RAPID CITY S.D. – The COVID-19 Outbreak has been difficult for most, but it has been even more challenging for those who are immunocompromised. Those whose immune systems have been weakened at this time are at a much higher risk for catching a severe case of the virus. According to Dr. Erika Toyoda, who specializes in family medicine at Rapid City Medical Center, “If you’re immunocompromised you’re more prone to getting complications with COVID-19 whereas someone with a complete immune system might get no symptoms or light cold symptoms. Someone who’s immunocompromised might have more severe symptoms like pneumonia, heart failure, or respiratory failure.” Since there is currently no cure or vaccine to prevent the virus, all of us must do our part and take steps to ensure everyone’s safety.
Someone who is immunocompromised has a condition or is taking treatments that weaken their immune system. “Immunocompromised is an umbrella term, generally meaning someone has a weakened immune system or decreased ability to fight infections compared to someone who’s not immunocompromised,” says Dr. Toyoda. There are two different ways to become immunocompromised, this is either by immunosuppression or immunodeficiency.
Immunosuppression is when an individual’s immune system is put into a weakened state, such as through medication. There are multiple reasons why a doctor might want to weaken the immune system. Immunosuppressing drugs can help in the case of breathing problems such as asthma or COPD, skin conditions, and immune conditions like rheumatoid arthritis or lupus. “That’s part of the problem with those diseases is that your immune system is overacting, so we use various medicines to suppress it,” says Dr. Toyoda. Immune suppressing drugs are also used during organ transplanting to prevent the body from rejecting the new organ.
Immunodeficiency is when an individual has a condition that impairs the immune system. Immunodeficiency can be a genetic issue you are born with or it can happen due to illness, such as HIV or cancer.
If you are immunocompromised, there are a few steps you can take to prevent yourself from getting sick. Good practices include regularly washing your hands, avoiding face touching, and cleaning frequently used surfaces. In addition to these steps, Dr. Toyoda recommends wearing masks in enclosed spaces or around other people. This step not only protects you, but it protects the people around you as well. According to Dr. Toyoda, “while immunocompromised individuals must be extra careful, it’s important that those who aren’t immunocompromised also do their best to follow safety protocol to protect other people.”