Protect vulnerable cancer patients from Omicron this Christmas – Irish Cancer Society
Irish Cancer Society outlines simple steps to help keep vulnerable loved ones safe
The Irish Cancer Society is urging people to take the simple steps that can keep vulnerable cancer patients safe this Christmas amid concerns over the Omicron variant.
As we face into the second Christmas of the pandemic, the Society is receiving an increasing number of calls to its Support Line from people who are anxious to know how they can best protect themselves or loved ones with cancer from COVID-19 this Christmas.
Commenting on the upcoming festive period, Dr Robert O’Connor, Director of Research, Irish Cancer Society said: “We are hearing the distress from cancer patients who want to have a meaningful Christmas after almost two incredibly difficult years but are worried about the risks as families gather, and understandably so given the further uncertainty over the Omicron variant.
“It is important to remember that we are not dealing with the same COVID-19 variant that we were in December 2020. The Delta variant was much more transmissible and, unfortunately, there are already strong indications that the newer Omicron variant spreads even easier again.
“Now more than ever, it is vital to take all possible steps to protect those in your life who have a weak immune system, including cancer patients.
“A cancer doctor will usually explain if a patient has a weak immune system. Those who are currently undergoing active cancer treatment such as some types of chemotherapy and those with blood cancers should be particularly careful during the Christmas period.
“These conditions can mean that the immune system doesn’t work as well, making patients more vulnerable to illness and infection.
“The benefits of vaccination for this group can also be reduced. A positive COVID-19 diagnosis or close contact may also greatly delay the start of cancer treatment, and infection can have profound consequences for patients’ health,” Dr O’Connor added.
The best ways to protect loved ones with cancer from COVID-19 include:
• Vaccination and Booster Doses
• Reducing Contacts
• FFP2 or FFP3 Face Masks
• PCR and Antigen Testing
• Being symptom aware
• Avoiding confined or crowded methods of travel
The Society’s vital services including Night Nursing, remote counselling, transport to chemotherapy, as well as our Freephone Support Line will continue throughout the festive period.
If you or anyone you know would like to speak to a cancer nurse or learn more about our services, contact the Irish Cancer Society Support Line on Freephone 1800 200 700 or visit Cancer.ie.
Immunocompromised patients with cancer and those close to them should get the Covid‐19 vaccine and booster as soon as it is offered to them, unless advised otherwise by their own medical team.
Everyone in contact with cancer patients should be fully vaccinated and boosted. This gives the greatest chance of not transmitting COVID to a loved one with cancer, and greatest resilience to illness if anyone is exposed to infection.
COVID-19 transmits freely in the air so it is best to avoid large gatherings and confined spaces. It is preferable to meet people in an outdoor setting where there is ventilation, and to reduce the number of contacts you have to only essential family or friends by postponing any non-essential meetings in the run up to Christmas.
If possible, isolating for twelve days prior to any meetings can help ensure the Covid-19 virus is not passed on.
Ensure you wear a face mask at all times when with other people. The face mask should properly cover your mouth and nose, fitting snuggly to your face. Make them more comfortable and easy to wear by using simple “ear savers” and “extenders” and de fogging glasses. FFP2 and FFP3 masks are the best way to protect both yourself and your loved ones, even above cloth and surgical masks. If wearing a disposable surgical mask, it is recommended to wear an extra mask on top to avoid the material gaping.
Up to a third of people who are infectious now show no symptoms or signs, so testing is important. A PCR test remains the gold standard for detecting the presence of Covid-19. If you are in a position to, many PCR tests are available privately. Taking a test before seeing anyone who is immunocompromised may help to identify if you are a risk of passing the infection on, even if you are not showing symptoms. If this is not possible, taking antigen tests for a number of days before meeting can also help but should not be considered absolute proof that a person is Covid-19 negative.
Being Symptom Aware:
If you are showing any symptoms at all, even a mild cough or a runny nose, or other symptoms such as vomiting or diarrhoea (even with a negative COVID test) it is important to not be in contact with people who are immunocompromised, including cancer patients. For many fully vaccinated individuals, Covid-19 may have only mild symptoms or none at all.
It is important to cover your cough or sneeze with your elbow and not to remove your face mask. Use soap and warm water or alcohol hand sanitiser to clean your hands regularly.
Covid-19 is not the only concern for cancer patients who are immunocompromised, an infection or a virus can also turn serious very quickly and lead to conditions such as pneumonia.
As we know when indoors, Covid-19 can spread via airborne transmission. Using public transport like buses, trams or airplanes often means remaining in a confined spaces with many others for a prolonged period of time. Stringent use of FFP2 or FFP3 facemasks, cough etiquette and handwashing provide good protection during transit. Where possible it is recommended to use alternative modes of transport such as walking, getting a taxi or use a private vehicle will also reduce the risk of infection.
Contact the Irish Cancer Society Support Line
If you have worries or concerns about cancer, you can speak confidentially to an Irish Cancer Society Cancer Nurse through the Freephone Support Line on 1800 200 700.
Monday to Friday, 9.00am - 5.00pm