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How to Reengage with Less Risk

We’re now four months into a global pandemic, and lots of us are just tired of staying home. Most of the folks in our patient communities, however, have underlying medical conditions that put them at higher risk for developing severe COVID-19 infections. So while others consider reemerging into the world again as states start lifting social distancing restrictions, our patients might be reluctant to take this step.

Still, completely avoiding contact with others for an indefinite period of time is not a viable option either. Human beings need physical and social contact with other human beings, if only to stay sane. The social isolation we’ve been enduring since shutdowns in March has caused serious anxiety and depression for a significant number of people, especially those who live alone.

Fortunately, public health experts say the decision doesn’t have to be either/or. While staying home is still the lowest-risk option for avoiding infection, there are lots of ways to socialize that don’t involve crowded indoor spaces where no one is wearing a face mask (the highest risk option). Weighing the risks of contact with others against the possible benefits to your health can help make the decision-making process easier. Here are some things to think about:

Consider the risk for you and your immediate contacts. If you or someone you live with is especially vulnerable to infection, this is an important factor in weighing how much you want to risk coming in contact with someone who might give you COVID-19.

It’s also important to think about those outside your household with whom you may want to socialize and how much exposure they might have had too. You may want to consider creating a pandemic “pod,” a small cohort of friends or relatives with whom you choose to interact somewhat normally but who agree to stay socially distant outside the pod.

Keep tabs on how the virus is spreading in your community. The number of new cases, hospitalizations, and deaths varies widely in different areas of the country. Check local health department reports or find out here whether these numbers are increasing or decreasing where you live. If they are climbing or remain high, you may want to rethink whether going to a salon for a haircut is a good idea, even if restrictions have been lifted.

Think about how risky the activity is. Most people know the basics of how to stay safe from coronavirus infection. Keep these ideas in mind as you make decisions about venturing out in public. These include:

  • Wearing face covering when out in public significantly reduces transmission, both for the wearer and the ones they are with.
  • Maintaining a distance of at least six feet from others decreases the chances of contact with infected droplets.
  • Large gatherings, especially if they are indoors and especially if others are not wearing face covering, significantly increase the risk that someone will pass on the virus.
  • Encounters in the outdoors are safer than those in close indoor spaces.
  • Limiting the time you spend among others, especially if it is indoors, reduces the chances of encountering the virus.
  • Bringing your own (BYO) food and drink means a lower risk of transmitting the virus through touching a contaminated surface. Bringing your own chairs or picnic blankets also helps you keep your distance from others in an outdoors group.
  • Handwashing with soap and water or using hand sanitizer is still the most effective way to prevent transmission of coronavirus and other disease-causing organisms.

And finally, here are additional tips from NYC Health to keep yourself and your loved ones safe and healthy as pandemic restrictions start to lift. Be careful out there!

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Advocacy CSI Pharmacy stories

It’s Our Turn

As a member of CSI Pharmacy’s patient advocacy team, it’s my job to create materials for our campaign to increase plasma donations. We’re working to encourage people, especially family members and friends of those who rely on immune globulin therapy, to roll up their sleeves and give back by giving their plasma.

The coronavirus crisis has slowed donations of this life-saving serum from which immune globulin (IG) therapies are made. Together with the Immune Globulin National Society (IgNS), CSI Pharmacy is supporting the #ItsMyTurn campaign, encouraging those of us who are not on the front lines of the battle against COVID-19 to consider this opportunity to be a hero in a different way.

While I sat safely socially isolating in my home, organizing webinars, writing patient stories, and creating social media memes, this voice kept nagging at the back of my head: You could donate, it said.

I could, I thought. But the closest plasma donation center is an hour away from where I live in Central Virginia. But it would take me half the day to donate. But I’d have to do it on a regular basis; a one-time shot won’t work.

Still, I just couldn’t sit here urging others to do this important work if I weren’t willing to get off my “buts” and do my part too. I work remotely all the time anyway, and I could bring my laptop and check social media while I donated. I could commit to donating once a week. So I made an appointment and started donating.

But I’m not the only member of the CSI Pharmacy staff getting out of the workplace to donate plasma. Our leadership is making this a movement by encouraging all employees to become plasma donor heroes. And CSI Pharmacy CEO James Sheets is leading the way to the donation center.

“This is an opportunity for us to give back to our community of patients who depend on this life-saving therapy,” James says. “Our patients are our family, and we can’t let them down. We have to do what we can to be sure they can get the treatments they need.”

For my colleagues who work at the pharmacy headquarters in Wake Village, Texas, there is a certified plasma donation center just three miles away in Texarkana. CSI Pharmacy team members are given time to donate during working hours. Those who donate receive a special #ItsMyTurn t-shirt. James has even created a contest to encourage employees to make donating a routine part of their week.

“Our team members are motivated to this cause, because they’re so connected to our patients and their therapies,” James says. “They know how challenging it can be for folks when IG products are in short supply.”

With seven donations under his belt so far, delivery technician Justin McNeill is leading in donations among the CSI Pharmacy employees. He’s grateful for the time to give, but for him it’s not really about the contest or the modest payment he receives as a donor. 

“If there’s a shortage on our IG products, our patients aren’t going to get the medicine they need,” Justin says. “I figure I’ve got it to give, so I might as well.”

Roxanne Ward, CSI Pharmacy’s Regional Nursing Supervisor in Little Rock, Arkansas got three of her nurses together to make an event of their trip to the plasma donation center. Knowing that plasma donations are down right now is what made her want to take this extra step for her patients.

“I treat so many people who rely on this,” she says. “I felt like donating is the least I can do to help the people I care for.”

Not everyone at CSI Pharmacy will qualify to donate plasma, though. Eligibility guidelines are strict, so those with certain medical conditions, those who take certain medications, or those who may have been exposed certain blood-borne pathogens won’t be able to give. These team members can still participate in our program, however, by recruiting someone else to donate in their place.

“I really wanted to be a plasma donor because it’s so important that we have enough plasma for those who need these therapies,” says VP of Patient Advocacy and Provider Relations Michelle Vogel. “Unfortunately, I’ve used blood products (platelets) in the last year, so I don’t qualify. So I asked my family to help.”

Michelle’s brother-in-law, who was among the four members of her family to volunteer, knows intimately how important IG therapies can be. His mother has myasthenia gravis and has been treated for many years with IVIG.

“We’re really proud of the response from our team members,” James says. “It’s an important effort, and we’d like to invite other businesses and organizations to join this effort to short-circuit an IG shortage by encouraging their employees to donate plasma. Together we can make a difference.”

#ItsMyTurn

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Advocacy Patient stories

Giving Back One Unit at a Time

Marianne Moyer got a standing ovation recently when she announced to a roomful of rare disease patients at a medical conference that her husband donates plasma every two weeks. Her husband, John, started donating blood and plasma more than 20 years ago, even before Marianne started relying on intravenous immune globulin (IVIG) therapy—a plasma-derived product—to treat myositis. Since then he estimates he has given about 18 gallons of blood and 63 gallons of plasma.

For those like Marianne who depend on immune globulin to help control inflammation in autoimmune and immune deficiency diseases, having enough plasma available to companies that make plasma products is a constant concern. Human plasma is not a drug that can be artificially synthesized. It requires people to donate on a regular basis so therapies such as immunoglobulins, coagulation factors, alpha-1 proteinase inhibitor, and albumin can be produced.

This is an important concern right now because fewer people are donating plasma because of coronavirus restrictions. Many citizens are staying home, which means many are not donating. Donation centers are also taking steps to create social distance within the facility, so they are asking donors to schedule appointments rather than drop in, and they are seating donors farther away from each other. Fewer donations now could mean a shortage of plasma-derived therapies in six to nine months.

Most people are aware of how important donating blood can be, especially when disaster strikes. People also assume that when they give their blood, whatever other blood products are needed can be derived from that donation. The truth is a bit more complicated, though.

Plasma is the golden yellow liquid part of human blood in which red blood cells and proteins are carried throughout the body. Donors can offer their whole blood—red cells and all—on a one-time basis or, like John has done, they can donate every 56 days.

Plasma donors, however, can give more often, because those all-important oxygen-carrying red blood cells are returned to their bloodstream during the donation process. And because plasma is manufactured into lifesaving therapies for many diseases, plasma donors are encouraged to give regularly—as often as twice a week, at a certified plasma donation center.

For the Moyers, volunteering in the community is a way of life. They have been running one of the most successful myositis support groups in southwest Florida for 13 years. Marianne has served on the board of the local Red Cross, and John has been treasurer of their homeowners association and property manager at their church. And they both volunteer with programs at the local public schools. For John, donating plasma is just another way to give back.

“September 11 happened shortly after we moved here to Florida,” John says. “I would donate blood when we lived in Washington, D.C. So when they were calling for blood [after the 9/11 attacks], we both rushed down to the hospital to donate.”

Marianne was heartbroken to find out that, because of her myositis, she was ineligible to donate. But John has been giving about every two weeks ever since. When Marianne was prescribed IVIG in 2003, his donations became even more personal.

Marianne has a form of myositis called necrotizing myopathy, an autoimmune disease of the muscles that makes it difficult for her to do things like climb stairs and lift even small objects. Myositis has also brought interstitial lung disease, which causes scarring in the lungs making it difficult for Marianne to breathe at times. Her IVIG infusions—which she receives in the comfort of her home—control these symptoms well, allowing her to live a fairly normal life.

“All the years when we were working, we didn’t have much time to participate in community affairs or charities,” John says. “Life has been good to us, and now that we are retired, I can afford to spend a couple hours at the donor center. It just makes me feel good to know that I’m helping, not just one person, but many people.”

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Virus Prevention 101

We are all becoming much more educated about viruses these days. Here is a basic rundown on the biology of this microorganism that will help dispel some of the myths about this invisible threat and help control its spread.

  • All viruses—including coronavirus—are not living organisms. They are a protein molecule (RNA) covered by a protective layer of lipid (fat). When virus molecules are absorbed by the cells lining the eye, nose, or mouth, they are like parasites. The RNA is able to replicate (multiply) inside the cell and become aggressive in the body.
  • Since a virus is not a living organism but a protein molecule, when it lands on non-biological surfaces, it is not killed but decays on its own. The disintegration time depends on the temperature, humidity, and type of material where it lies.
  • The virus is very fragile; the only thing that protects it is a thin outer layer of fat. That is why any soap or laundry detergent can easily destroy it. The foam cuts through the fat, which is why you have to scrub vigorously—20 seconds or more—and make a lot of foam when you wash your hands. By dissolving the fat layer, the protein molecule disperses and breaks down on its own.
  • Heat melts fat. This is why it is best to use water hotter than 77 degrees Fahrenheit for washing hands, clothes, and anything that has come in contact with the virus. In addition, hot water makes more foam and that makes it even more effective.
  • Alcohol or any mixture with a concentration of alcohol over 65% dissolves any fat, especially the external lipid layer of the virus.
  • Any mix with one part bleach and five parts water directly dissolves the virus protein by breaking it down from the inside.
  • Oxygenated water (peroxide) is effective long after soap, alcohol, and chlorine, because peroxide dissolves the virus protein. But peroxide damages skin if used undiluted, and it is not effective if you dilute it.
  • ANTIBIOTICS DO NOT WORK. The virus is not a living organism like bacteria. Antibiotics (bactericides) cannot kill viruses.
  • Never shake used or unused clothing, sheets, or cloth. Shaking the fabric or using a feather duster on surfaces releases the virus molecules into the air where they can float for up to 3 hours and lodge in your nose.
  • Virus attached to a porous surface disintegrates at different rates depending on the material:
    • Fabric and porous surfaces: 3-6 hours
    • Copper and wood: 4 hours
    • Cardboard: 24 hours
    • Metal: 42 hours
    • Plastic: 72 hours
  • The virus molecules remain very stable in cold air, including air conditioners in houses and cars. They also need moisture and darkness to stay stable. Therefore, the virus will degrade faster in dehumidified, dry, warm, and bright environments.
  • UV light (such as sunlight) shining on any surface that may contain the virus will break down the virus protein. Sitting objects in the sun can disinfect them. Be careful, though: UV light also breaks down collagen (which is protein) in the skin.
  • The virus cannot pass through healthy skin.
  • Vinegar is not a useful cleaning solution, because it does not break down the protective layer of fat.
  • No alcoholic beverages are effective cleaning solutions. The strongest, vodka, contains only 40% alcohol, and you need 65%.
  • The more confined the space, the more concentrated the virus can be in the air. The more open or naturally ventilated, the better. Outdoor spaces are best.
  • You must wash your hands before and after touching your face, nose, or mouth as well as after touching food, locks, doorknobs, switches, remote control, cell phone, watches, computers, desks, TV, credit card pin pads, and after using the bathroom.
  • Stay hydrated. Drinking warm water is best. Try not to drink liquids with ice.
  • Use moisturizer on your hands, because your skin gets dry from so much washing. Virus molecules can hide in the micro cracks of dry skin. The thicker the moisturizer, the better.
  • Keep your nails short so that the virus cannot hide under there.
  • Wearing a mask in public can decrease the spread of coronavirus. A mask will keep infected droplets from landing on your nose or mouth where they can infect you.
  • According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the spread of COVID-19 can be reduced when masks are used along with other preventive measures, such as social distancing, frequent handwashing, and cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched surfaces.
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COVID-19 and Plaquenil

A medication used by CSI Pharmacy patient communities has become a hot topic in the COVID-19 news. Hydroxychloroquine (HCQ, brand name Plaquenil) has been identified as a possible treatment for COVID-19. Plaquenil is normally used to treat or prevent malaria. It is also used to treat dermatomyositis, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and other autoimmune conditions.

At a White House press briefing last week, President Trump announced that Plaquenil along with its chemically close cousin chloroquine (CQ) are showing early positive results in treating and preventing coronavirus infection. The director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Dr. Anthony Fauci clarified this, saying, as of now, these are only anecdotal results and that more scientific evidence is needed to support this use.

Since this announcement, supplies of Plaquenil, which normally are stable, have gone out of stock with some wholesalers because of over-prescribing and panic buying. It is important to note, however, that manufacturer, including Bayer, Mylan, Novartis, and Teva, report that they are stepping up production of HCQ in an effort to meet increased demand.

There are currently no clinically proven therapies for the treatment or prevention of novel coronavirus. Scientists at the NIH and elsewhere are testing CQ and HCQ along with other drugs to determine their safety and effectiveness against the virus. In the meantime, some patients worry that depleted supplies will make it impossible for them to refill prescriptions for Plaquenil, a drug they’ve been using for years to control their symptoms.

“Many patients with rare autoimmune diseases rely on Plaquenil, and we are working to be sure they are not adversely affected by over-prescribing,” says CSI Pharmacy CEO James Sheets.

Since CQ and HCQ became big news, a number of steps have been taken to ensure that those who need these drugs can get them. Chief among them is the fact that their use in COVID-19 should be limited to compassionate use, because it is not an FDA-approved treatment. That is, only those who are severely ill and have no other recourse should be treated with these drugs. These are unprecedented times, however, and information continues to evolve very quickly.

In addition, pharmacy boards in several states have enacted legislation limiting the distribution of these drugs. These include Idaho, where CQ and HCQ can only be prescribed for a diagnosis “consistent with the evidence for their use.” And unless the patient is being treated for a chronic condition, such as dermatomyositis, they will only be dispensed a 14-day supply.

“Our pharmacists at CSI Pharmacy continue to monitor the supply and availability of these medications,” James says. “Many pharmacies do have Plaquenil in stock. Until supplies increase, though, we may only be able to provide a limited supply.”

Medical disclaimer: Every effort has been made to ensure that the information in this article is accurate, up-to-date, and complete, but no guarantee is made to that effect. This information is not a substitute for, the expertise, skill, knowledge, and judgement of healthcare practitioners in patient care. CSI Pharmacy assumes no responsibility for any aspect of healthcare administered with the aid of this information. If you have questions about the substances you are taking, check with your doctor, nurse, or pharmacist.

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Concerns about Coronavirus

Those who rely on specialty therapies like IV immune globulin (IVIG) infusions are understandably anxious about the impact of coronavirus containment measures currently being implemented across the country. CSI Pharmacy’s advocacy team have heard from a number of patients, especially those who get their treatments at infusion centers or hospital clinics, who are worried about the possibility of being exposed to the virus in these facilities.

It is extremely important that you get your IVIG treatments, especially during this time when you need your immune system to be as effective as possible. Patients should not postpone or cancel a regularly scheduled infusion.

We urge you to call your infusion site to be sure they are operating as usual. You can also check in with your physician to ask their opinion about coronavirus containment at your facility.

If, however, you can’t or don’t want to leave home or your usual infusion site is closed, home infusion may be an option. CSI patient advocates are available to help you sort out these access options, including continuing at your current site. If you decide you’d like to transfer to home infusion, we can also help you navigate this process with your physician and your insurance plan.

Regardless of where you decide to have your infusions, CSI Pharmacy wants to be sure no one goes without the treatments they need during this public health crisis. Please reach out to our advocates at advocacy@csipharmacy.com you have questions or need help accessing care.

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Avoiding Infection

Many of our patients have a compromised immune system that puts them at greater risk for developing infections like colds, flu, and coronavirus (COVID-19). Here are some ways you can avoid getting sick:

  • Avoid crowds.
  • Wash your hands frequently with lots of soap. Scrub—including your thumbs—for as long as it takes to sing “Happy Birthday” or the ABC song twice.
  • Use liquid soap in a pump bottle rather than bar soap.
  • Do not share towels, napkins, or other personal items.
  • Use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol often.
  • Do not touch your face, eyes, and nose. If you must, use a tissue.
  • Clean surfaces that others have touched—shopping carts, doorknobs, handrails, bathroom fixtures, kitchen counters—with bleach or alcohol wipes.
  • Avoid shaking hands, if possible. A quick fist bump or a little bow are preferable ways to greet others.
  • Have a couple weeks supply of your medications and groceries on hand so you don’t need to go to the store so often.
  • Wearing a mask is only helpful if you are sick so you don’t infect others. Masks are recommended for those who are sick and care for an elderly person or someone who has a compromised immune system.

If you develop a fever or cough:

  • Call your doctor but don’t rush off to the office, emergency room, or urgent care center where you might infect others. According to the CDC, you should stay home if you are sick.
  • Experts at the Immune Deficiency Foundation say treatment at the hospital or doctor’s office is the same as you can do at home: drink fluids, treat fever with ibuprofen or acetaminophen, stay in bed, and get lots of TLC. And if you have an inhaler, use it if you need it.
  • Of course, if your symptoms become worse and you are unable to control them (for example shortness of breath that doesn’t resolve), by all means go to the ER.
  • If you need to go to the ER, call ahead to let them know you are on the way so they can be prepared to isolate you from others.

Complete information about COVID-19, its status around the world, and how individuals and communities can navigate the challenges can be found on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website

The Immune Deficiency Foundation offers a very helpful video and other resources.

If you have questions, you can call CSI Pharmacy 24/7 at 883-569-1005.