Updated May 18, 2020
Megan Morales, M.D., director, transplant infectious diseases, answers your questions.
What does the easing of coronavirus restrictions mean for transplant patients?
While many people are eager to reopen businesses or at least loosen physical distancing recommendations, this doesn’t mean the risk of getting the virus is gone. As you, household members or close contacts head back to work, shops or other places, it is more important than ever for you to continue taking safety precautions. You still need to practice some degree of physical distancing and isolation.
No one knows exactly what the trajectory of this infection will be, but unfortunately, it is here to stay for at least some time. While there has been some progress with treatment, and some promising vaccine trials are in the works, avoidance is still key.
Are there any specific precautions transplant patients should take during this time?
Fortunately, many of you have been practicing many of these same safety measures since the time of your transplant, such as frequent and proper handwashing, using creative or flexible work options to avoid close contact with others, avoiding crowds and educating those around you about your immune system and special needs.
Since the pandemic began, you have been wearing masks in appropriate social settings. Please continue to do so. As much as possible, continue to use delivery or curbside services and online services as much as possible to minimize contact with others.
If you have a question or you need information for co-workers or family members on how to help you maintain a safe environment, our team is here to help. Reach out to your coordinator. We can provide resources or other educational materials for you.
I am a transplant patient. Am I at higher risk for the virus?
As a transplant patient, you are at higher risk for COVID-19 infection and for complications related to infection. The immune-suppressing medications you take allow your body to accept your new organ rather than reject it. However, this does lower your body’s ability to fight off infections.
In addition, the underlying condition behind your transplant may have been a chronic illness, such as high blood pressure, diabetes or heart disease. Chronic conditions may increase your risk of disease infection, including coronavirus infection.
Because you are considered higher risk for COVID-19 and may have more severe complications, you, your family and your health care teams all need to learn to adjust to the “new norm” for the time being.
How can I protect myself?
The best way to prevent infection is to avoid being exposed to the virus. The CDC recommends the following:
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
- Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol if soap and water are not available.
- Stay home when you are sick with mild illness. Notify your transplant team.
- Get plenty of rest.
- Drink plenty of fluids.
- Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.
- Wear a face mask outside the home.
I am a recent organ donor or recipient, and I don't feel well. When should I seek medical attention?
Seek immediate medical attention if you have:
- Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
- Persistent chest pain or pressure
- Fever of 100.4 or higher
- Bluish lips and face
Additionally, if you feel newly confused or have difficulty waking up, or your family notices these changes in you, seek medical attention immediately.
Who should I contact if I think I have COVID-19?
Call (804) 828-0951 and ask for the on-call heart, kidney or liver transplant coordinator.
Call your transplant coordinator before coming to VCU Health Hume-Lee Transplant Center if you experience fever, coughing or shortness of breath and do not have an explanation for these symptoms, and if you had close contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19.
What should I do if I have an upcoming appointment?
Please read our updates on clinic appointments for the latest information on who may join you during your visit.
You, your family and friends should not come to the VCU Health Hume-Lee Transplant Center if any of you are sick or have a fever, cough, runny nose, sore throat, headache, muscle or joint pain. You may encounter additional health screenings near the VCU Health Hume-Lee Transplant Center.
If I have any questions related to COVID-19, can I just contact my transplant coordinator?
Yes, call (804) 828-0951 and ask for the on-call heart, kidney or liver coordinator.