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What Does It Mean to Be Immunocompromised?

A weakened immune system can be caused by various conditions or treatments.

woman in grocery store wearing a mask

The global COVID-19 pandemic has brought attention to those living with certain conditions that may make them more vulnerable to suffering serious complications from the virus. Among those groups are people who have a weakened immune system - a condition known as immunocompromised.

Those who are immunocompromised have a weakened immune system caused by a number of diseases or treatments, said Andrew Koenig, DO, Medical Affairs Lead, Immunology Therapeutic Area, CSL Behring.

“Treatments like chemotherapy for cancer patients or anti-rejection medications for organ transplant recipients can cause immunocompromised conditions,” said Koenig. “Some patients with rare genetic conditions, including immunodeficiency diseases can also be immunocompromised.”

What’s it like to be immunocompromised?

With a weakened immune system, the body can’t fight off infections as well or as quickly as someone with a healthy immune system. That means people who are immunocompromised often can suffer minor symptoms, like lingering colds, or more serious ones, like frequent infections, Koenig said. Other symptoms include fatigue and wounds that may be slow to heal.

How can those who are immunocompromised manage their condition?

There are common sense precautions those who are immunocompromised can take in order to stay healthy. Precautions include many measures that are good practice for anyone looking to avoid getting sick: eating well, getting enough sleep, regularly exercising and washing hands.

For some people, including those with immunodeficiency conditions, there are plasma-based treatments like immunoglobulin that can help strengthen the immune system and ward off infections.

How does the COVID-19 pandemic affect the immunocompromised?

According to the Centers for Disease Control, people who are immunocompromised do have a higher risk of getting severely sick with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

The CDC recommends immunocompromised people take the same vigilant precautions as everyone else in order to prevent infection, including wearing a face covering, practicing social distancing and washing hands often.

The agency also suggests those who are being treated for their weakened immune system continue on their regular treatment plan and discuss any concerns with their doctor.

For more stories about immunodeficiency diseases, please check out our archive.