What IBD patients should know about the 2019 novel coronavirus (COVID-19)

We understand that there’s a lot of information in the news about the coronavirus (COVID-19) and you may be concerned. The Foundation is here to help you make sense of the information and take the precautions recommended by the Centers for Disease Controls and Prevention (CDC).

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What is COVID-19?Watch our live chat | Key terms to knowSymptoms | Healthy practices | Testing for coronavirus |

What is the coronavirus (COVID-19)?

There are many types of coronaviruses that can affect both humans and animals. In humans, some of these viruses are common and cause mild symptoms like the common cold, while other types of human strains can be more severe.

A new coronavirus affecting humans was identified at the end of 2019 (named COVID-19). Reported illnesses have ranged from mild to severe, including death. There have been confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the United States. You can obtain the latest situation summary from the CDC here

The COVID-19 virus is thought to be spread through: 

  • Contact with an infected person (via respiratory droplets from a cough or sneeze)
  • Contact with infected surfaces or objects

Check out our Facebook Live chat to learn more:

Video Length 00:52:22

What IBD patients need to know about COVID-19 Drs. David Rubin (The University of Chicago Medicine) and Andrew Grossman (Children's Hospital of Philadelphia) join Laura Wingate, the Foundation's Senior Vice President for Education, Support, & Advocacy, to review what IBD patients need to know about the coronavirus (COVID-19).

Key terms to know

What is a pandemic?

As of 3/11/2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) has declared COVID-19 a pandemic. The term pandemic is used when a virus has spread beyond the country of origin, in this case China, to two or more countries, and affects a large number of people. The WHO emphasized that the word pandemic relates to the spread of coronavirus, not its severity or deadliness. Please continue to practice healthy hygiene practices (see Healthy Practice section below) and monitor your public health department updates. For more details on the WHO announcement please visit: https://www.who.int/dg/speeches/detail/who-director-general-s-opening-remarks-at-the-media-briefing-on-covid-19---11-march-2020

What does 'community spread' mean?

Community spread of a disease occurs when a disease is spreading from person-to-person, and in some cases,  it may not be known how, when or where they were infected. Due to the growing number of cases and the community spread of COVID-19, it is important for people to stay informed on any guidance from their local health departments, and of their physicians. If you are told that the disease is being spread in your community, you need to exercise additional caution. 

What is ‘social distancing’?

Social distancing refers to actions taken by cities, states and governments to prevent the spread of infection. Social distancing steps include limiting large group gatherings like sporting events, Broadway shows, and closing public buildings like museums. Businesses may also take social distancing steps to protect their employees by closing offices or encouraging remote work. Other businesses may limit the number of people in a store or library to reduce close contact with other people. 

Social distancing is used for a limited time to restrict the spread of infection. Public health agencies (CDC, local health department) will notify the community when social distancing steps have been stopped. 

What is ‘self-isolation’ or ‘self-quarantine’?

According to the CDC people who have been exposed to the coronavirus (COVID-19) and those who are at risk for coming down with COVID-19 may want to self-isolate/quarantine. Health experts recommend that self-isolation/quarantine last 14 days (two weeks). Self-isolation/quarantine includes:

  • Healthy hygiene and washing hands frequently
  • No sharing towels, utensils or other personal items
  • Staying at home
  • Not having visitors in your home, you can text, call or use video chats to stay connected
  • Stay 6-feet away from other people in household

Please follow your doctor’s guidance for duration of self-isolation/quarantine before returning to regular activities. 

What is ‘flattening the curve’?

'Flattening the curve' refers to using protective practices like social distancing to slow the rate of COVID-19 infection. These measures are intended to help hospitals have room, supplies and doctors for all the patients who need in-hospital care.  

Please use all this information and your knowledge of the risk in your community, along with your own best judgment, when making a decision to travel or attend events or other gatherings.


What are the symptoms of the coronavirus?

From the cases reported on COVID-19, the symptoms that have been observed may include: 

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath

Many patients have also experienced pneumonia as a complication of the virus. See IBD Patient Guidance for more information on IBD and the coronavirus.

General recommendations: healthy practices

 There are preventive actions you can take to protect yourself from exposure to the virus and prevent the spread of the disease. The CDC recommends the following ways to limit your risk of infection:

  • Avoid having close contact with people who are sick.
  • Do not touch your nose, eyes, and mouth if you have not washed your hands.
  • Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. To ensure you wash for the appropriate amount of time, sing “Mary Had a Little Lamb” or another short song two to three times to reach 20 full seconds. 
  • If soap and water are not available to you, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol. Check the label to confirm the amount of alcohol.
  • Many communities have implemented social distancing measures including canceling public events and encouraging remote work. Please follow the specific guidance being issued by your local health department. 

Here are some other actions to take if you are feeling ill or you think you may have been exposed COVID-19:

  • Stay home if you are feeling sick 
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, and throw it in the trash
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects
  • Contact your doctor
    • If you are feeling unwell and are not at high risk (see IBD Patient Guide for high risk and IBD specific information), monitor symptoms, and contact your doctors via phone or telemedicine. 
    • If you need an in-person visit at the office, ER or Urgent Care, please call ahead. This will allow the office/ER to take measure to prevent any possible spread of infection.
  • Wear a facemask if you are showing symptoms or have been diagnosed with COVID-19. Wearing a mask will reduce the potential spread of the virus to others.

The Foundation has compiled specific IBD recommendations from the CDC, World Health Organization and other credible sources.  Please review the information links below for all IBD patients along with specific information for pediatric caregivers and patients.  

IBD Patient Guidance

Guidance for Pediatric Caregivers and Patients

Stress and Anxiety related to COVID-19 Among IBD Patients

The Foundation will update this information as the CDC and public health departments provide additional information and guidance. You can find additional information on COVID-19 on the CDC's and the World Health Organization's websites.

Can people be tested for the coronavirus?

Contact your healthcare provider as soon as possible if you have symptoms of coronavirus or have a known exposure to a COVID-19 positive person. If experiencing symptoms, please self-quarantine (stay at home), and follow instructions per your healthcare team for the next steps of management before going to emergency departments or urgent care centers.  

There is currently no vaccine available to protect against the virus; however investigations are underway. 

All information is reviewed by the Foundation's National Scientific Advisory Committee