Alberta Rheumatology response to COVID-19 Print Page
SEPTEMBER 1 2020 UPDATE: Appointments are being completed in person or virtually at their scheduled date and time. Please confirm with your rheumatologist’s office for the status of your appointment. We will continue to evaluate this policy as we move forward and will post updates accordingly.
Do NOT attend your appointment in person if you have any symptoms suggestive of COVID-19, recent travel out of country, or recent exposure to a confirmed case of COVID-19.
As your rheumatologists, we can appreciate that there is concern among our patients surrounding the novel coronavirus COVID-19 worldwide pandemic.
Below are some of our answers to your frequently asked questions.
Who is at risk of contracting the coronavirus?
This virus is unknown to all our immune systems and therefore has the potential to make anyone sick. We know those who are of older age, have suppressed immune systems, or underlying lung disease may be at increased risk of significant illness. If you think you may have symptoms, use this online screening tool provided by Alberta Health Services to complete an assessment.
Should I change or stop my medications?
If you are feeling well we would NOT recommend changing or stopping your medications. This can lead to worsening of your rheumatologic disease and symptoms.
What should I do if I am feeling unwell?
- If you are unwell with a fever or other significant infectious illness we would recommend holding your rheumatology medications until your symptoms improve. In particular, hold any biologic therapy (Abatacept, TNF antagonist, IL-6 antagonist, IL-17 antagonist, Rituximab, Ustekinumab, or JAK Kinase inhibitor). Typically holding 1 or 2 weeks of medications is unlikely to have a significant effect on your rheumatologic disease, and will aid in the recovery from the infection.
- Those patients on hydroxychloroquine (plaquenil) may continue this medication. Continuing hydroxychloroquine is recommended because it is safe; there is not data to suggest it will help treat COVID-19.
***DO NOT STOP prednisone or other steroid treatment without speaking to your rheumatologist or other healthcare professional.
What do I do if I think I may have coronavirus?
DO NOT go to the doctor’s office or hospital.
If you are living in Alberta, call HealthLink at 811 or book an appointment to be tested by clicking here. They will advise you on next steps for local testing procedure. Please be patient, as there are likely many people like you calling this line. Refer to the Alberta Health Services website for further information
Advise any healthcare worker if you are on medication that suppresses the immune system.
How can I protect myself from the risk of coronavirus?
We think that the coronavirus spreads through droplets in the air and may live on surfaces. Therefore to reduce your risk of contracting coronavirus you should reduce your chance of exposure to anyone who might be unwell. We would suggest avoiding interactions in large crowds and public spaces (social distancing). Keep at least 2 metres distance (6 feet) between yourself and others. Avoid contact with anyone who is unwell. Wash your hands frequently and avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Wearing a mask, required in Alberta in all public spaces, will help protect others.
Should I come to my upcoming rheumatology appointment?
If you are feeling unwell, have travelled in the last 14 days, or have had contact with anyone with coronavirus, do not come to the clinic. If you feel your rheumatologic disease is stable, you may choose to defer your appointment for 3-6 months or ask for a virtual visit. Please call your rheumatologist’s office to cancel and reschedule if this is appropriate.
What about doing my lab tests or x-rays?
It may be reasonable to avoid having your regular blood tests done so as to avoid a busy laboratory facility, assuming your lab tests have been normal recently. Please speak to your rheumatologist if you are not sure if this is safe for you to do.
What should I do if I am planning on travel ?
Health officials are advising that patients at high risk avoid any unnecessary travel, especially outside Canada. We agree with this advice. If you do need to travel, make sure you take extra medication with you. If you require a doctor’s note to cancel travel arrangements we would be happy to provide this.