Coronavirus: How to Prevent and Prepare if you have an Autoimmune Disease

Microscopic image of the Coronavirus.

People with autoimmune diseases such as arthritis, Sjögren's Syndrome, or lupus should not panic but take important steps to reduce infection risk and stay healthy.

One thing, however, is clear: While no one with arthritis needs to panic, we should not take this casually either. The CDC has defined high-risk groups as those over 60 and those with chronic health conditions such as lung and heart problems, and diabetes. Many people with arthritis, particularly those with osteoarthritis, are over 60, and there are also millions of people with dysregulated immune systems due to autoimmune and inflammatory types of arthritis. Moreover, treatment for those diseases, like rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, and lupus, consists of immunosuppressants.

Arthritis Foundation

Per the CDC, protect yourself

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after you have been in a public place or after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing. Any kind of soap will do (except antibacterial soap, which has been banned by the FDA). Soap breaks down fat and protein molecules. The more soapy foam, the better. After 20 minutes, soap mixes the broken molecules in with the water and the water washes them away from your skin. Hand sanitizers kill bacteria and viruses on the surface but it doesn’t remove it from your skin.
  • If soap and water are not readily available, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol. Cover all surfaces of your hands and rub them together until they feel dry.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands. The virus enters the body through those mucous membranes.
  • Avoid close contact with people because it is believed people can spread the infection before they show symptoms and you might inhale water droplets from their talking, sneezing, or coughing. Particularly avoid those who are sick.
  • Avoid large gatherings of 10 or more people, air travel, and cruises, especially if you are in a high-risk group. Experts have said that slowing the spread of the disease may be more feasible than stopping it; we need to "flatten the curve" on graphs that show rates of infection rising sharply in a short time.

Prepare for an Extended Period of Isolation

Prepare your home for a local outbreak of COVID-19. Use similar measures that you'd take for any emergency such as a snowstorm or hurricane.

  • Keep a two-week to 30-day supply of canned, frozen, and dried foods, including frozen fruits and vegetables, shelf-stable milk, peanut butter, and nonperishables such as canned tuna, rice, beans, and nuts. Many fresh foods keep well for a couple of weeks including eggs, carrots, squash, apples, and oranges. You don’t need to hoard (which will create shortages); just pick up a few extra items on each grocery run. (Order groceries online rather than go out to a store or pharmacy or have a volunteer shop for you. Carry soap or alcohol wipes with you if you need to go out.)
  • Don’t forget pet food. Walk dogs alone and keep at least 6 feet away from other people.
  • Make sure you have two-week to 30-day general household supplies of laundry detergent, bleach, disinfectants, toilet paper, dishwashing detergent, and diapers if your children need them.
  • Keep a 30-day supply of prescription medications; many insurance companies are relaxing their refill schedules in light of the situation. Additionally, many retail pharmacies will now deliver medications.
  • Additional items to have on hand in case you get sick: acetaminophen (Tylenol), Nyquil, cough medicine, tissues, throat-soothing tea, cough drops, Gatorade (or Pedialyte for children), and chicken soup. Don’t forget vitamins, Omega-3, and other supplements, if you take them.
  • Make sure you have enough effective cleaning supplies to keep high-touch surfaces clean. Know the difference between cleaning and disinfecting. Use a disinfectant that is approved to fight SARS-CoV-2 and other viruses.
  • Make contingency plans for your kids in case schools close. Some school systems have already suspended classes. Have indoor activities ready for your kids and make a backup plan for childcare if you will still need to work, whether from home or on site. Grandparents are not a good option because older adults are the most likely to catch the virus and have severe complications.
  • Wear a mask or thick bandana if you are sick to avoid spreading the disease to others. Wearing a surgical-type mask may reduce the risk of spreading the disease to others by blocking some of the virus-laden droplets from coughing and sneezing. A mask can also keep you from touching your face in case you touch an infected surface while out and about. N-95 masks, which are thicker, fit better, and block out smaller viruses, are in short supply and should be reserved for health care workers and people tending to someone sick at home.
  • Adopt a dog, puppy, cat, or kitten from the local shelter to keep you company and to provide you with entertainment and unconditional love.
  • Arrange to make your usual payments or a monthly gift to household help, hair stylists, massage therapists, or others whose services you can no longer use during the isolation period. They have lost their weekly income, have no insurance, and can use the help financially. Payment can be arranged through PayPal to avoid having close contact.

Related Information

Coronavirus was first identified in the city of Wuhan, in China's Hubei province in December 2019. COVID-19 was previously known as the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV) respiratory disease before the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the official name as COVID-19 in February 2020.

Ray Charles Foundation Establishes Neurosurgery Scholarship

Los Angeles,Dec2,2019

Press Release – LOS ANGELES (Dec. 2, 2019) — The Ray Charles Foundation has made an investment in the future, donating $1 million to fund a new neurosurgery scholarship program at Cedars-Sinai.

Under the direction of Keith L. Black, MD, chair of the Cedars-Sinai Department of Neurosurgery, scholarship recipients will receive personalized, mentored research training from Cedars-Sinai’s neurosciences faculty members while conducting their own research projects.

“This generous gift allows us to create a program, the Ray Charles Foundation Scholars Fund in Neurosurgery, that will help us invest in the future,” Black said. “We hope that these scholars will continue to give back to their communities.”

The scholarship program will accept one or two MD or PhD students to participate in the program every year. The scholars then will be matched with a principal investigator who will provide mentorship, guidance and career-development advice. Scholars also will be able to access the day-to-day resources and training that they need as they carry out their research projects.

Tribute display for Ray Charles
Ray Charles Foundation President Valerie Ervin with a photo of the music legend at the foundation headquarters in Los Angeles. Photo by Cedars-Sinai.

“The knowledge and insight these scholars will gain through this experience will help prepare them to serve as the healers, scientists and thought leaders of tomorrow,” Black said.

The Ray Charles Foundation Scholars Fund in Neurosurgery aims to promote representation and enhance diversity in the neurosciences by supporting the training of students who come from underrepresented backgrounds, with a focus on historically black colleges and universities.

Valerie Ervin, president of The Ray Charles Foundation, says that the goal is to create a training pipeline that helps shape the careers of future leaders in the field of neuroscience.

“It is an honor, on behalf of The Ray Charles Foundation and its board of directors, to partner with Cedars-Sinai and Dr. Black in shaping the future for the next generation in science and medicine through The Ray Charles Foundation Scholars Fund in Neurosurgery,” Ervin said. “The mentorship and teaching in this program in the name of Ray Charles are immeasurable and will set the tone for the next generation of doctors.”

Legendary singer and songwriter Ray Charles (1930–2004) gave a gift to Cedars-Sinai about 15 years ago to name the Ray Charles Cafeteria and Conference Center to convey his appreciation for the care he received at the medical center. Founded in 1986, The Ray Charles Foundation continues in the legacy of its founder by supporting philanthropic programs in music, education and healthcare.

Read more in Discoveries: Women in Neurosurgery