Explainer: Why does coronavirus guidance for cancer patients keep changing?

Coronavirus is a new infection and so doctors and scientists are still coming to grips with important information about how it spreads, who is most likely to be affected and the best ways to stop it.

Experts are regularly sharing updates on how we can protect ourselves from the virus, and different countries have been using this knowledge to develop their own approaches to tackling coronavirus in their communities.

Early information showed that older people and those with chronic health conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure and problems with their immune system, for example caused by active cancer treatment, had a much higher risk of becoming very sick and dying from the infection, and so needed extra protection.

Early measures during this pandemic encouraged people with cancer to take general precautions the same as for other types of infections, such as being careful to avoid people with symptoms which could be coronavirus. 

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Coronavirus can be infectious for up to two weeks without showing symptoms

However it later became known that roughly one in five cases of coronavirus can be infectious for up to two weeks without showing any symptoms of illness. This is quite different to other common infections such as flu, where most people infected will show signs and will also generally only be infectious after they show flu symptoms.

With this added risk of silent transmission and an infection rate which grew rapidly from just a handful of cases to many hundreds, the risk of infection for cancer patients and other vulnerable people rose much higher, particularly when they are out in public with other people.

As a result, advice for these groups has changed from taking usual precautions to the latest guidance for them to isolate from others in their community and reduce contact with family members who could unknowingly bring infections into the home. This approach has become known as ‘cocooning’. 

Supporting each other

Isolation can be incredibly difficult, especially for those going through cancer treatment when the love, support and companionship of family and friends is so important.

As we try to cope as best we can, we must remember that these measures are there to protect the most vulnerable of our friends and family, and will not be around forever.

People have begun to use different ways to support each other such as through phone and video calls and social media. This is of course no replacement for physically seeing someone, but for the next few weeks it is the best way of maintaining contact while keeping our loved ones safe as we get through this challenging time.

Contact the Irish Cancer Society Support Line

The Irish Cancer Society continues to be available to provide support and information on this matter or any other queries related to cancer through its Freephone Support Line on 1800 200 700.

For more information

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1800 200 700

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