Tuesday 17th March 2020
The last few weeks have seen COVID-19 (Coronavirus) cause significant alarm and disruption around the world and I wanted to take this opportunity to talk a little more about the disease and the effects the disruption could have on heart valve disease patients.
In the past weeks, I have been in regular contact with clinicians from across the pathway to ensure I have the very best information regarding the impact of the virus on valve disease patients. I continue to monitor government and WHO updates daily to ensure our advice remains up to date.
COVID-19 is an illness that can affect your lungs and airways. It's caused by a virus called coronavirus. With the number of cases in the UK set to increase, hospitals have begun preparation for an increase in admissions. In some cases, this means the cancellation of non-emergency operations to reduce the strain on staffing and beds.
It’s important to note that treatment for valve disease will never stop completely, but there will be small delays as we see a reduction in elective procedures. The decisions on who will be treated will likely be based on clinical need, with those in most need of treatment prioritised.
Chris Young, Heart Valve Voice Chairman and Cardiac Surgeon at St Thomas Hospital said “It is important to understand that while some elective operating may cease there will always be procedures in place to recognise and cater for urgent patients."
If you are due to have surgery you should continue to prepare for it unless told otherwise by your clinician. If your surgery is rescheduled for a later date you should monitor your symptoms closely. If your symptoms get worse and you begin to feel unwell you should report to your GP, call your valve clinic or in severe cases go to A&E.
Patients who have recently had a procedure have an increased risk of infection due to cuts and incisions offering greater exposure to germs. The normal risk of infection for heart valve disease patients is low, but in the current climate, you should take every extra measure to limit your risk of infection. If you do begin to feel unwell contact your clinician or call 101.
These are unprecedented times, and the NHS is set to be put under significant strain and, whilst things remain fluid as we continue to learn more about the disease, there must continue to be a balance in NHS policy between underlying diagnosis and the risk of any delay of treatment. I will continue to monitor the treatment of valve disease throughout this crisis to ensure that everything that can be done for valve disease patients, is being done.
Based on existing data from around the world, there does not appear to be a link between the virus and endocarditis. I must stress though, that anyone with progressive or new-onset symptoms, particularly syncope, should contact their clinical team immediately. We must be all smart with our health to protect ourselves and those around us.
As it stands, the most up to date government advice are:
- Anyone with a fever or persistent cough should stay at home for seven days if they live alone or 14 days if they live with others. Anyone who lives with someone displaying coronavirus symptoms should also stay at home for 14 days.
- Everyone should stop non-essential contact with others. This is particularly important for people over 70, those with underlying health conditions and pregnant women
- People should work from home where they can
- People should avoid places like pubs, clubs and theatres. This applies especially to those in London which is "a few weeks ahead" of the rest of the UK
- People should stop all unnecessary travel
- By the weekend, those with the most serious health conditions should be largely shielded from social contact for 12 weeks
For those wondering what they can do to mitigate the spread of the virus. You must:
- Wash your hands regularly as per NHS advice
- Use tissues when sneezing and coughing and dispose of them immediately
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.
- Avoid close contact with unwell people
There are many reasons for people to rightfully feel anxious or concerned about what is going to happen to them and their loved ones over the coming months. However, remind yourself that the best minds in the world are working hard to ensure that we are safe and well. Heart Valve Voice will work tirelessly to ensure that valve disease patients continue to be heard, and we will keep you updated on any changes in circumstance that could affect heart valve disease patients.
These are truly unique times. Right now, the country will need to pull together to ensure that we best protect our neighbours, friends and family. Remember to keep listening to the government updates on what you need to do, and if you have any questions or concerns contact your GP or valve disease clinic.