Dr Simona Balestrini is the Muir Maxwell Research Fellow at the Epilepsy Society. Here, she has put together an FAQ factsheet for those with epilepsy about the coronavirus (COVID-19).
1. Do I have a higher risk to get the coronavirus if I suffer from epilepsy?
There is no evidence of increased risk of coronavirus infection in people with epilepsy compared to the general population. The risk is increased in people with weakened immune systems, older people, and those with long-term conditions like diabetes, cancer and chronic lung disease.
2. Do people with epilepsy have a weakened immune system?
There is no evidence that people with epilepsy have a weakened immune system, therefore they should not be considered ‘immunocompromised’ or to have an ‘immune deficiency’. Obviously, there are individual differences, e.g. some people with epilepsy might have a weakened immune system due to co-existing other health conditions and associated immunosuppressive treatment.
3. Does treatment with antiepileptic medications increased the risk of coronavirus infection?
There is no evidence of increased risk of coronavirus infection in people taking antiepileptic medications. Therefore, it is important to keep taking your epilepsy medicine as usual throughout any illness.
4. What should I do to avoid the infection?
There are a number of measures that might help in reducing the risk of infection. These include: avoid close contact with people who are unwell; hand hygiene (wash hands with soap and water, or use alcohol hand gel, often, especially after using public transport and at any time before eating); cover the mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing with a tissue or a sleeve; try to avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth if your hands are unclean. Try to keep healthy by following a nutritious diet and taking gentle exercise. Keep your home well ventilated by keeping the window open.
5. What should I do if I have symptoms?
At present, it is recommended to stay at home for 7 days if you have either a high temperature, or a new persistent cough and you live alone. If you live with others and you, or one of them, have symptoms, then the whole household must stay at home and not leave the house for 14 days. This will help protect others in the community while people are infectious. Please follow the advice from Public Health England (PHE) which is updated daily: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/coronavirus-covid-19-information-for-the-public. If you do become unwell and suspect you could have coronavirus, use the NHS 111 coronavirus service or ring 111 for advice.
Most cold medicines that you might consider for symptom relief (typically paracetamol to control fever or muscle aches) are fine. But take advice before using products containing diphenhydramine (such as Benadryl). Just check the label before purchasing any products. If in doubt, check with the epilepsy team.
6. Will people with epilepsy be more severely affected by coronavirus?
For most people, coronavirus causes mild symptoms, and they recover quickly after a few days. Currently there is no information to say that people with epilepsy are more severely affected than people without health conditions.
7. If I catch coronavirus could it trigger a seizure?
There is no information about coronavirus triggering seizures in people with epilepsy. However, infections, fever (particularly in children), sleep deprivation and in general being unwell can trigger seizures in some people with epilepsy.
8. If I catch coronavirus, do I need any specific treatment?
As described above, many of your flu symptoms can be reduced with over the counter medications. The doctors involved in treating you might recommend antivirals, antibiotics or other specific treatment. Occasionally these may interact with your anti-epileptics, reducing their effectiveness or causing side effects. Always let know doctors treating you that you are taking anti-epileptic medications and ensure you know the dose and type of tablets you use.
9. Will the situation with coronavirus lead to shortages of my epilepsy medicine?
The Department of Health and Social Care is working with drug companies to minimise any impact of coronavirus on drug supplies. Drug companies have already built up stockpiles of medicines in preparation for Brexit and have now been asked to maintain this level of stockpiling. This should mean medicines will continue to be available, even if there are temporary disruptions to the supply chain. Do not try to stockpile your medication in case you have to self-isolate. This could cause shortages of medications and put others at risk of a seizure. It is best to carry on as normal.
10. If I have to self-isolate how will I get my medicines?
The NHS is currently advising people who may have been exposed to coronavirus to self-isolate. Just in case you need to do this, you may wish to think now about how you would get your medicines. This could be getting a friend or family member to collect your prescriptions for you. Or you could make arrangements for your pharmacy to deliver your medicines to your home. You may wish to check with them now if they offer this service, and how to sign up to it. Most prescriptions are now signed, sent and processed electronically.
Make sure you are registered for online services through your GP. This will enable you to book, check or cancel appointments online and order repeat prescriptions. Take your prescription to your pharmacy in plenty of time – up to seven days before you need your medication. This will allow your pharmacist to call other pharmacies or suppliers if there are any delays in getting your medication. Ordering your prescription in good time will also enable you to visit another pharmacy if your own pharmacy is temporarily closed due to the coronavirus.
Thanks to Epilepsy Society for these wonderful and helpful tips : https://www.epilepsysociety.org.uk/epilepsy-and-coronavirus-covid-19-faqs#.XnDuHZP7SL8