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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 heart disease and high blood pressure, (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.

Here’s what you need to know

People with heart disease have a higher risk for complications from COVID-19.

In general, people with heart disease are more likely to experience symptoms and complications when infected with a virus, including the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19. People who have heart disease do not have a higher chance of contracting the virus — but they may have worse outcomes.

Why?

Because all viruses take a toll on the cardiovascular system. COVID-19 is a virus and studies have shown that many viruses can cause arrhythmia and even heart attack. This is because the virus causes a severe inflammatory response in the body, and inflammation is the biggest cause of heart attacks.

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

If you have heart disease and you have concerns, talk with your doctor who understands your current health status and medical history to best assess your risks related to COVID-19.

Continue to take your medications.

There has been speculation and misinformation around whether heart patients should continue taking their ACE-i and ARB medications. Please know that our team of cardiologists continues to monitor information closely and that we are following guidelines set forth by the American College of Cardiology (ACC). The ACC recommends the continued use of angiotensin converting enzyme inhibitors (ACE-i) or angiotensin receptor blocker (ARB) medications for all patients already prescribed for indications such as heart failure, hypertension or ischemic heart disease.

All heart disease patients who are diagnosed with COVID-19 should be fully evaluated by their physician before adding or removing any medications,  especially chloroquine or hydroxychloroquine (Plaquenil.)

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

Information is still new.

Because the COVID-19 outbreak is still new, doctors don’t have a lot of specific information on this strain of coronavirus for heart patients. However, they do have a lot of information regarding the risk of infections in general for heart patients.

Symptoms of a COVID-19 infection 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 feel like you’re developing symptoms, call your doctor.

If you’re having symptoms you think may be related to COVID-19, before you visit a doctor’s office, clinic or emergency room, call your doctor or our 24/7 hotline at 570-284-3657 for care guidance or to talk with a nurse, especially if:

  • You’ve been in close contact with a person who has flu-like symptoms, confirmed flu or hast 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 doing well and are asymptomatic, 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 must visit a clinic, be prepared to put on a mask when you arrive.

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 temporary 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.

Those who have heart disease need to 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

Symptoms of a COVID-19 infection can resemble that of a cold or flu and typically include a fever, shortness of breath and cough.

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

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

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COVID-19 updates: Visit Geisinger's Coronavirus Resource Center for the latest information and helpful resources.