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Information on Coronavirus (COVID-19) for People with Spinal Cord Injury

Fact sheet containing all of the information on this page can be downloaded here.
(PDF 304 kB)

This document is current as at 30/03/20 and will be updated if there are significant changes to its content.

Please note: This document should not replace other information available from State or Commonwealth Governments but aims to provide some information specifically relevant to people with Spinal Cord Injury. We encourage you to review further general information about COVID-19 in Australia at this website

https://www.health.gov.au/health-topics/novel-coronavirus-2019-ncov

What is Coronavirus (also known as COVID-19)?

Coronavirus (COVID-19) is a new virus that is occurring in humans for the first time. It originated in China but has spread around the world over the past few months including Australia. Please see later in this document for further general information on COVID-19.

Am I more at risk of problems from COVID-19 because I have a Spinal Cord Injury?

At this stage, we do not have good information on the specific impacts of the COVID-19 virus on people with spinal cord injury.

If you are generally healthy and do not have any existing lung or breathing difficulties, then you are probably not at any greater risk than anyone else in the community.

If you have a tetraplegia or high paraplegia level injury and have existing problems with your lungs or breathing then you may be at higher risk of having more severe problems related to COVID-19, however, we do not know yet how much greater that risk is.  

What should I do to prevent getting the virus?

You should be very alert for any signs or symptoms including sore throat, cough, fever, breathing difficulty not only in yourself but also in people you are in close contact with e.g. family, friends and your support providers.  You should avoid further contact with people who have these symptoms, if possible.

As for everyone in the community, very good hand and sneeze/cough hygiene is one of the best defences against most viruses, including this one.

You should:

  • Cover your mouth to cough or sneeze, dispose of tissues, and use alcohol-based hand sanitiser.
  • Wash your hands frequently with soap and water for 20 seconds, before and after eating, and after going to the toilet.
  • Have your support providers (and anyone else entering your home) wash their hands when they arrive at your home and each time prior to touching or assisting you with any tasks.
  • Regularly clean and disinfect the surfaces that are touched in your home to prevent the spread of infection or ask your support providers to do this on a regular basis.
  • Use disinfecting wipes on items that are frequently touched including your phone, doorknobs, refrigerator handle, wheelchair controls, and remote controls.
  • If you are unwell you should avoid contact with others.

As is the recommendation for all Australians you should now be practising social distancing (not closer than 1.5 metres to other people), avoid handshaking, hugging and kissing and other close contact.

You should avoid gatherings and events where the virus could be more easily spread and limit any non-essential visitors. You should also limit non-essential visiting outside your home.

You should ensure that any family member, friends or support providers do not visit you if they or a member of their household, have travelled overseas within the last 14 days.

You should stop smoking as there is evidence that smoking makes illness with COVID-19 worse.

If you are well, you do not need to wear a surgical mask.

What should I do if I think I may have contracted the COVID-19 virus or become unwell?

If you have any of the symptoms or signs including cough, fever, sore throat, tiredness and breathing difficulty, then you should contact your doctor or local hospital to see whether you need to be tested for COVID-19.

Remember most cases of the virus will not be severe, however, if you are concerned that you are becoming unwell or are having any breathing difficulty you should call your local hospital to alert them, then call an ambulance and attend your local hospital.

What should I do if my carer or support provider contracts the virus or is unwell and cannot attend to my support needs?  

If your carer or any of your support providers are unwell, they should not be assisting you.

If you have not done so already, you should contact your support provider and ask them what plans they have for replacement of support workers in the current situation.

You should think ahead about what alternative solutions there are if you do not have enough support available. If you have no alternatives you should present to your local hospital. 

Additional advice on planning for disruption to supports and services because of COVID-19 can be found here.

However, you should only attend hospital as a last resort, having exhausted all other options.  All hospitals will be extremely busy due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

If you do require admission to hospital make sure that the hospital staff are aware of any special care or equipment needs that you have e.g. pressure care and appropriate shower chair and mattress etc.  

Further useful information can be found at National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) - Coronavirus information

What else can I do?

It is probably more important than usual to have a flu vaccination this year.

If you are uncertain, please contact your GP or your local spinal cord injury unit or community team for further advice.  Please notify your spinal cord service if you are admitted to hospital with COVID-19 or any other problem.

Where can I find other information?

Shepherd Centre (USA) - Q&A: Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19)

New Zealand Spinal Trust (New Zealand) - COVID-19 (Novel Coronavirus) Information and Resources for People with SCI

Spinal Injuries Association (United Kingdom) - Coronavirus and Spinal Cord Injury

Why is it important?

Because it is occurring in humans for the first time, we have no immunity to it and there are not yet any vaccines available. There are no specific treatments available at present.

How is it spread?

The COVID-19 virus is most likely spread through close contact with an infectious person, contact with droplets from an infected person’s cough or sneeze (within 2 metres or closed space) and touching objects or surfaces (like doorknobs or tables) that have cough or sneeze droplets from an infected person, and then touching your mouth, nose or eyes.

What are the symptoms?

The most common symptoms are dry cough, fever, sore throat, tiredness and in more serious cases, pneumonia and breathing difficulty.

How serious is it?

This seems to occur most often in the elderly, who are frail and have other medical or breathing problems but it can also affect younger people with serious other medical or breathing conditions.

What is the current situation in Australia?

It is important to remember that most people who have COVID-19 in Australia so far contracted it in another country or have had contact with someone who has travelled to another country and contracted it there (e.g., China, Iran, Italy, USA). Australia is well prepared for COVID-19 and has strong public health measures that are now being put in place to protect people and limit the spread of the disease in community as much as possible.

We encourage you to review further general information about COVID-19 in Australia available from the Australian Government here.

Updates from the Queensland Government are available  here.

Last updated: 17 March 2020