Caregivers: Take Extra Steps for Your Own Health

By Steve Blanchard - April 09, 2020

Cancer patients rely on caregivers to help them on their healthcare journey. But amid the current COVID-19 pandemic, caregivers find themselves with a new title – that of protector.

Since cancer patients are typically immunosuppressed, keeping the virus away from them is important. According to Donna Moran, Moffitt Cancer Center’s Director of Quality and Patient Safety, that means caregivers have to be extra vigilant in order to remain healthy and to keep the risk of infection as low as possible.

“The most important thing caregivers can do is wash their hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds,” Moran said. If soap and water aren’t available, use hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol. “Based on the evidence, hand washing is still the most effective way to prevent infection.”

COVID-19 enters the body through the mouth, nose and eyes, so avoid touching your face and everyone should cover their mouth and nose with a tissue if you cough. It’s important to remember to dispose of those tissues immediately. If you sneeze, use the inside of your elbow.

“It’s important to remember to wipe down hard surfaces throughout the day, especially in high-touch areas,” Moran said. “The virus can live on surfaces for hours to days, depending on the material.”

And it’s also important to adhere to social distancing guidelines, meaning no visitors.

“Of course, if there is no way to avoid a visitor, such as a healthcare worker, make sure they wash their hands, wear a mask and distance themselves from the patient to avoid direct contact when possible,” Moran said.

Sometimes social distancing may require a patient to reschedule an appointment or maybe experience in a different way, thanks to technology. Moran said that many Moffitt physicians are using telemedicine when possible to conduct visits and conference with patients and families amid the crisis.

“We are using FaceTime to keep patients in communication with their families who cannot be with them at the bedside or in the clinics,” she said.

While the focus for many caregivers is usually on the patient, it’s important to keep yourself as healthy as possible if you are around a cancer patient. If a caregiver does test positive for COVID-19, it’s important to immediately distance yourself as much as possible.

“Immediately separate yourself from the other people in your home,” Moran said. “If able, the caregiver should stay in a “sick” room and use a separate bathroom if possible. It is also important to frequently clean and disinfect the household. They should also notify their physician and self-monitor their condition by taking their temperature two times a day and recognize signs and symptoms.”

If a caregiver does believe they are infected it’s important to notify their doctor before arriving at the office.

“Caregivers must do what they can to stay healthy and protect the health of those they care for,” Moran said. “Following guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control can provide them with additional information to help them protect themselves and their loved ones.”

For more tips on how to stay healthy amid the Coronavirus pandemic, visit Moffitt.org/COVID-19.

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