Updated 15 April 2020

Caregiving in the time of Covid-19 – can coronavirus spread through urine?

Are you taking care of a family member who suffers from urinary incontinence during the coronavirus pandemic? Here are some guidelines on what you can do and how you can limit infection.

As the coronavirus pandemic rages around the globe, it is a sad fact that caregivers may be at increased risk of contracting Covid-19 through contact with bodily secretions of the people in their care. 

It is a sad fact that the elderly and those with underlying conditions are at greater risk of contracting Covid-19 and suffering fatal complications.

So, if you are taking care of someone at home with urinary or faecal incontinence, how do you limit the risk of Covid-19 transmission from (or to) a vulnerable person? Here are some questions and answers:

1. Can the new coronavirus spread through stool and urine?

When you are taking care of someone who might have Covid-19, you need to protect yourself against airborne drops from a cough, sneeze and normal breathing.

Although viral samples have been found in the stool of infected patients, risk of transmission risk is low. It is not yet known whether the new coronavirus is viable in other bodily fluids like vomit or urine.

As a caretaker, you need to take strict precautions. You need to wear disposable gloves that can be discarded straight after coming into contact with a vulnerable person. Wash your hands often, especially after handling soiled linen or clothing, and disinfect all shared surfaces.

2. What should I know if I’m an older person who needs frequent incontinence care?

Don’t be afraid to talk about any anxiety or concerns you may have during the pandemic. Keep in touch with family or neighbours via phone, SMS or email and inform your medical practitioner if you require any medical assistance. Talk to your caretaker about a contingency plan and who will take care of you. Ensure that you have a steady supply of medicine, food and other supplies such as incontinence pads or diapers to avoid going out more than is strictly necessary.

3. Can heightened anxiety and depression worsen urinary incontinence?

While urinary incontinence isn’t directly linked to anxiety, research shows that there is a strong correlation between stress and anxiety and your bladder. A clinical study published in Urology investigated urinary symptoms among patients with overactive bladder syndrome who also suffered from anxiety. Those with anxiety urinated more frequently than those who weren't anxious.

When coupled with uncertain times and fear, your urinary incontinence may be exacerbated. Here are some tips to help manage anxiety paired with urinary incontinence.

4. Am I more at risk for Covid-19 if I already have urinary incontinence?

There are several increased-risk groups, including people older than 60, those with underlying medical conditions, smokers and those who are obese. Urinary incontinence is rarely a condition on its own, but rather an underlying result of something else, whether it’s the mechanics of your bladder, your lifestyle factors, age or a condition such as Alzheimer’s or cancer. If you do suffer from urinary incontinence and you are not yet sure what is causing it, you should consult a medical professional to uncover the underlying cause. The more you are aware of and the better you are managing any current conditions, the better your chances of lowering your risk of Covid-19.

5. I am taking care of an elderly relative at home. What should I be aware of during the Covid-19 pandemic?

If you are caring for an elderly family member, you should be extra cautious during this time. Here are the most basic guidelines:

  • Take care of yourself first, which means that you should avoid getting infected at all cost.
  • Wash your hands frequently with soap and water, especially before and after tending to a loved one.
  • Clean shared surfaces such as doorknobs, cupboard handles, tap handles and kitchen surfaces frequently.
  • Wear a mask when dealing directly with a vulnerable family member.
  • Discard of or wash any soiled items immediately as a precaution, especially when the person suffers from faecal incontinence.
  • Explain to your family member why they are no longer allowed to go for a daily walk or have visitors. This might be especially hard on older persons who rely on these social interactions.
  • Call a medical professional if your family member experiences any health changes, especially a new, persistent cough, respiratory distress and/or a fever.

READ | Coronavirus pandemic adds to challenge of caring for loved one with dementia

READ | Too often, caring for an ageing parent means trouble at work

OPINION | Covid-19: Nurses deliver care with compassion, grit and courage

Image credit: iStock


Ask the Expert

Incontinence Expert

Dr Prenevin Govender completed his MBChB at the University of Cape Town in 2001. He obtained his Fellowship of the College of Urologists in 2009 and graduated with distinction for a Masters in Medicine from the University of Cape Town in 2010. His special interests include laparoscopic, pelvic organ prolapse and urinary incontinence surgery. He consults full-time at Life Kingsbury Hospital in Claremont.

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