3657 — before your appointment.

Is my caregiver/family member allowed to accompany me to an appointment?

Guidelines are changing as the situation evolves and we work to keep patients safe. For the latest information, check our visitor policy

How you can protect yourself

As with the flu, the best way to protect yourself from COVID-19 is through common-sense prevention measures:

  • Practice social distancing. Don’t shake hands, avoid crowds and stay at least 6 feet away from others. 
  • Wash your hands frequently and for at least 20 seconds, especially after coughing, sneezing or visiting public areas. Alcohol-based sanitizers and wipes with at least 60% alcohol are also good options for hand hygiene.
  • Cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze.
  • Avoid touching your face, especially your mouth, nose and eyes.
  • Keep surfaces clean and disinfected at your home, workplace and school.

Take extra care to avoid crowded and closed public spaces, such as public transportation, theaters and restaurants. Limit travel — especially on planes or cruise ships, which should be avoided. 

This doesn’t mean you’re housebound. You can take walks outside and even go grocery shopping at off-peak hours if necessary. Be sure to bring your own bags and disinfect cart handles. Wash your hands or use sanitizer after using the cart. Hand hygiene is critical.

Most importantly, if you are feeling sick or showing signs of an illness, be very cautious about going into public spaces and stay home from work or school.

What is coronavirus and COVID-19? 

Coronaviruses are a large family of diverse, common viruses that can cause illnesses ranging from a common cold to a severe lower respiratory tract infection, like pneumonia. The novel (new) coronavirus you’ve been hearing about, which originated in Wuhan, China, results in an illness called COVID-19. 

COVID-19 is a respiratory illness that usually includes not only an upper respiratory tract infection, but also a lower respiratory tract infection, which can lead to pneumonia and breathing issues. 

How is COVID-19 spread?

Coronaviruses, including the one causing COVID-19, spread like most respiratory viruses, including the flu or a cold:

  • Droplets traveling through the air by coughing or sneezing
  • Close personal contact, such as touching or shaking hands
  • Touching an object or surface with the virus on it

Although the virus RNA can be found in stool samples, spreading through feces is not likely.

For the latest information, including more detailed responses to some common questions, visit the following websites:

Man contemplating a potential transplant procedure

Geisinger COVID-19 hotline

570-284-3657

Call our 24/7 hotline for answers about care recommendations and more.

Visit Geisinger’s Coronavirus Resource Center for the latest information and helpful resources.

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