Q: I have heart disease. What do I need to know about COVID-19?
Shalin Patel, M.D., interventional cardiology, Pacific Permanente Group: Scientists are learning more about COVID-19 every day. Right now, it looks like people with heart disease aren’t more likely to be infected with COVID-19, but they are more at risk of serious illness, complications, or death if they do catch it. According to data from the CDC, COVID-19 patients with underlying medical conditions such as cardiovascular disease are six times more likely to be hospitalized and 12 times more likely to die as a result of the virus.
When someone catches COVID-19, it can cause heart problems or make heart problems worse. The virus can trigger extreme inflammation in the body resulting in blood clots that could lead to heart attacks and/or strokes, including in people who are young and healthy.
The best way to protect yourself from COVID-19 if you have heart disease is to try to avoid exposure. Stay home if possible, avoid large gatherings, wear a mask and keep six feet away from people who don’t live in your household, and wash your hands frequently.
Manage your heart disease by keeping up with your cardiologist and primary care physician, as well as taking all medication as prescribed. Take care of yourself by eating healthy, staying physically active, and finding healthy ways to manage stress.
Finally, if you’re experiencing symptoms of a heart attack or stroke, call 911. We’re taking many precautions to protect patients and staff from COVID-19. It’s safe to come to the hospital, and we have the capacity to care for anyone who needs help. Remember that when you’re having a heart attack or stroke, every second counts. Any delay in getting care could mean the difference between life and death or serious complications. So, don’t hesitate to seek immediate medical care.
And, if needed, Maui Health continues to offer comprehensive cardiac services including advanced cardiac imaging (including state-of-the-art CT and MRI), angioplasty and other interventional cardiology procedures, cardiac rehabilitation, electrocardiography services, such as ECG/EKG, and cardiac surgery. Visit mauihealth.org/heart for more information.
Q: I was exposed to someone with COVID-19, but I tested negative. Why do I still have to quarantine?
Kelly Catiel, infection control manager, Maui Health: If you have an unprotected exposure to someone with COVID-19, completing a 14-day quarantine is recommended regardless of whether you have a negative COVID-19 test result because the test is just one snapshot in time.
In the first few days after being exposed to COVID, your immune system is fighting the virus. This can keep the virus levels low and undetectable. It can take several days, even if you do become symptomatic, for the virus to win the fight and start building up in your body until there’s enough of it to trigger a positive COVID test. COVID-19 tests are also not created equal. Some are more sensitive than others which is why testing is only one part of preventing the spread. Therefore, it is recommended that you quarantine for the full 14-day incubation period before you can be sure you’re not infected.
If you have been exposed to COVID-19, monitor your health while you’re quarantining and be sure to contact your healthcare provider right away if you start to experience any symptoms. People with COVID-19 can experience mild symptoms to severe illness which typically appear 2-14 days after exposure to the virus. Symptoms of COVID-19 include fever, chills, dry cough, headache or body aches, and fatigue. Other common symptoms include shortness of breath, sore throat, stuffy nose, loss of taste or smell, vomiting, and diarrhea and some individuals experience no symptoms at all.
As the holiday season begins, please remember this is not the time to let your guard down, but a time to stay even more vigilant. We know it is hard to distance yourself from your loved ones at a time that you would normally be together. It is tiresome and believe it or not, there is a name for this feeling. It is called “pandemic fatigue” and many people don’t even realize they’re suffering from it. Don’t fall victim to the fatigue — wear your mask, maintain physical distancing, wash your hands, and avoid crowds. If you have been exposed to COVID-19, follow quarantine recommendations. If you are sure that you have not been exposed, and you intend to gather with your family for Thanksgiving, do it outdoors in the open air with plenty of room to celebrate safely. The holidays are a special time, let’s do what we can to keep our families and friends healthy through the entire holiday season and into the new year.
* Physicians, providers and administrative staff who practice at Maui Health System hospitals and clinics answer questions from the public in “Healthwise Maui,” which appears on the first and third Thursdays of the month. Maui Health System operates Maui Memorial Medical Center, Maui Memorial Medical Center Outpatient Clinic, Kula Hospital & Clinic and Lana’i Community Hospital and accepts all patients. To submit a question, go to the website at mauihealth.org/healthwise.