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COVID-19: Spinal cord injured people at risk


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The swift global spread of COVID-19 is considered to be a pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO). Symptoms range from a common cold, cough and fatigue to severe pneumonia. People especially at risk are those over the age of 50 and with previous illnesses such as heart and lung disease. Spinal cord injuries are also included in this risk group. 

Why a risk group?
Depending on the level of a spinal cord injury, the defense of the body is more or less compromised. In general, the higher the level of injury, the more severely the connections between the vegetative nerve system and the immune system are disturbed. This is affecting the innate as well as the acquired immune system. Due to a weakened protective response, patients with a spinal cord injury are more likely to experience infections like pneumonia or urinary tract infections. In his work at the Ohio State University, USA Prof. Jan Schwab described for the first time the impact of a spinal cord injury on our immune system. The syndrome is called spinal cord injury-induced immune deficiency syndrome (SCI-IDS ) and you can learn more about it here.

Patients with a cervical spinal cord injury have another reason for being at high risk. Under these circumstances, muscles involved in respiration could become paralyzed. Not only can breathing and coughing become shortened, but also their lung capacity could be significantly reduced. Some of the patients are even dependent on mechanical respiratory support. Therefore, a respiratory infection could turn into a vital threat for these patients. 

What are specific recommendations?
At the present time, there are no specific recommendations concerning coronavirus and people with spinal cord injuries. We are still lacking empirical evidence. Nonetheless, SCI patients should follow the general recommendations for people at risk. These are maintaining proper hygiene standards and practicing social distancing in order to protect oneself and others.