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Coronavirus (COVID-19)

Reviewed Thursday 3 June 2020

Latest update:

During these uncertain and difficult times, we're working with the medical community and partners to provide you up to date information about the coronavirus (COVID-19). 

We are part of the Australian and New Zealand Society of Nephrology COVID-19 National Working Group which is responding to the COVID-19 Crisis – we will ensure the needs and concerns of patients are being heard, and that the information we bring you is up to date and backed by the clinical community.

  • In Australia, there have been 13 reported cases among kidney patients to date (03/06/2020). 
  • The Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC) have released a position statement that provides advice on reducing the risk of COVID-19 transmission in schools, including advice for vulnerable students/staff.
  • TSANZ has issued advice to transplant patients on returning to work and school. Please visit their website for further information.

Watch our webinar on transplants and COVID-19

Our panel of experts talk about what it means now that kidney transplants are resuming and what you need to know.

Our panel included:

- A/Professor Shilpa Jesudason, Clinical Director at Kidney Health Australia

- Professor Toby Coates Co-Chair of the COVID-19 - National Transplantation and Donation Rapid Response Taskforce and TSANZ President 

- Danielle Stephenson Lead Transplant Coordinator at Royal Adelaide Hospital

- Maria O'Sullivan General Manager of Community Services 

Watch here


We're here to help

We’re here to help you during these difficult times. Our Kidney Helpline can answer your kidney health queries, COVID-19 questions and help connect you to services. Speak to the health information team today on 1800 454 363 (option 1) or email Kidney.Helpline@kidney.org.au

Sign up to receive kidney news, information on vital services and events, and general kidney health information, click here.

About COVID-19

Coronavirus (COVID-19) information

Coronavirus (COVID-19) is a disease caused by a virus that began spreading in people in December 2019. It has been classified as a pandemic by the WHO.

To help stop the virus spreading everyone should practice good hygiene including washing your hands regularly, using a tissue and covering your mouth when you cough or sneeze and avoiding close contact with others.

There is no need for alarm but people with kidney disease should be aware that, just like with the flu, they are at a higher risk of severe symptoms and complications from coronavirus. 

It’s important to get symptoms checked out early, and make sure you are in touch with your doctor and renal units.

What should you do if you feel unwell?

If you experience symptoms of coronavirus you should seek medical attention.

The Department of Health provides the following advice:

“Call ahead of time to book an appointment. Tell your doctor about your symptoms, travel history and any recent close contact with someone who has coronavirus.

If you must leave home to see your doctor, wear a surgical mask (if you have one) to protect others.

If you have serious symptoms such as difficulty breathing, call 000 for urgent medical help.”

For people with transplants or those on dialysis please contact your own renal unit for further advice. Each renal unit is working on their own response – it is important you follow this information as it emerges.

Symptoms

People with coronavirus may experience:

  • Fever
  • Coughing
  • Sore throat
  • Fatigue
  • Shortness of breath

Coronavirus, just like any viral infection, can affect your affect your kidney function especially if you become very unwell, dehydrated or get another infection on top. Kidney Health Australia has a sick day management plan, which we recommend all patients and health professionals to follow, please donwload here

How it spreads

The virus can spread from person to person through:

  • Close contact with an infectious person (including in the 24 hours before they started showing symptoms)
  • Contact with droplets from an infected person’s cough or sneeze
  • Touching objects or surfaces (like doorknobs or tables) that have cough or sneeze droplets from an infected person, and then touching your mouth or face.

Good hygiene

Everyone must practise good hygiene to protect against infection and prevent the virus spread.

Good hygiene includes:

  • Covering your coughs and sneezes with your elbow or a tissue
  • Disposing of tissues properly
  • Washing your hands often with soap and water, including before and after eating and after going to the toilet
  • Using alcohol-based hand sanitisers
  • Cleaning and disinfecting surfaces
  • If you are sick, avoiding contact with others and staying more than 1.5 metres away from people

Read more about protective measures against coronavirus on the World Health Organization website.

If you have a confirmed case, you need to self-quarantine to prevent it spreading to other people.

Who is most at risk of a serious illness?

Some people who are infected may not get sick at all, some will get mild symptoms from which they will recover easily, and others may become very ill, very quickly.

From previous experience with other coronaviruses, the people at most risk of serious infection are:

  • People with compromised immune systems (e.g. people with transplants and cancer)
  • Elderly people
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, as they have higher rates of chronic illness
  • People with diagnosed chronic medical conditions (such as kidney disease, diabetes, cardiovascular disease – including hypertension, heart disease and stroke – and respiratory disease
  • People in group residential settings
  • People in detention facilities

At this stage the risk to children and babies, and the role children play in the transmission of COVID-19, is not clear. However, there has so far been a low rate of confirmed COVID-19 cases among children, relative to the broader population.

Social Distancing

To help slow the spread, the Australian Government has advised, the following social isolation measures: 

Australians are being ordered to not travel overseas or interstate)

  • Staying at home unless shopping for essential items, seeking medical care, exercise or work/study
  • Keeping a distance of 1.5 metres between you and other people whenever possible

To protect vulnerable Australians, the Government has advised self-isolation for the following Australians:

    • over 70 years of age; 
    • over 60 years of age who have existing health conditions or comorbidities;
    • Indigenous Australians over the age of 50 who have existing health conditions or comorbidities.

Hydroxychloroquine

The New England Journal published an observational study of Hydroxychloroquine in Hospitalised Patients with COVID-19 with the conclusion showing no differences. Currently there is insufficient evidence for this drug meaning it should not be taken unless directed your doctor.

COVID-19 and dialysis

There is no need for alarm but people with kidney disease should be aware that, just like with the flu, they are at a higher risk of severe symptoms and complications from coronavirus. 

Regarding outpatient clinic visits, please work with your local renal unit. Most units have put in place Telehealth or telephone consultations in place to help you avoid having to come to the hospital and congregate with other patients in the waiting room. Please ensure your unit has your most up-to-date contact details.

Attending dialysis

People receiving dialysis should still turn up for their usual treatment. It is very important that you remain well, and receive their full treatment. All dialysis units are working to put the best plans in place to keep patients safe.

If you are unwell, particularly if you have a fever, please do not attend your dialysis unit, but ring first. The nursing staff will then direct you as to the appropriate action. 

All dialysis units are working out responses based on local capacity and logistics. Please talk to your dialysis nurses to find out how your unit is responding. You should be prepared that in some circumstances you may not end up having dialysis in your regular unit. Please think about your transportation options. 

Other hospital and GP appointments

We advise everyone to a call ahead and check if they really need to be there in person. Most clinics are moving to online/telephone clinics, unless it is necessary to see a patient. Consider whether appointments can be postponed - for many kidney patients this is not safe, and they still need to have a review, even by phone.  Do not let COVID-19 put you off, these appointments are very important. 

Please be aware that your specific doctor may not available, but health services will provide appropriate clinical advice for consultation as needed.

Prescriptions are being posted out or faxed to pharmacies to ensure supply of medications, you can speak with your doctor to organise this. 

You will still need to do blood tests as it is impossible to tell how our kidneys are going otherwise. Blood collection centers remain open with many not asking patients with signs of coronavirus, if you are concerned, call ahead to find out what they are doing. In some cases, they may be able to arrange someone to come to your house.  

Should you need to go to a pathology center, hospital or GP, it is important to maintain social distancing and good hygiene. 

Transplant program

Under certain conditions, deceased and living kidney transplant programmes will look to recommence in the coming weeks. There are many factors that local units are to consider prior to resuming transplant services that include; transportation, tissue typing, allocation, hospitals and local area health positions, DonateLife staffing and waiting list management. Contact your renal unit for how this will affect you. Read the AHPPC statement

Availability of medicines

The Department of Health has advised that there are no current shortages or supply issues medicines. People with medical conditions are advised to order and obtain your medicines and supplies as usual. There is no need to stockpile.

The Australian Governments Home Medicine Service for PBS prescriptions for eligible customers. This temporary service allows for the subsidy of home delivery of medications. Importantly this service removes the need for a patient to visit the pharmacy in person. Learn more here.

Anti-inflammatory medications

The evidence regarding ibuprofen and COVID-19 risk and outcomes is not definite, but nevertheless people living with kidney disease should still proceed with caution due to the risk of drug-related acute kidney injury. 

In addition, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) can affect kidney function in people with chronic kidney disease and these should only be used under direction of your doctor.

Home peritoneal dialysis 

Currently, there is no shortage of dialysis supplies. The primary supplier of dialysis, Baxter, has assurred us that the supply chain remains secure. Baxter has also proactively taken further step to ensure the safety of dialysis fluids. All essential employees are routinely temperature checked and measures have been taken to seperate employees where possible. 

Additionallty, Baxter has also introduced increased safety measures to protect the well-being of home patients including:

- Strengthening supplies of ancillaries
- Strict safety procedures for home delivery
- Managing stockpiling to avoid product shortages

In addition, Baxter is offering a fee waiver in relation to Baxter’s Sharesource 2.0 Platform until 31 October 2020. This offer is applicable to all customers in Australia and New Zealand, including those currently using Sharesource as well as new customers. Learn more.  

Groceries and takeaway food

At this time take all precautions that are recommended regarding COVID-19 including opting for contactless delivery, pay via card instead of cash, or ask a friend or family member to pick up the food and drink on your behalf. 

There is no indication that takeaway food is unsafe now, however, as always, purchase food from a reputable food outlet. 

It's also a good time to think about eating healthy food, takeaway often has a lot of salt, sugar and fat, learn more here

Living with someone with COVID-19 symptoms

We strongly recommend that person have their symptoms confirmed with the GP. It is important they call the local GP and discuss this with them before presenting at the clinic. They may need to be tested.  

It is also important you make sure you always maintain a safe distance from that person and practice social distancing as per the recommendations until it is known whether they are infected or not.  

If you identify that someone you live with or have come in contact with is infected with COVID-19 you should immediately notify your GP, kidney doctor or renal unit and receive further specialised advice.  

Facemasks

Currently, there is no recommendation to wear a face mask if you are not sick or have not been recommended to wear one by a medical professional. Surgical masks in the community are only helpful in preventing people who have coronavirus disease from spreading it to others. If you are well, you do not need to wear a surgical mask. There is little evidence that widespread use of surgical masks in healthy people prevents transmission in public. 

What will help protect you is social distancing and good hand hygiene. 

Mental Health

As the number of coronavirus cases rise across Australia, the level of anxiety within the community is increasing. We have a number of tips for looking after your mental health on our website, in addition, the Australian Psychological Society has resources for coping during this crisis.

Tips for coping with social isolation

Tips for coping with coronavirus anxiety 

COVID-19 and transplant recipients

Transplant recipients should follow general advice given to the community. There has been no sign of increased cases in transplanted patients yet, but this is being tracked carefully in Australia. 

We recommend you try to speak to your renal specialist or transplant unit with your specific concerns and to take all precautions that are recommended at this time regarding COVID-19. Please continue to take all prescribed medications as normal and ensure you have two weeks of medications on hand.  

There is no need for alarm but people with kidney transplant should be aware that, just like with the flu, they are at a higher risk of severe symptoms and complications from coronavirus. Coronavirus, just like any viral infection, can affect your affect your kidney function especially if you become very unwell, dehydrated or get another infection on top, and there is a risk of developing acute kidney injury (AKI). Kidney Health Australia has a sick day management plan, which we recommend all patients and health professionals to follow, please download here.

Access to medications

The Australian Government has subsidised the home delivery of Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) and Repatriation Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (RPBS) medications. Importantly this service removes the need for a patient to visit the pharmacy in person. The delivery service will be free of charge for eligible customers. Learn more here

Immunosuppressing medication

Do not stop taking your medications without speaking with your doctor first. There are risks associated with stopping medication. There is currently no recommendation to change immune system medications for transplant patients. Only undertake this in consultation with your specialist.

Anti-inflammatory medications

The evidence regarding ibuprofen and COVID-19 risk and outcomes is not definite, but nevertheless people living with kidney disease should still proceed with caution due to the risk of drug-related acute kidney injury. 

In addition, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) can affect kidney function in people with chronic kidney disease and these should only be used under direction of your doctor.

Other hospital and GP appointments

We advise everyone to a call ahead and check if they really need to be there in person. Most clinics are moving to online/telephone clinics, unless it is necessary to see a patient. Consider whether appointments can be postponed - for many kidney patients this is not safe, and they still need to have a review, even by phone.  Do not let COVID-19 put you off, these appointments are very important. 

Please be aware that your specific doctor may not available, but health services will provide appropriate clinical advice for consultation as needed.

Prescriptions are being posted out or faxed to pharmacies to ensure supply of medications, you can speak with your doctor to organise this. 

You will still need to do blood tests as it is impossible to tell how our kidneys are going otherwise. Blood collection centers remain open with many not asking patients with signs of coronavirus, if you are concerned, call ahead to find out what they are doing. In some cases, they may be able to arrange someone to come to your house.  

Should you need to go to a pathology center, hospital or GP, it is important to maintain social distancing and good hygiene. 

Work

Depending on your job, your employer may already have made provisions and plans for working at home. Should this not be possible, we would encourage you to talk to your employer regarding your concerns, take all precautions and talk to your renal specialist or renal unit.  

In addition, it is important to adhere to the social distancing measures put in place by the government, learn more here.  

Groceries and takeaway food

At this time take all precautions that are recommended regarding COVID-19 including opting for contactless delivery, pay via card instead of cash, or ask a friend or family member to pick up the food and drink on your behalf. 

There is no indication that takeaway food is unsafe now, however, as always, purchase food from a reputable food outlet. 

It's also a good time to think about eating healthy food, takeaway often has a lot of salt, sugar and fat, learn more here

Living with someone with COVID-19 symptoms

We strongly recommend that person have their symptoms confirmed with the GP. It is important they call the local GP and discuss this with them before presenting at the clinic. They may need to be tested.  

It is also important you make sure you always maintain a safe distance from that person and practice social distancing as per the recommendations until it is known whether they are infected or not.  

If you identify that someone you live with or have come in contact with is infected with COVID-19 you should immediately notify your GP, kidney doctor or renal unit and receive further specialised advice.  

Facemasks

Currently, there is no recommendation to wear a face mask if you are not sick or have not been recommended to wear one by a medical professional. Surgical masks in the community are only helpful in preventing people who have coronavirus disease from spreading it to others. If you are well, you do not need to wear a surgical mask. There is little evidence that widespread use of surgical masks in healthy people prevents transmission in public. 

What will help protect you is social distancing and good hand hygiene. 

Mental Health

As the number of coronavirus cases rise across Australia, the level of anxiety within the community is increasing. We have a number of tips for looking after your mental health on our website, in addition, the Australian Psychological Society has resources for coping during this crisis.

Tips for coping with social isolation

Tips for coping with coronavirus anxiety 

COVID-19 and Indigenous Health

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and people living in remote communities are at greater risk from COVID-19.  This is because:

  • there are higher rates of other health issues in these communities
  • it can be harder to access health care
  • people in the community are very mobile and travel often
  • people often rely more on outreach services in remote places

It is critical that dialysis patients continue to receive their treatment as normal. Dialysis centers will be able to help with transport options if need be. Transplanted people should also continue with their usual medication unless otherwise directed by their kidney doctor.

Below is a great video by Bernadette Trench-Thiedeman in collaboration with Nirrumbuk Environmental Health and Services (Pty Ltd) Chris Griffiths and Alana Hunt and Kimberley Aboriginal Medical Services which explains coronavirus and how to stay safe.

Kimberley Coronavirus Animation from Bernadette Trench-Thiedeman on Vimeo.

We've also complied a list of reliable websites with lots of information on COVID-19 for Indigenous communities. 

Australian Government Department of Health

The Australian Government updates their health alerts, travel and social restrictions and general advice daily. Visit their website

NACCHO

NACCHO has been providing up to date health information, clinical resources and social media sharing assets. This information and resource library has been created by Indigenous people for Indigenous people. Visit their website

National Indigenous Kidney Transplantation Taskforce (NIKTT)

NIKTT is an important new inititative established in 2019 to address the issue of access to kidney transplants for Indigenous Australians. NIKTT have collated a list of resources for Indigenous people on COVID-19, view here. Visit their website or connect with them on Facebook

NATSIHWA 

NATSIHWA has lead a project in collaboration with AIDA, IAHA and CATSINaM to develop a toolkit that includes important contacts, tips and information to help you care for yourself, as well as posters for distribution in communities.

The toolkit is available now A&TSI Health Professionals Resource Toolkit .

Message about COVID-19 from Barunga

This video provides clear information on how to stay safe during these difficult times. Thank you to Anne Marie Lee from Barunga community and Menzies School of Health Research for allowing us to share this video.

COVID-19 video in Luritja

Thank you to Purple House for making and sharing this annimated video which explains COVID-19 and how to stay safe, watch here

Kimberley Aboriginal Medial Services (KAMS)

These resources are designed by KAMS for Kimberley Aboriginal people. Resources include, videos in a variety of languages, latest news, print resources and contact lists, visit their website


 Keeping your kidneys healthy

People who become infected with coronavirus should have their kidney function monitored during the infection as protein in the urine (proteinuria) and acute kidney injury (AKI) can occur with coronavirus. 

It is especially important the moment to keep kidneys healthy to help prevent kidney injury. Access our Indigenous specific resources here

COVID-19 and kids and youth

There is no need for alarmMost people will have mild symptoms.  

Kids with kidney disease, just like with the flu or any other significant infection they are at a higher risk of severe symptoms and complications from coronavirus. 

Watch Dr Cathy Quinlan, a Consultant Paediatric Nephrologist, answer the most common questions about COVID-19 and what it means for your child.

 School and childcare  

 The discussion about schools is rapidly changing and varies between states. 

In light of the recent social distancing updates, the TSANZ Paediatric Transplant Advisory Committee (PTAC) has produced information in relation to transplant patients returning to school, please see their website

We recommend you try to speak to your child’s renal specialist or renal unit staff for specific advice for your child. The advice you receive may be tailored to your child’s specific health situation. With the recommendations from your child’s healthcare team, talk to the school to make the appropriate arrangements.  

In the meantime, take all precautions that are recommended at this time regarding COVID-19 including explaining social distancing to your child and asking them to practice this. If they are taking medications, make sure they keep taking them, and that you have two weeks of stock at home.  

For tips on explaining social distancing to your child, listen here

Hospital and GP appointments 

Call ahead and check if you and your child really need to be there in person. Most clinics are moving to online/telephone clinics, unless it is necessary to see a patient. Do not let COVID-19 put you off, these appointments are very important. 

Your child's usual doctor may not be available, but you will be provided the approppiate replacement.

Prescriptions are being posted out or faxed to pharmacies to ensure supply of medications, you can speak with your doctor to organise this. 

Your child will still need to do blood tests as it is impossible to tell how our their kidneys are going otherwise. Blood collection centers remain open with many not asking patients with signs of coronavirus, if you are concerned, call ahead to find out what they are doing. In some cases, they may be able to arrange someone to come to your house.  

Should you need to go to a pathology center, hospital or GP, it is important to maintain social distancing and good hygiene. 

Living with somone with COVID-19 symptoms

We strongly recommend that person have their symptoms confirmed with the GP. It is important they call the local GP and discuss this with them before presenting at the clinic. They may need to be tested.  

It is also important you make sure you always maintain a safe distance from that person and practice social distancing as per the recommendations until it is known whether they are infected or not.  

If you identify that someone you live with or have come in contact with is infected with COVID-19 you should immediately notify your GP, kidney doctor or renal unit and receive further specialised advice.  

Facemasks

Currently, there is no recommendation to wear a face mask if you are not sick or have not been recommended to wear one by a medical professional. Surgical masks in the community are only helpful in preventing people who have coronavirus disease from spreading it to others. If you are well, you do not need to wear a surgical mask. There is little evidence that widespread use of surgical masks in healthy people prevents transmission in public. 

What will help protect you is social distancing and good hand hygiene

Are you worried about the COVID-19 pandemic, the changes happening in the world right now or are anxious about being in isolation? 

This is perfectly normal, and it is natural you would you like to speak to someone about it. 

Contact one of the services below for support or talk to your general practitioner.  

  • Lifeline Australia: 13 11 14  
  • Kids Helpline: 1800 551800  
  • Beyond Blue: 1300 224 636  
  • Australian Psychological Society: https://www.psychology.org.au/COVID-19-Australians  
  • Kidney Health Australia: Mind and Spirit 
  • Kidney Health Australia Facebook Page 

Useful links and resources

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