Vitamin D and COVID-19

The news media have been extensively covering the publication of research papers over the summer that suggest that vulnerable people should all be taking vitamin D supplements as a precaution against being infected by COVID. If you have been reading these reports you may be wondering what you should do?

Vitamin D is sometimes referred to as the ‘sunshine’ vitamin as we are all able to make it in our skin when the skin surface is lit by the sunlight. Our bodies cannot make it without sunlight so NHS recommendations are for short periods of direct sunlight on our face and arms every day. We can also get vitamin D from our food, principally oily fish, eggs and red meat.

Evidence shows that many of us (20%) in the UK have quite low levels of vitamin D in our bodies, especially during the darker months (October – March) when we don’t get much sunlight shining on our island. There are also people who don’t get much exposure at any time of the year due to their circumstances – for example, they might work at night or they might be unable to get outdoors every day. Sunlight shining through a window is usually insufficient to make vitamin D. People with darker skin pigmentation can also find it difficult to maintain levels of vitamin D.

Foods that contain lots of vitamin D are often not eaten every day, so many people supplement their diet with tablets that contain their daily dose. NHS guidelines are that in general everyone over age 5 should take 10mcg (400UI) Vitamin D per day from October – March. Those people who see very little direct sunlight or who find it difficult to maintain their vitamin D levels should take the supplement all year round. NOTE some people take calcium tablets that are already supplemented with vitamin D, so in that case need no further supplementation.
That said, individuals can be very variable in how much Vitamin D supplement they need so if in doubt see your doctor.

Does vitamin D protect us from COVID-19? So far the answer is maybe but there is not enough evidence to strongly support the suggestion. Studies are ongoing. However as already discussed there is plenty of evidence to suggest that you need to ensure that you get enough vitamin D regardless of COVID-19. Keep your levels up and you will benefit in lots of ways – if we find in the future it is good for prevention of COVID-19 infection, so much the better.

COVID Update October 13th: Shielding

Over the last few weeks during September & October, the number of COVID cases has been rising in some areas of the UK, and this situation is accelerating in a few hotspots, so we have been instructed that some areas would be ‘locked down’ by taking additional precautions to prevent the transfer of the virus from person to person. Full instructions are as follows:

Additional instructions for people living in England who are highly vulnerable have been published. This is the group of people who received a letter from their doctor or UK government during the first wave of infections telling them Shield themselves at home as they are at increased risk of experiencing more severe symptoms if they were to become ill with COVID-19.

This document replaces all earlier documents published on Shielding, and only applies to England. The advice is different depending on the risk level set in your local area by Gov.uk. (Medium, High or Very High – see link above)

 

For people living in the UK outside of England: The UK government has updated its instructions for people living in England to help prevent infection by COVID-19.

 

COVID Information for Patients Attending Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust (MFT)

MFT is the Trust that hosts the National Aspergillosis Centre (NAC) in Manchester, UK. MFT is present on 12 sites throughout Greater Manchester including Wythenshawe Hospital which is where NAC is located.

Just like most acute care hospitals in the UK, Wythenshawe and most other sites at MFT have undergone major changes in how they operate outpatient care during the COVID outbreak, and those changes have included how NAC operates so that we can ensure the safety of patients and staff.

For clarity and information MFT have produced a series of webpages that contain all the information you may need if you have an appointment to attend a clinic at any MFT site. The information is updated regularly.

Coronavirus (COVID-19) procedures and precautions for attending MFT as a patient

Living with a lung condition during the COVID-19 pandemic: patient stories

The current pandemic is a frightening time for us all, but it can be especially nerve-wracking for those already living with lung conditions. The European Lung Foundation has compiled 4 stories from individuals living with pre-existing lung diseases, and their experiences living through this period. One contribution is from an aspergillosis patient and co-founder of the Aspergillosis Trust, Sandra Hicks, and has been copied below. To read all of the contributions, or share your own experience, click here.

The Aspergillosis Trust has also continued to collect and share the experiences of those living with aspergillosis during this time. To read and share stories, or find out more about the Trust’s work, click here to visit their website.

Sandra Hicks:

During the last weekend of February 2020, I had a bit more of a productive cough than usual. I stayed in bed, as I felt even more fatigued than usual and that’s already a lot! I have aspergillosis, Nontuberculous Mycobacteria (NTM), asthma and bronchiectasis colonised with Pseudomonas. The reason for these unusual infections is a rare primary immunodeficiency (PID) syndrome, which means that my immune system doesn’t make antibodies very well.

On 1 March, I had a severe pain in my right side, it felt to me like I had pulled a muscle between my ribs and another in my neck. The pain was so bad that I could hardly cough and I certainly couldn’t breathe in deeply. I also had worsening shortness of breath. I realised it was better to get on top of the pain, to be able to clear my lungs. I had a productive cough, not a persistent, dry cough as listed in the COVID-19 symptoms. I felt it didn’t really match with the description of the ‘red flags’ for COVID-19. I didn’t have a sore throat at any point. I did have a high temperature, which went up to 39.5°C during the first week of March. I also had headaches and dizziness, but didn’t lose my sense of taste or smell. The final symptom was coughing-up dark red, thick mucous (haemoptysis) a few times a day, for several weeks. I have never had haemoptysis to that extent ever before, or that dark a red (although the mucous can sometimes be ‘pinky’ in colour).

My routine CT scan which I have for the aspergillosis showed improvements and did not reflect the development of haemoptysis. So it seemed to me like something else was going on in addition to the usual lung problems.

I had phone consultations instead of outpatient clinic appointments with two consultants. The first one was with my mycology consultant on 25 March. He felt that it was possible that I could have had COVID-19. We discussed options for my regular treatment. Should I go into hospital daily for my 14 days of IV caspofungin, or should I delay treatment? Even if I hadn’t had COVID-19, I am in the shielding category and had been advised to stay at home for 12 weeks. The balance of risks were in favour of starting treatment sooner. This was due to the lower numbers of cases of COVID-19 in the UK at that time, compared to the rest of Europe. I was concerned that if we followed the same pattern as Italy, Spain and France, then in the next 2-3 weeks, the number of cases and deaths would rise hugely. When that cycle of treatment started on 30 March, there were 1,408 deaths from COVID-19 reported in the UK. On Easter Sunday, 12April the last day of treatment, there were 10,612 deaths reported in the UK. It was a very scary time, having to go into hospital daily during those two weeks. If I had delayed treatment, the hospital might not have had capacity to treat me. My lung condition could also have deteriorated. I may have been at greater risk of catching COVID-19 too. Looking back, it turned out to be the right decision for me.

My immunology consultant also said on 27 March in another phone appointment, that it was possible I’d had COVID-19. However, there is no way of knowing for sure if I have. COVID-19 blood tests look for the presence of antibodies produced by the immune system. If these antibodies are present, then that means a person has had the infection in the past. However, these tests might not be accurate in people with primary immunodeficiency syndromes, because we don’t always make antibodies properly. The consultant said that they do not yet know for sure whether having COVID-19 means that you will develop immunity. He also said that if patients need to come in for procedures then they take measures to prevent infection: they pull the curtains in between beds, everyone wears masks, staff also wear aprons and gloves.

So, I still don’t know if I have had COVID-19, but it is possible! I will probably never know either. If this was mild or moderate COVID-19, it was still bad enough on top of the usual lung conditions.

It is an incredibly sad situation that so many people have lost their lives prematurely. The current total number of deaths in the UK is 34, 636 (18 may). It’s so important to stay at home for those of us with lung disease, who are most at risk. I personally don’t see a ‘quick fix’ for this pandemic and it is possible there will be a second and third wave. I am looking forward to the vaccine being available, so it protects more people.

COVID isolation: Mental well-being while staying at home

[toc]

The UK NHS has released a list of helpful resources to assist in safeguarding your mental health during this current COVID isolation period. We have reproduced some of it here for the purpose of allowing indexing of the many sections, hopefully making access a bit quicker and easier.

Taking care of your mind as well as your body is really important while staying at home because of coronavirus (COVID-19).

You may feel bored, frustrated or lonely. You may also be low, worried or anxious, or concerned about your finances, your health or those close to you.

It’s important to remember that it is OK to feel this way and that everyone reacts differently. Remember, this situation is temporary and, for most of us, these feelings will pass. Staying at home may be difficult, but you are helping to protect yourself and others by doing it.

The tips and advice here are things you can do now to help you keep on top of your mental wellbeing and cope with how you may feel while staying at home. Make sure you get further support if you feel you need it.

The government also has wider guidance on staying at home as a result of coronavirus.

To read the complete NHS page ‘Worried about coronavirus’ click here

 

 

For a more complete resource on mental health see the NHS page ‘Every Mind Matters’.

EMM - Coronavirus - Stay at home - Find out about your rights

1. Find out about your employment and benefits rights

You may be worried about work and money while you have to stay home – these issues can have a big effect on your mental health.

If you have not already, talk with your employer about working from home, and learn about your sick pay and benefits rights. Knowing the details about what the coronavirus outbreak means for you (England and Wales only) can reduce worry and help you feel more in control.

GOV.UK: Coronavirus support

2. Plan practical things

Work out how you can get any household supplies you need. You could try asking neighbours or family friends, or find a delivery service.

Continue accessing treatment and support for any existing physical or mental health problems where possible. Let services know you are staying at home, and discuss how to continue receiving support.

If you need regular medicine, you might be able to order repeat prescriptions by phone, or online via a website or app. Contact your GP and ask if they offer this. You can also ask your pharmacy about getting your medicine delivered, or ask someone else to collect it for you.

If you support or care for others, either in your home or by visiting them regularly, think about who can help out while you are staying at home. Let your local authority (England, Scotland and Wales only) know if you provide care or support someone you do not live with. Carers UK has further advice on creating a contingency plan.

Carers UK: Coronavirus

3. Stay connected with others

Maintaining healthy relationships with people you trust is important for your mental wellbeing. Think about how you can stay in touch with friends and family while you are all staying at home – by phone, messaging, video calls or social media – whether it’s people you usually see often, or connecting with old friends.

Lots of people are finding the current situation difficult, so staying in touch could help them too.

4. Talk about your worries

It’s normal to feel a bit worried, scared or helpless about the current situation. Remember: it is OK to share your concerns with others you trust – and doing so may help them too.

If you cannot speak to someone you know or if doing so has not helped, there are plenty of helplines you can try instead.

NHS – recommended helplines

5. Look after your body

Our physical health has a big impact on how we feel. At times like these, it can be easy to fall into unhealthy patterns of behaviour that end up making you feel worse.

Try to eat healthy, well-balanced meals, drink enough water and exercise regularly. Avoid smoking or drugs, and try not to drink too much alcohol.

You can leave your house, alone or with members of your household, for 1 form of exercise a day – like a walk, run or bike ride. But make you keep a safe 2-metre distance from others. Or you could try one of our easy 10-minute home workouts.

Try a 10-minute home workout

6. Stay on top of difficult feelings

Concern about the coronavirus outbreak is perfectly normal. However, some people may experience intense anxiety that can affect their day-to-day life.

Try to focus on the things you can control, such as how you act, who you speak to and where you get information from.

It’s fine to acknowledge that some things are outside of your control, but if constant thoughts about the situation are making you feel anxious or overwhelmed, try some ideas to help manage your anxiety.

7. Do not stay glued to the news

Try to limit the time you spend watching, reading or listening to coverage of the outbreak, including on social media, and think about turning off breaking-news alerts on your phone.

You could set yourself a specific time to read updates or limit yourself to checking a couple of times a day.

Use trustworthy sources – such as GOV.UK or the NHS website – and fact-check information from the news, social media or other people.

GOV.UK: Coronavirus response

8. Carry on doing things you enjoy

If we are feeling worried, anxious, lonely or low, we may stop doing things we usually enjoy.

Make an effort to focus on your favourite hobby if it is something you can still do at home. If not, picking something new to learn at home might help.

There are lots of free tutorials and courses online, and people are coming up with inventive ways to do things, like hosting online pub quizzes and music concerts.

9. Take time to relax

This can help with difficult emotions and worries, and improve our wellbeing. Relaxation techniques can also help deal with feelings of anxiety.

10. Think about your new daily routine

Life is changing for a while and you are likely to see some disruption to your normal routine. Think about how you can adapt and create positive new routines and set yourself goals.

You might find it helpful to write a plan for your day or your week. If you are working from home, try to get up and get ready in the same way as normal, keep to the same hours you would normally work and stick to the same sleeping schedule.

You could set a new time for a daily home workout, and pick a regular time to clean, read, watch a TV programme or film, or cook.

11. Look after your sleep

Good-quality sleep makes a big difference to how we feel, so it’s important to get enough.

Try to maintain your regular sleeping pattern and stick to good sleep practices.

12. Keep your mind active

Read, write, play games, do crosswords, complete sudoku puzzles, finish jigsaws, or try drawing and painting.

Whatever it is, find something that works for you.