The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has taken the world by storm, causing what many perceive to be a case of mass hysteria. But for those living with a compromised immune system, the ‘hysteria’ is not unwarranted.
Amber Beckley, a 33-year-old mother from Sandusky county, Ohio, suffers from a rare autoimmune condition called common variable immunodeficiency (CVID). The condition makes her bone marrow unable to produce the antibodies that fight against infections. As a result, she’s terrified of contracting the coronavirus, since she’s a high-risk patient.
“My immune system is at five percent,” said Beckley. “If I caught it, even with treatment from doctors and hospital and ICU, me fighting it off is just not going to happen.”
Beckley also added that the only way to treat her condition is to get an infusion of antibodies from healthy patients, a treatment she’s been receiving for the last seven years. Unfortunately, her nurse has advised her against leaving the house, to reduce her risk of being exposed to COVID-19 – as a result, she can’t get the life-saving treatment she needs. She also thinks that healthy patients aren’t taking the disease seriously enough.
That’s a position with which Angela Michelle of San Antonio, Texas agrees. Michelle suffers from an autoimmune disease as well – antiphospholipid syndrome (APS), which causes clotting in her arteries and veins. The condition has caused her to have a stroke, and also affects her lung function by causing her to develop pulmonary hypertension. Having a lung disease puts her at an even greater risk if she were to catch the coronavirus, since the virus is respiratory in nature.
“I think it’s been really disheartening for us to see the general public not take it as seriously as we feel like it should be because they don’t think it’s going to affect them. And for us, it does affect us,” she said.
Michelle had a medical procedure planned in San Diego, California, but since her flight was cancelled, she’s no longer able to have the procedure done. What really worries her is that medical facilities may become so overwhelmed dealing with the outbreak, that they won’t be able to effectively treat her should she get infected.
Heather Millen, a 42-year-old from Brooklyn, New York, has multiple sclerosis (MS), an autoimmune condition that damages the myelin sheath coating one’s nerves in the brain and spinal cord. She feels that she and others with compromised immune systems have been brushed off by media and politicians alike.
“I feel like people with MS and other people who are high risk are constantly being dismissed,” she lamented. “I feel like the coronavirus is being so underplayed.”
Millen’s own sister, Denise, also suffered from an autoimmune disease, but passed away when she contracted the H1N1 virus (also known as the ‘swine flu’) back in 2009. Seeing the global health crisis now brings back terrible memories of watching her sister’s body shut down.
“Any time people with MS get any kind of infection, it can be a trigger for their symptoms and make them worse,” said Amesh Amalja, MD and infectious disease expert at the John Hopkins Center for Health Security. “Many are on immune-suppressing medications…So if they do get infected, it could be severe.”
Dr. Murray Cohen, an epidemiologist, adds that it’s important to assess your personal risk for the disease, especially since even mild cases of the disease could lead to pneumonia.
“When we have pulmonary disease, coronary disease, autoimmune diseases — we’ve got no way to fight this virus since there is no treatment,” Dr. Cohen explained. “The only defense you have if you get infected is your immune system fighting that virus. One of you is going to win, and one of you is going to lose.”
That’s why it’s extremely important that even if you’re not high-risk for succumbing to the coronavirus, that you take precautions to help prevent the spread of the virus to those who are immunocompromised. Ultimately, ‘being seen’ is what autoimmune disease patients like Millen want.
“Those people that are being discounted by every news program and government official, they’re people. What about those people?” she countered.