COVID-19 and Sickle Cell Disease

Sickle cell is an inherited disease that is caused by the abnormal shape of the red blood cell. The typical form of a red blood cell is round, but someone with sickle cell disease has a red blood cell with the shape of a farm tool called the sickle which makes the carriage of oxygen around the body strenuous and deficient.

The shape of these cells prevents them from flowing correctly through small blood vessels, which causes a blockage that prevents blood flow, leading to pain and severe health-related issues like stroke, various infections, and acute chest syndrome. Aside from the shape difference, a normal red blood cell is flexible, but sickle cells are rigid and sticky. 

The COVID 19 pandemic, as we all know, swept across the world in 2020, which led to people being hospitalized and also claimed some people’s lives. Countries worldwide had to declare a total lockdown, and things were at a standstill. Living through this pandemic was an unpleasant experience for most people. However, living through such conditions with a chronic health condition such as sickle cell is a whole different ball game. It becomes a great challenge to adjust to the lifestyle changes that came with the COVID-19 pandemic.

A lot of guidelines and steps were given to help curb the spread of this virus, such as wearing facemasks, constant social distancing, proper washing of hands, using alcohol-based hand sanitizers, self-isolation if sick, and so on.

At this time, everyone has to be very cautious not to contract the virus, but sickle cell patients need to be extra careful. Sickle cell disease is so severe that it affects every body organ. With the COVID-19 outbreak, sickle cell patients are expected to be prioritized because they are at greater risk than those without chronic diseases. Specific extra measures should be taken by sickle cell patients and their parents/ guardians and caretakers during this period to avoid the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

Sickle cell patients should stay indoors as much as possible and isolate themselves to avoid any risk of getting the virus. Any medications they need should be bought in bulk so they don’t run out of them and must go out. They should not be in crowded places during this period and strictly follow the social distance rule. Long trips should be avoided as much as possible so as not to put the patient at risk. If these sickle cell patients show any symptoms— such as fever, cough, vomiting, muscle and joint pain, sore throat, etc., they should immediately contact health care personnel and follow their instructions.

The family members of a sickle cell patient also need to take procedures so as not to risk the virus’s spread and to secure the person’s safety. They should be careful not to bring the virus home by social distancing while outside and ensuring proper sanitization.

Families should make sure they maintain personal hygiene for a germ-free environment. Clothes, bathrooms, and toilets should be clean and properly disinfected. If a family member feels sick, they should stay far away from the sickle cell patient and get help before it spreads. This is why COVID-19 testing is necessary. Antibody tests are also recommended for those that may have contracted the virus previously.

You can only do so much to avert it, but when a sickle cell patient contracts the virus, not much can be done but to contact the necessary health agencies. It is also very advisable that sickle cell patients get vaccinated. Even though it is not a complete shield from the virus because it is still developing into different variants, it is a step in the right direction. It helps reduce the chances of contracting the virus. 

Those with sickle cell disease must take these crucial preventive measures so they do not contract the COVID 19 virus. Sickle cell warriors are vulnerable to different diseases, whether critical or not. Thus, they need all assistance and attention they can get for their safety.

Alcohol consumption

COVID-19 and Alcohol: Effects of Alcohol Consumption During COVID-19

The outbreak of the COVID-19 virus was declared a pandemic, and people were asked to stay at home in an attempt to hinder the virus from spreading. This forced lockdown took a toll on people worldwide, and most sought ways to handle the psychological stress that came with it. Some went about it the healthy way, turning to exercise, picking up new hobbies, self-care, and other relaxation strategies. Some others, however, took to drinking, smoking, overeating, oversleeping, and other habits that generally would be avoided. 

While scientists and medical experts worldwide worked to find a cure or vaccine, several myths about possible homemade remedies or treatments for COVID-19 surfaced online. Some false medicines include vitamin C, Vitamin D, Zinc, the keto diet, bleach or disinfectants, and alcohol.

For this article, we’d be addressing alcohol intake during the COVID-19 pandemic.

When it comes to the intake of drinking alcohol, no matter the type, it is essential to note that it has effects on almost every body organ, either short-term or long-term. There is also evidence that suggests that there is no safe limit when it comes to the consumption of alcohol. Even when taken in small quantities, alcohol is known to cause certain types of cancer. It also alters one’s behaviour, thoughts, judgement, and ability to make sound decisions.

Alcohol is known to debilitate the immune system, especially with heavy use, reducing one’s ability to cope with infectious diseases. It can also increase the risk of acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), and this is one of the most severe complications of COVID-19.

During the height of the pandemic, there were myths that alcohol could serve as protection against the COVID-19 pandemic. One of such myths was that consuming alcohol destroys the virus that causes COVID-19. This statement is false because alcohol cannot kill the virus, and drinking it is likely to put a person at greater risk if infected. Alcohol, at certain concentration levels, works as a disinfectant on the skin but does not do any good to the body.

Another popular myth was that drinking strong alcohol kills the virus in the inhaled air. This statement is false because alcohol cannot kill the virus in the inhaled air, nor can it disinfect one’s mouth and throat. It does not give any protection against COVID-19. 

Unfortunately, some still believe such myths and see no need to get the COVID-19 vaccine or get tested when they see symptoms of the virus, be it the same-day COVID test or tests carried out with the home test kit. 

With the relaxation of the restrictions put in place, alcohol consumption is to be avoided as it can lead to violations of quarantine and social distancing rules. Alcohol can serve as a social cue, bringing people together in bars, restaurants, and other places, increasing the virus’s transmission risk. It can also encourage smoking, and this is dangerous as smoking also increases health risks, making it hard for one to fight the virus that causes COVID-19.

Alcohol consumption can also lead to an increase in domestic violence. Alcohol is linked with violence, and with more people at home, it could increase the frequency of this violence.

Furthermore, there is evidence to suggest an increase in alcohol consumption in women during the pandemic. This can lead to a rise in Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD) rates in the future. This disorder is characterised by neuro-developmental deficiencies, learning disabilities, and behavioural problems.

While alcohol consumption is a way to relax for some people, there being no benefit to alcohol consumption, coupled with the negative effect it has on behaviour, it is advised that people refrain from consuming alcohol.

People are advised to increase physical activity, strengthening the immune system and overall well-being. It is also recommended that people seek trusted sources of information, and double-check the information they receive, so as not to fall victim to circulated myths and rumours.

blood donation

Effects of Covid-19 on Blood Donation and Transfusion

The severe COVID-19 virus caused the pandemic that the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared in 2020, and it led to a massive disruption in health care services across all countries worldwide. Since the pandemic occurred, one of the major areas of healthcare it affected was blood transfusion and donation. There were significant concerns about blood availability for patients in need, and it was a severe threat to the treatment of patients. This article will expand on the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on blood transfusion and donation.

Blood transfusion is one practice that cannot be replaced in the health care sector, and with the introduction of the COVID-19 pandemic, the availability of blood has been an issue. There was an increasing shortage of blood worldwide, which significantly affected blood transfusion. 

There was a significant decrease in blood donation from about 40% to 67% worldwide. Walk-in blood donors reduced drastically during the pandemic because there was a lockdown, and staying indoors was in their best interest. Hospitals and other health care facilities maintained strict rules on people accessing the building, so people could not just come and go as they pleased. 

There was also the concern of the donors contracting the virus through blood donation. Most people were in the dark about what the COVID-19 virus was, especially with all the conspiracy theories and rumours circulating. As something that claimed so many lives, very few were willing to take the risk.

In addition, the COVID-19 pandemic hindered blood donation because it diverted the attention of world leaders/policymakers and health workers away from other issues. On the one hand, it is a positive thing because it shows that the governments of many countries worldwide were committed to tackling and managing the spread of the virus, but on the other hand, it stands as a risk to other structures that have been put in place. Over the years, blood donation and transfusion services have reduced mortality and morbidity rates. Still, the intense focus on curbing the COVID-19 spread slowly jeopardises these other life-saving practices.

As a result, most health care facilities had to depend on their blood banks for blood transfusion, which is very limited. So, people lost their lives to COVID-19 and other illnesses because of a lack of blood. Another crucial challenge was the rapid reduction in available health care workers and other essential staff because many across health facilities contracted the COVID-19 virus or suffered other illnesses.

Post-COVID-19 pandemic, various health care facilities have intentionally tried ways to protect prospective donors from the COVID-19 virus while increasing the blood supply. One of those ways is free blood screening. Blood screening involves testing the blood for various infectious diseases, including COVID-19. This was a regular habit at health care facilities pre-COVID-19 but only intensified afterward. 

There may be willing donors interested in testing for only COVID-19 before donating blood, and various platforms can make that possible. There are community testing centres specifically for COVID-19 testing. Better still, they could self-test by getting the PCR or the rapid antigen home test kit. They are both quicker and can be done comfortably in their homes. Health care facilities also administer antibody tests to blood donations to confirm if there are COVID-19 antibodies. It is still advised that donors get vaccinated as the body produces antibodies after vaccination.

Another way to spread the word about blood donation is by implementing mobile blood drives in public places like offices, neighbourhoods, and educational institutions with high chances of getting donors. This will help bridge the blood supply and demand gap this season.

Blood transfusion is essential, as there will always be people who need blood, and the only way for people to get the blood they need is when people are willing to donate. Health care workers must maintain necessary protocols in their facilities and be empathetic with the donors to put them at ease and assist them in doing their part.

COVID-19 variants

COVID-19 Variants: What you Need to Know

In late 2019, the virus causing COVID-19 (SARS-CoV-2) was discovered, which led to a global pandemic. The virus is well known for how rapidly it changes, so ever since its discovery, it has changed into a couple of variants. 

Post-COVID-19 pandemic, different variants have been discovered, such as Alpha, Beta, Delta, and Omicron. Given the nature of the virus, there may be new variants because of how rapidly it changes. The names of the COVID-19 variants given by the World Health Organisation (WHO) were derived from the Greek alphabet. 

The first variant- the Alpha variant (B.1.1.7), was discovered in November 2020. This first case of this variant was in the UK, but not long after, it spread fast worldwide. It then became the most common variant in the US and is currently the most common in Canada. 

The Alpha variant is known to be quite contagious, but when mutated, it is not only more contagious but more harmful to the immune system. It is said to be 30 to 50% more infectious than SARS-CoV-2.

Studies were made to know if vaccines work on this variant. From the studies, the AstraZeneca vaccine, Pfizer vaccine, Johnson & Johnson vaccine, and Moderna vaccine were all proven to prevent the dangerous effect of the Alpha variant.

The Beta variant (501.v2 or B.1.351) was first spotted in South Africa. The variant’s mutation (N501Y) makes it way more infectious and easy to spread and is labelled along with other variants as ‘variants of concern.’ The Beta variant also carries another mutation called E484K, which enables the virus to escape the immune system of the person that has contracted it. 

Although the virus has undergone some changes, the chances of contracting it remain the highest for the elderly.

In South Africa, this variant’s death rate and hospitalisation increased by 20% in the second wave. The variant has currently circulated across the world in over 48 countries and was discovered in 23 states in the US, while the UK has recorded over a thousand cases.

The E484K mutation will likely affect how vaccines work on the body. Studies have been carried out, and none of the vaccines has been proven to be 100% efficient against this variant but taking them plays a part in fighting it.

The Delta variant was first spotted in India in 2020, spreading rapidly there and eventually reaching the UK and the US. The variant spread fast across the UK, significantly increasing hospitalisation and making it the dominant variant. The United States also added Delta to their list of ‘variants with concern’ even though they had not recorded any case then.

The variant is said to be very contagious. Studies say that it is 50% faster at spreading than the Alpha variant and like earlier mentioned, the Alpha COVID-19 variant is 50% more contagious than the  COVID-19 virus.

Getting vaccinated is the best means of protection against this variant. People that have not been vaccinated are at a higher risk of contracting the virus. Most cases with terrible outcomes are primarily in places where the vaccine rate is low.

The Omicron variant was first discovered in South Africa in November 2021. Around the same period, individuals in England, Nigeria, and the United States were also said to have contracted the new variant.

Omicron can be contracted and spread easier than the other variants whether you have been vaccinated or not. 

Compared to other variants, Omicron causes less severe cases of infection. The variant causes more lenient diseases even though some cases of death and hospitalisation may still occur.

To be safe, people are advised to take the COVID-19 vaccine because people who have been vaccinated and later contract this variant are less likely to get severe infections than those who haven’t taken it at all.

No one knows how many more variants will come, so one should get vaccinated during this period, follow COVID-19 protocol, and stay safe.