Leslie P. Laing President: Sjögren’s Society of Canada

March 13, 2020

On behalf of the Board of Directors and the Medical Advisory Board of the Sjögren’s Society of Canada (SjSC), I bring you the following information about the COVID-19, novel coronavirus. Updates and messages from the various Public Health Units across Canada are ongoing. The Public Health Agency of Canada is actively monitoring the COVID-19 situation. They are in close contact with the World Health Organization to assess any potential risk to Canadians. As a Dental Specialist of Toronto Public Health Dental Clinics, I have been assured that each of the municipal health units throughout the country are working with provincial and federal health colleagues along with airports in response to the situation. Given the global circumstances, public health units are actively working with health partners to plan for the potential of local spread. In response to the latest information and in the best interest of the Sjögren’s community, we wish to inform you that we will be postponing our National Patient Conference which was scheduled to take place April 24-25, 2020 in Mississauga Ontario. We will keep you informed as to the new date once it has been determined.

For you, as a Sjögren’s patient, the key is not to panic but to take care of yourself. You are not more susceptible to becoming infected by the coronavirus than others, but if you do get diagnosed as being positive with COVID-19, the complications from COVID-19 may be more severe. Your risk of severe disease may be higher if you have a weakened immune system which may be the case for older people, people with other chronic diseases such as diabetes, cancer, heart, renal or chronic lung disease. Please note though, that not all Sjögren’s patients have compromised immune systems. However, some medications commonly taken by Sjögren’s patients may suppress the immune system, including  Arava (leflunomide), Imuran (azathioprine), cyclophosphamide, methotrexate, prednisone, Solu-Medrol (methylprednisolone), CellCept (Mycophenolate mofetil), and Rituxan (Rituximab). Plaquenil (hydroxychloroquine), on the other hand, does not suppress the immune system. If you require being tested and treated for COVID-19, ensure that you inform your health care professional that you suffer from Sjögren’s.

What are the Symptoms?

COVID-19 symptoms range from common to severe respiratory illnesses and include:

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Muscle aches and tiredness
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Less commonly: sore throat, headache and diarrhea have been reported.

Older patients and those with chronic medical conditions, including Sjögren’s, may be at higher risk for severe illness.

If symptoms feel worse than a standard cold, see your health care practitioner. They can relieve symptoms by prescribing a pain or fever medication.

You should also:

•             Drink plenty of fluids

•             Get rest and sleep as much as possible

•             Try a humidifier or a hot shower to help with a sore throat or cough

If you have travelled to China, Hong Kong, South Korea, Japan, Singapore, Iran, or Italy, or have had close contact with a person ill with COVID-19 and develop symptoms of 2019 novel coronavirus infection, avoid contact with others and call your health care professional prior to visiting.

How Do I Protect Myself?

There is currently no vaccine to prevent COVID-19. The best way to prevent infection is to avoid being exposed to this virus. Prevention measures include:

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 15 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Wash your hands before applying eye drops, dry mouth or dry skin products
  • Avoid close contact with people who are ill.
  • Stay home when you are ill.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then immediately throw the tissue in the garbage and wash your hands. If you don’t have a tissue, sneeze or cough into your sleeve or arm.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.

Diagnosis and Testing

Coronavirus infections are diagnosed by a health care provider based on symptoms and laboratory tests. Travel history is also important. There is a specific test for COVID-19 to confirm the infection if it is suspected.

Call ahead prior to visiting any healthcare provider and let them know about travel history and symptoms (e.g., fever, cough, difficulty breathing) so that they can make special arrangements to see you quickly, provide testing, and ensure that they use proper infection control measures. There are no specific treatments for coronaviruses, and there is no vaccine that protects against coronaviruses. Most people with common human coronavirus illness will recover on their own.

For more information, please see Canada Public Health. https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/diseases/coronavirus-disease-covid-19.html We will continue to monitor the coronavirus pandemic and keep our members informed of any relevant developments. Please take care and feel free to contact us for any further information.