Recommendations for transplant patients during COVID-19 outbreak
In this rapidly evolving situation, we are constantly learning more about who is at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19. Early evidence suggests that patients with serious underlying medical conditions are at a higher risk. Today the surgical director of the UK Liver Transplant Program, Malay Shah, MD, FACS, speaks directly to our transplant patients, providing useful information and guidance.
It is currently thought that patients who are at highest risk of morbidity and/or mortality from COVID-19 are the elderly, or those who have chronic illness. As it pertains to transplant, every patient of ours has end stage organ failure (which, by default, is a chronic illness). The vast majority of our patients have one or more significant medical conditions in addition to their end stage organ failure, including the very common conditions of hypertension, diabetes and obesity.
It is not currently known whether transplant patients are at higher risk compared to others with chronic illnesses. However, it is well known that transplant patients are generally more susceptible to infectious-related complications due to the presence of immunosuppression, which is required after any kind of solid organ transplant. Immunosuppression diminishes the body’s ability to respond and clear any infection. Therefore, it is suspected that transplant patients are at greater risk for complication from COVID-19 than the general population.
Our patients should follow the general precautions recommended by the CDC with regard to social distancing, avoidance of sick contacts, avoidance of large groups and proper hygiene. At this time, I would personally recommend that if a transplant recipient does not need to travel, they should remain within their homes while allowing other primary caregivers to shop for groceries and perform other activities of daily living.
UK Transplant has been discussing protocol with colleagues at other centers throughout the country and are limiting our ambulatory clinic as needed/recommended. We are also evaluating TeleCare options to keep our patients at home as much as possible. All visitors are screened at registration and isolated if certain criteria is met. Staff have access to the recommended PPE to evaluate patients.
At any point, if you have any questions or concerns regarding your health, contact your primary care physician, transplant coordinator or transplant physician. We want you to have a low threshold for contacting your healthcare team with any questions or changes in health condition.
Rest assured that we are monitoring this situation on a minute-by-minute basis. We have taken all appropriate safety precautions and are prepared to make any and all additional changes as necessitated as this situation develops.