Peter Gulick, associate professor in the College of Osteopathic Medicine and infectious disease expert, answers questions about COVID-19 and asthma.
What are the main things that people with asthma should know about coronavirus?
Asthmatics should know that coronavirus is more infectious than the flu, so follow all the guidelines out there about how to prevent it as well as keep asthma under control and avoid any activity that may exacerbate it. Also, many have coughs because of asthma, but if the cough changes, especially if it is coupled with fevers or increased fatigue and muscle aches, they should get checked. Also, remember those on systemic oral steroids may not always mount a high fever so they should be aware of that.
Because coronavirus is a respiratory illness, what special considerations or cautions should people with asthma be taking if any?
Asthmatics should take all the precautions that are currently being recommended and understand that those who are 60 or older with any other diseases may be at higher risk. Keeping asthma under control during this pandemic is important. There is no data that shows taking inhaled steroids increases risk of more disease, but if an asthmatic is on oral steroids, they may have to be more careful. Getting flu and pneumonia vaccines is critical as well. If an asthmatic gets COVID-19, that person may be more contagious and at higher risk to transmit the disease. This is because asthma may induce more respiratory symptoms, especially coughing, which may spread more virus so anyone with COVID-19 and an asthmatic really has to control asthma and stay in isolation.
A recent study of 140 people in China found that there was little or no connection between asthma and increased susceptibility to coronavirus. Yet, a lot of coverage of the virus has been encouraging people with asthma to consider themselves high risk for the virus. Is the reality somewhere in the middle? Or do we just not know enough yet?
There is a lot of unknown regarding an increase in coronavirus in asthmatics. The World Health Organization (WHO) does categorize them at higher risk of more serious illness and CDC also cautions that as well, but there is no definite data or proof yet. I believe it depends on how serious the asthma is. There doesn’t seem to be a reason to believe those people are at more risk to it, but if they do get it, there is a greater chance for it to progress to an advanced disease. So, asthmatics should keep their diseases under control and prevent the lungs from being hyperactive. A high-risk poorly controlled asthmatic should probably stay home and work from home if possible.