What is COVID-19?
Coronaviruses are a common group of viruses that infect a range of animals and humans. The “Corona” word reflects a corona-like structure when these viruses are seen under a microscope in a laboratory. Genetic analysis of the virus behind COVID-19, named SARS-CoV-2, shows strong similarities to other coronaviruses found in bats and there is reasonably strong evidence that mutations in a bat Coronavirus led to the current strain.
In humans, the strains of Coronaviruses (until now) infect cells of the throat and lungs and are responsible for about one-third cases of colds and similar respiratory illnesses. In healthy people, these previous strains are highly contagious, annoying but usually self- limiting. This COVID-19 is a new virus in humans. No one has immunity and everyone can potentially be infected.
The coronavirus is a flu-like virus that affects the lungs and airways. Symptoms of COVID-19 are a cough, high temperature, difficulty breathing and shortness of breath.
For most healthy people, the coronavirus will not cause serious health problems. For members of high-risk groups, such as those currently undergoing cancer treatment or who may be immunosuppressed or with respiratory conditions, for examples like Asthma or Chronic Obstructive Airways Disease (COPD) the virus can cause serious complications.
For up to date information on COVID-19 figures and information regarding your county, see the COVID-19 hub here.
How does the virus affect people with cancer?
The HSE have encouraged those undergoing cancer treatment and members of high-risk groups to take extra precautions to protect yourself and your family against infection.
In this uncertain time, we all must play our part in helping to protect the most vulnerable in our society from the spread of the coronavirus.
Ways we can help to slow the spread of COVID-19
It is vital that you take the necessary precautions to protect yourself and any member of your family and friends that may be high risk. To do this, it is recommended that you:
By following these steps, we can help to slow the spread of the virus and protect those most at risk.
Advice for those currently receiving treatment for cancer
If you are currently receiving cancer treatment, you should continue to attend appointments until contacted or your appointment is rescheduled.
Some treatment decisions may be changed at this time. These changes are to protect
individual patients and achieve best outcomes. Any changes will be made by your
Consultant and will be discussed with you. These changes may include;
- Changes to the medication you are given or how often you need to attend
- Change to where you receive your treatment
- Assessments by phone where possible
These changes will be made by your oncology team in your best interest.
You will be contacted by your oncology unit 1-2 days before your appointment, to check if
you have any symptoms of coronavirus or have been in contact with anyone with the virus. For planned hospital admissions, it may be necessary to cocoon and be tested for COVID-19 in advance. Your oncology team will tell you what to do if this is required.
No matter what your age, if you are being treated for cancer, it is advised that you take these steps to help resist infection.
Do’s and Donts
- Cover your cough, dispose of the tissue, wash your hands
- Avoid touching your face with unclean hands
- Regularly clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces
- Avoid all non-essential indoor visits to other people’s homes
- Avoid all crowded places, especially indoors but including parks and public amenities
- Individuals should work from home
- Avoid close contact with people – keep 1-2 metres between you and others
- Avoid arriving early for appointments to minimise time spent in day wards and
- waiting rooms
- Avoid contact with anyone who is ill.
- Do not touch your eyes, nose or mouth if your hands are not clean.
- Do not share objects that touch your mouth – for example, bottles, cups.
- Do not shake hands
Cancer Diagnoses During COVID-19
While the recent COVID-19 pandemic has but many things on hold, cancer is not one of them. During this time of uncertainty, it is possible to ignore a change in your body over time or to put your health on the long finger. But we are encouraging everyone to stay on top of their physical health, and speak to their GP, in person or over the phone if they notice any changes.
If you notice:
- A new or changing lump
- Changes to the skin
- Abnormal bleeding
- Constant fatigue/ tirendess
- Unexplained weight loss
You should speak to your GP without delay. Your symptoms may not turn out to be cancer, but the sooner you seek help, the better it will be if you are referred on for treatment.
Cocooning is a measure put in place to help protect those over 70 or those with extreme medical vulnerability such as those actively receiving treatment for cancer. The practice is a technique used to help prevent those who are at a very high risk of becoming sick from contracting COVID-19.
Those that have been advised to cocoon are those over 70 years of age as well as those with specific kinds of cancers such as cancer of the blood and leukaemia. If you are unsure if this applies to you, contact your GP and they can let you know.
As we move into Phase Three in the reopening of the country, guidelines for those over 70 or medically vulnerable have been amended. It is now recommended that those who have previously been cocooning can:
- Those previously cocooning are still advised to stay at home are much as possible
- Get outdoors for exercises in their local area but ensure you stick to the 2m social distancing guidelines
- Visits from family and friends are now permitted in small numbers (not to exceed 6 people) but face covering and gloves are still advised when visiting.
- It is still recommended that family members or those living with you do the weekly shop, but if you must go out, it is recommended that you use the allocated times available to those most at risk and make use of face coverings, gloves and social distancing of 1m at all times.
Now that restrictions are being lifted across the country, it is more important than ever that we take all available health precautions and follow recommendations to help keep those most vulnerable safe.
What are some of the things you can do?
- Ensure you are maintaining social distancing of 1m at all times
- Where a face-covering where possible when in public places, and especially in enclosed areas such as shops or public transport.
- Continue to practice good hand washing and hygiene etiquette
Facemasks or coverings are a great way to help prevent the spread of COVID if you have been in contact with the virus. Masks do not protect you from the spread of COVID-19 but it can protect others in the case where you do not know you have been infected.
Here are some helpful tips on how to wear a face-covering most effectively:
- Before putting on your mask, make sure you clean your hands thoroughly with soap or hand sanitizer.
- Cover your nose and mouth with the mask and make sure there is no gap in between
- For ear-loop type masks, make sure you position the ear loops around both ears. Avoid touching the covering after placing it on your face.
- To remove the mask, hold the mask by the ear loops and pull away from the face gently (do not touch the front of the mask).
- If you have discarded the mask, ensure you clean your hands thoroughly afterwards.
- Wash the mask in a high-temperature wash to disinfect before each use.
Irish designer Aideen Bodkin has created non-medical grade face covering to help keep people safe from the spread of COVID while also helping to support charities like ourselves, whose funding has been devastated by the current pandemic. A pack of two masks is available for just €12 euro and a donation from the sale of each mask goes towards supporting our services. To order a face covering for yourself or those you love, click here.
GP surgeries are open and waiting to take your calls if you have any concerns about your health. One of the things that wasn’t put on pause during the COVID-19 pandemic was cancer and illness so if you have noticed any changes to your body or if you have any concerns regarding your health, please reach out to your GP without delay.
Now is also the time to start practising healthy lifestyle choices and helping to prevent cancer through daily routine changes like wearing sunscreen each day and keeping active. Our Your Health Your Choice programme helps you to kick start your healthy lifestyle journey, all while reducing your risk of 4 in 10 cancers. For more information on this programme click here.
How you can help us
Due to the essential decisions that have been made by the Government in relation to gatherings and social distancing, the Marie Keating Foundation has been forced to cancel all of its upcoming fundraisers, which has had an immediate impact on the cancer charity’s income.
As a result, we are making an urgent appeal for the public’s help as they face an unprecedented situation with fundraising being curtailed and services stretched.
Director of Fundraising Linda Keating explains “The Marie Keating Foundation is so reliant on our main source of income, namely our own events and the public getting behind us with fun runs, coffee mornings, sponsored cycles, overseas walks and taking part in events like the Mini Marathon etc, that for all of these to be cancelled immediately with little notice is potentially devastating for us. We really do need the public’s help to help us continue to offer help to those we support who are now more vulnerable than ever.”
How COVID-19 has changed our services?
Circumstances surrounding COVID-19 are constantly changing and evolving and as a result, our services have too.
In an effort to protect our Positive Living group members from further risk while also continuing to provide a vital service, we have decided to suspend face to face group meetings and instead are now offering online monthly meetings for members both existing and new.
Each month, members will be invited to log in to our virtual meeting and discuss the issues they have encountered, and memories they have made in the past month with their fellow group members and friends. As well as this, we have now established a new community WhatsApp group, meaning group members, as well as our nurses, can provide support and advice to members each week. For more information and to register for Positive Living, click here.
We understand that businesses want to protect their staff, so we have designed Corporate Wellness Webinars to cater to this need. Our nursing team can now provide educational talks on how to stay healthy, recognise signs and symptoms of cancer as well as providing information on how to reduce your risk of cancer off-site, and employees can log in from the office or home. Our aim is to make cancer less frightening by enlightening while also protecting the most vulnerable in our society from illness, and our new wellness webinars do just this. Find more information on how you can book one of our specially trained nurses to speak with your staff here.
Our Nursing Team:
Our nursing team across Ireland have been working tirelessly to help provide information and support to men and women on a cancer journey and to help them navigate the evolving coronavirus pandemic. Our nursing staff have gone above and beyond the call of duty, some redeploying to help support our health service, while others helping to support members of high-risk community on the ground through their community work.
If you are currently receiving treatment for cancer and would like to speak to one of our nurses, please visit the contact section of our website.
Staying healthy and making good lifestyle choices is still as important as ever when it comes to helping to reduce your risk of cancer. Our Stay Home, Stay Healthy page is designed to help you stay healthy at home during this difficult time. Tips on how to exercise while cocooning to how to be SunSmart when social distancing outdoors, now more than ever it is essential to stay healthy while protecting those most vulnerable. For more information, click here.
- The Marie Keating Foundation’s six week wellness webinar series for cancer patients and survivors is available on-demand here.
- For up to date information on the coronavirus in Ireland, visit the HSE website
- For posters and educational materials translated into a wide array of different languages, click here.
- For information and advice on how to cope with fear and worry related to COVID-19 click here.
- Download information about how to manage long term illness during the pandemic here.
- To watch a range of videos designed to give information on the coronavirus here
- A new National Bereavement Support Line
The Irish Hospice Foundation, in conjunction with the HSE, has set up a new National Bereavement Support Line to provide connection, comfort and support to those grieving in these exceptional times.
It is a freephone service and will be open from 10am to 1pm, Monday to Friday, starting from today, Tuesday 9 June.
The number to call is 1800 80 70 77. Please find more information here
- ALONE’s Q&A for older people, or those caring for the elderly can be found here. For more information about ALONE and the work they do to support older people across Ireland, visit their website here.
- For more information about Age Action’s Care and Repair Hardship fund click here
- For information and advice on how to cope with asthma during the COVID-19 pandemic from the Asthma Society of Ireland click here
- To find information on the Irish Hospice Foundation’s Funeral Fund, click here
- HSE Hospital Service disruption Information can be found here
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