Coronavirus and Your Heart
This year’s flu season brought an outbreak of a new respiratory disease caused by a novel virus that was first detected in China in late December 2019 and that led to a significant number of viral pneumonia cases centered around Wuhan, Hubei Province, China. The virus has now infected individuals in locations around the world—including the United States.
Known as “SARS-CoV-2,” “2019-nCoV,” “coronavirus disease 2019,” and “COVID-19,” this virus is one of the human coronavirus types and has caused mild to severe respiratory illnesses. Symptoms include fever, cough, and shortness of breath. The first human coronaviruses were discovered in the mid-1960s.
How Does COVID-19 Spread?
COVID-19 can travel through droplets in the air from a cough or a sneeze, and it can live for extended periods outside the body. It is essential to remember that the same things that transmit a common cold or the flu virus can spread the coronavirus. Thus, practicing standard public health and personal hygiene strategies for preventing the spread of communicable diseases is a priority.
Is there a COVID-19 Vaccine?
What does this mean for heart patients?
Like the flu, the coronavirus mainly affects the respiratory system. However, any time this system is compromised, the heart can be negatively impacted. When respiratory illnesses are more serious, the lungs become overtaxed and the heart has to work harder to deliver oxygen to the body. This situation puts additional stress on the heart and can lead to cardiovascular complications or worsen existing heart conditions.
Given these implications, members of the American College of Cardiology (ACC) reviewed early case reports about COVID-19. They prepared a bulletin with background on the epidemic and expert comments on the early cardiac implications of the novel coronavirus. Released in mid-February, the ACC bulletin also describes the cardiac effects of other viral pandemics, including the flu (influenza), general viruses, and SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome)/MERS (Middle East respiratory syndrome).
If you already have heart disease, it is even more important that you protect yourself from exposure to any individuals who may be sick.
The ACC encourages “additional, reasonable precautions” for people with heart disease or cerebrovascular disease (stroke, TIA), including remaining up to date with pneumococcal vaccinations as recommended by guidelines, and making sure to get a flu shot to prevent an additional source of fever.
Keep the immune system as strong as possible
Staying healthy and preventing illness is critical. Protecting yourself, your loved ones, and your colleagues from the threat of influenza remains a priority.
“The most important precautions you can take are the same as for the regular flu: Wash your hands thoroughly and often, clean frequently touched surfaces, cover your coughs and sneezes, and avoid traveling to areas with the outbreak, avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth. Stay home if you feel sick,” suggests Dr. Stephanie Coulter, MD, Director of the Center for Women’s Heart & Vascular Health and Texas Heart Institute Assistant Medical Director.
It is critically important for patients with diagnosed heart and vascular conditions to comply with their treatment regimens to keep their bodies as healthy as possible.
Educate yourself and your loved ones about the risks and prevention
It is important to remember that information about COVID-19 is still unfolding, and many unknowns remain. Furthermore, our understanding of these novel viruses could change dramatically in the next few weeks and months. Continue to educate yourself with reliable and up-to-date information from trusted sources.
ACC Clinical Bulletin Focuses on Cardiac Implications of Coronavirus (COVID-19) (ACC News Story, Feb 13, 2020)
ACC Clinical Bulletin Cardiac Implications of Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) (American College of Cardiology)
What heart patients should know about coronavirus (American Heart Association)
COVID-19, MERS & SARS (NIH Allergy & Infectious Diseases)