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'Stay at home for us' plead vulnerable heart and lung disease patients

Sourced from "The Senior" by Geraldine Cardozo

Vulnerable Australians - including adults with lung and heart disease - have united in a public plea to save their lives as the number of COVID-19 cases rises around the country.

Millions of Australians are facing the devastating reality that they are unlikely to survive if they are infected with COVID-19, says leading respiratory expert and Lung Foundation Australia chair, Professor Christine Jenkins.

"Imagine being told you are five times more likely to die from COVID-19. We know this is the case for 1 in 7 Australians over the age of 40 battling chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)," Professor Jenkins said.

"While it's important to know that some people infected with the COVID-19 virus may not get sick at all, as a community we need to come together to protect the many mothers, fathers, sons and daughters living with a lung disease or lung cancer who are at high risk of experiencing a fatal case."

This plea comes amid similar warnings for Australians with heart disease, after the release of the first consensus statement on heart disease and coronavirus published in the Medical Journal of Australia last week said those with heart disease have a higher chance of severe illness, needing intensive care or dying if infected by COVID-19.

It also found COVID-19 infection may also worsen existing heart conditions, such as heart failure, and could increase risk of a heart attack.

Among the group is Bill, a 66-year-old living with idiopathic pulminory fibrosis - a rare disease that results in scarring (fibrosis) of the lungs.

"Everyday we're hearing about more and more people unnecessarily exposing others to this disease without thinking. I'm amazed at the way some Australians have ignored this," he said, calling on all Australians to consider others around the country.

"Think of those of us who are vulnerable and try and slow this down because without people social distancing, we have little hope of controlling where this goes."

Carer and advocate Caroline, 73, said if too many vulnerable people get infected, this will put a strain on the health system.

"People who aren't taking social distancing seriously are being incredibly selfish. This isn't about opinions; this is about evidence-based information. Our lives are in your hands," she said.

Lung Foundation Australia chief executive Mark Brooke said the number of people who live or die from this pandemic is literally in the hands of the community and urged people to stay at home over the Easter holidays.

"We know this will be a tough weekend for many people who are feeling disconnected from their family and friends, but our advice for everyone is simple - stay home. We encourage you to find other ways to connect through technology and band together, from afar."

People with heart disease 'at higher risk' 

Australians with heart disease have also been urged to maintain good hygiene and social distancing, as part of a new national Heart Foundation campaign to inform Australians affected by heart disease about their increased risk of complications from COVID-19.

In addition to good hygiene and social distancing, the campaign advises people to maintain their current treatment and medication plan; get the flu vaccine; stay physically active and eat healthily; and seek medical help if their heart condition becomes severe or worsens quickly.

Heart Foundation Chief Medical Advisor and cardiologist, Professor Garry Jennings, said the reasons for the link between heart disease and COVID-19 are still being investigated and are "likely to be complex".

"One thing we know for sure at this point is that people with heart disease appear to be more vulnerable to the serious complications of COVID-19 compared to the general population," he said.

"We know from experience that when a virus targets the lungs, the heart needs to work harder to pump blood to the body. This can exacerbate problems in people who already have a heart condition, like heart failure. Viral infections can also increase a person's risk of a heart attack."

The virus may also trigger cardiac complications in people without heart disease, Professor Jennings said. "COVID-19 is largely a respiratory illness, but patients who are infected with COVID-19 may also experience damage to the heart," he said.

"Information about the effects of COVID-19 on the heart is rapidly changing, but international reports indicate that COVID-19 may result in heart problems like injury to the heart muscle and abnormal heart rhythms.

Heart Foundation, 13-112

Lung Foundation, 1800 654 301

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