April 2, 2020

Do I or Someone I Know Have a Vulnerable Immune System?

Heather Jackson, Loma Linda University Health News

Known risk groups for COVID-19 are constantly evolving as scientists learn more about the disease, yet one population will always be considered high risk: those who are immunocompromised.

The National Cancer Institute defines immunocompromised as the condition of someone who has a weakened immune system, which lowers their ability to fight infections and other diseases. A person in this category may also have longer-lasting illnesses compared to someone whose immune system is functioning normally.

The two types of immunocompromised populations are primary and secondary. Primary immunocompromised patients are born with immune deficiencies. Secondary immunocompromised patients take medications or have other medical conditions that cause them to have a weaker immune system. Medications can range from prescription pills to chemotherapy.

Adrian Cotton, chief of medical operations at Loma Linda University Health, said patients considered immunocompromised are those with the following diseases or medical conditions:

  • Cancer or chemotherapy treatment
  • Autoimmune diseases like lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, or ulcerative colitis
  • Transplant
  • Heart disease, in particular, those with heart failure or congenital heart disease
  • Kidney disease
  • Malnutrition
  • HIV
  • Diabetes
  • Immunosuppressant therapy

With a sizable population falling into this group, it may be frightening for some to read the list. Cotton said he wants patients and their families to remain calm because, although they may be in this higher-risk group, the clinical severity of COVID-19 can vary depending on their specific underlying condition and general health.

“Although there are some who fit into this category, it is important for patients to know that even if you are considered at a higher risk, your risk can still vary,” Cotton said.

“Before jumping to any conclusions about how vulnerable you are to the disease and what your outcome might be if you contract COVID-19, I recommend the patient consult with their physician.”

Protection for Those Immunocompromised

Many of the same preventative measures taken by the general population should be followed for those with weaker immune systems. One of the major differences is making sure you are staying on top of any medications that are helping you keep your immune system strong during this time.

It’s important not to forget to quarantine if possible, limit frequent contact with others, and make sure you are getting enough rest.

The original version of this story was posted on the Loma Linda University Health news site.