Ottawa

For people with cystic fibrosis, COVID-19 fear amplified

Chloe Lussier-Labelle, 30, plans to stay in isolation until a coronavirus cure is found.

Chloe Lussier-Labelle, 30, plans to stay in isolation until coronavirus cure found

Chloe Lussier-Labelle, 30, has cystic fibrosis and is worried what might happen if she gets COVID-19. (Supplied by Lussier-Labelle)

Chloe Lussier-Labelle says her doctor has been upfront with her.  If she gets COVID-19, "it would be really bad."

Lussier-Labelle has cystic fibrosis, a genetic condition that causes severe respiratory disease with no cure that makes patients more susceptible to lung infections. There are more than 4,300 Canadians living with the disease.

As the coronavirus continues to spread across Canada and around the world, Lussier-Labelle said she and her husband have gone into total isolation, indefinitely, to protect her health.

"I do acknowledge the fact that there is a very high risk I could die from this if I get that," Lussier-Labelle said during a Skype interview from her Ottawa home.

She's urging Canadians to consider people like her who are "weakest," and start to take government recommendations more seriously by staying at home.

There's a lot more of us than people might think, and we're definitely all around.​​​​- Chloe Lussier-Labelle

"If somebody were to see me on the street, they might not necessarily think twice that I might be one of those people at risk of dying from this," she said.

Lussier-Labelle said the current social distancing measures implemented across the country may be "drastic," but they're necessary.

"It's in order to help ensure as much survival as possible, and that those that are more at risk, and those who are more vulnerable, get the best chance possible to survive. There's a lot more of us than people might think, and we're definitely all around," she said.

'Everything is dangerous'

Last year, half of the people who died from cystic fibrosis-related causes in Canada were under the age of 33, according to John Wallenburg, chief scientific officer at Cystic Fibrosis Canada. Wallenburg's own daughter died from the disease in 2014.

Wallenburg said Canadians with cystic fibrosis and their family members are "incredibly nervous" as the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases continues to climb. 

John Wallenburg, chief scientific officer at Cystic Fibrosis Canada, says people with the disease are 'incredibly nervous' as COVID-19 spreads. (Cystic Fibrosis Canada)

"Everything is dangerous," to cystic fibrosis patients because they also have compromised immune systems, he said.

Wallenburg said cystic fibrosis patients often already have "tenuous employment situations," since they regularly have to take extended amounts of time off work whenever they get sick.

Those concerns have now ramped up, as more and more Canadians are out of work.

"There's a great deal of concern, not just for their health, but for ... anybody who is in a precarious situation socially," Wallenburg said.

Waiting for a cure

Lussier-Labelle said she's hopeful Canadians will accept "collective measures" to protect people like her.

Chloe Lussier-Labelle says seeing people ignore social distancing measures is frustrating when exposure to COVID-19 could have fatal consequences for her. 0:53

She and her husband plan to stay in isolation until "adequate treatments" for COVID-19 are found, even if and when measures are relaxed.

"Society and global living are being tested, because we live in a very individualistic society," she said. "And I feel like the best way to ensure survival is if we work collectively as a society, as opposed to as individuals."

About the Author

Hillary Johnstone is a reporter for CBC Ottawa. You can reach her by email hillary.johnstone@cbc.ca.

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