IMPACTS FOR PEOPLE WITH LIVER DISEASE
Many people living with liver conditions are concerned about the potential impact if they were to be infected with COVID-19. The virus that causes COVID-19 is very contagious and people with liver disease and just as likely to get infected as anyone else.
We are very lucky to live in Australia where our federal and state governments have gone to great lengths to protect us from infection spreading in the community. The most important thing that anyone can do is to avoid getting infected through hand hygiene, not touching contaminated surfaces and physical distancing.
From the devastating outbreaks observed in China, Europe, the UK and the US, we know that certain people are more likely to develop severe infection if that contract the virus.
People older than 65, and with underlying medical conditions are more likely to develop the severe chest infection and its complications than younger healthier people, however severe illness and deaths have been reported in all age groups including in healthcare workers. The underlying conditions most frequently reported in people with severe COVID-19 infection include high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity and heart disease.
The most common liver disease in our community is fatty liver disease. Fatty liver disease commonly is associated with exactly the same health conditions that have been associated with severe COVID-19 - obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease.
People with cirrhosis, or active liver disease due to untreated viral hepatitis, or with liver cancer may be at increased risk of complications although this has not been firmly established. There have been concerns raised that being treated with immunosuppressive medications may increase the risk of severe COVID-19, however once again this has not been firmly established. There are potentially greater risks of a flare of liver disease, or an episode of rejection in transplant patients, if important medications are reduced or stopped.
A number of measures are therefore recommended to reduce the risk of severe COVID-19 infection in people with liver disease.
Avoid getting infected in the first place.
Have a COVID swab if there are any respiratory symptoms such as runny nose, cough, fever, sore throat, or loss of taste or smell.
Ensure other health conditions are well managed, such as diabetes or high blood pressure.
Have regular check-ups, blood tests and imaging tests as recommended by your doctor. Many doctors will provide the opportunity for phone or video consultations so you may not need to attend the surgery.
Continue to take all medications as prescribed.
Avoid taking over-the-counter medications or medications bought on the internet that someone has suggested might boost the immune system or prevent COVID-19 infection. No medication has been proven to prevent COVID-19.
Have the vaccination for influenza. People with cirrhosis, cancer or receiving immunosuppressive medications are also recommended to have pneumococcal vaccination. Discuss vaccination with your doctor.
It is important to pay attention to your medical condition. If you notice any change in your usual status, such as fluid retention, significant weight gain or loss, bleeding or new pain, it is important to seek medical attention with your doctor, specialist or hospital. There may be significant health consequences if you ignore a change in your condition because you are fearful of exposure to infection.
For the latest information on Covid-19 we encourage you to visit the Australian Health Government website.