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COVID-19 continues to be an evolving virus, and what we know today will indeed look different tomorrow. At the time of this publication, we know new COVID strains are circling throughout the world. But, there is a lot we don’t know, including if the COVID-19 vaccines will protect against these new COVID strains and how these variants affect people who have already had COVID. People with chronic health conditions are understandably concerned about these developments, as some chronic conditions may increase your risk for adverse outcomes with this particular virus. So, here is what we know for those in our community living with a chronic thyroid disease like Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism.
The CDC has listed four known and identifiable variants in the United States:
- Alpha - This first variant was detected in the U.S. in December 2020 and was first noted in the U.K.
- Beta - This variant was also detected in the U.S. in December 2020. This variant was initially discovered in South Africa.
- Gamma - Discovered in January 2021, this variant was first identified in Brazilian air travelers screened at an airport in Japan.
- Delta - As our latest known variant in March 2021, the delta strain was first identified in India.
Of course, many other variants have been identified. Still, those listed above have spread rapidly and more quickly than those not listed. Per the CDC, the strain that has affected most people recently in the U.S. has been the alpha variant. However, the delta variant is prolific abroad, and more cases with this strain may likely emerge with time.
Let’s first dig a little deeper into identifying what a variant is and why they occur. Viruses are constantly changing and mutating. What happens is they develop new spikes on their outer surface, which makes them capable of attaching to receptor sites within the body. These spikes act as a key to turn specific responses on or off in the body.
Scientists study how these “keys” change as they become more diverse. Sometimes, these changes will make people sicker or may make them resistant to how our immune system fights off infection. Indeed, some variants may even resist the current treatment methods, making them harder to treat and may leave people even sicker.
As you probably are wondering, variants do have the potential to “outsmart” vaccines. However, an update on June 28th, 2021, from the CDC notes that “so far, studies suggest that currently authorized vaccines work on the circulating variants.”
Research is constantly emerging on who the virus is partial to and how it affects its victims. However, the studies we have to date show that people with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis or hypothyroidism are not at an increased risk for contracting the novel coronavirus. Even though Hashimoto’s is an immune system disorder, it DOES NOT mean you are immunocompromised. Being immunocompromised is one of the most significant risk factors for severe illness and death.
With that said, people with pre-existing medical conditions like high blood pressure, heart disease, respiratory diseases, diabetes, obesity, and cancer are at greater risk of becoming seriously ill from the virus. Thyroid disease is not explicitly listed among those conditions that may cause a heightened risk. Still, you may be more at risk if you have thyroid problems along with other co-morbidities like high blood pressure.
Suppose you do contract the illness and have autoimmune thyroiditis. In that case, you may notice your thyroid symptoms worsen when you become ill. This is because one of the risk factors for a thyroid flare-up is a bacterial or viral infection. Coupled with the stress you may have about contracting the virus, your immune system may become overly active, causing further thyroid inflammation.
Even though the virus is changing, health organizations like WHO and the CDC still recommend the same protocols we have heard for over a year to protect yourself and others.
- Get a COVID vaccine if you are able and as soon as you can. Herd immunity will help stop the spread of the virus.
- Continue to wear a mask covering your mouth and nose, especially if you have not been vaccinated or are at greater risk of becoming severely ill (like those who have respiratory diseases or are immunocompromised).
- Wash your hands frequently with soap and water (or use hand sanitizer if soap is unavailable.
- Maintain a distance of six feet between people who do not live with you.
- Avoid crowds, especially indoors and in poorly ventilated spaces.
Along with taking actionable steps to prevent contracting or spreading the virus, you also need to keep your body as healthy as possible. For hypothyroidism, this means taking your thyroid medication as directed and maintaining a healthy diet and regular physical exercise. Your mental and emotional health is also essential. Find ways to alleviate stress and safely connect with family and friends.
Final thoughts on current COVID variants
At this time, the COVID situation seems relatively controlled in the United States. With the rollout of COVID-19 vaccination programs and the widespread availability of vaccines, we appear to be taking substantial steps toward creating herd immunity. Yet, the virus can evolve at any time, which means we need to stay prepared as best we can for whatever is to come.
To remain on top of your thyroid care, make sure you check in with your thyroid doctor for follow-up care. Going to the doctor’s office may not seem feasible for you yet, so take advantage of our thyroid telemedicine options to keep your thyroid healthy. Also, having plenty of refills on your thyroid medication prescription is vital, so make sure that it is up to date and you are on the correct dose of medication.