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Opinion Some people worry we’re overreacting to coronavirus. I worry about dying on a ventilator.

Newly built negative pressure screening tents outside the emergency room entrance at University of Utah Hospital in Salt Lake City on Monday. (George Frey/Reuters)

Kevin Brennan is a member of the Arthritis Foundation’s National Advocacy Board.

I take a drug that made it possible for me to climb Mount Kilimanjaro. Without it, I might be in a wheelchair. Today it could kill me.

At age 15, I was diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis, a disease that causes my misguided immune system to mistake my joints for a foreign invader. It launched unceasing and vicious attacks on my bones, cartilage and connective tissue. In a futile effort to relieve the pain, I consumed handfuls of aspirin and ibuprofen.

Twenty years ago, there was a significant medical breakthrough for people like me. Scientists figured out how to grow molecules that could be injected or infused into the body that bring about a cease-fire. They identified a part of the immune system called tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNFa) that could be neutralized by these new biological therapies. The injected molecules would intercept TNFa and bind with it before it reached the joints.

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The trade-off was a compromised immune system. I was more than willing to accept that deal. These biologics gave me my life back. I climbed the highest mountain in Africa. I went skydiving. I bike to work — more than 100 miles every week. I ski. I’ve had eight surgeries and a toe amputated, but outwardly, you would have no idea that I have this disease. I don’t ordinarily have to take special precautions, beyond being certain to get my annual flu shot.

Until now. As the coronavirus pandemic comes closer to home, Americans like me, with weakened immune systems, are thinking hard about our options. We are numerous, with an array of underlying conditions, including primary immunodeficiency, cancer, inflammatory arthritis and Down syndrome. The Arthritis Foundation reports that people with compromised immune systems could be more likely to contract the coronavirus, and if we do get it, there are concerns that we’re much more likely to develop the most serious and life-threatening symptoms.

And that leads to some difficult questions: Should I stop taking my medicine and brace for a painful and crippling flare for fear that my weakened immune system could threaten my life? Or is it already too late for my immune system to rebound to fight the coronavirus? Do I keep my elementary-school-aged children out of school for fear that they will bring the virus home with them?

Trump may think he can sugarcoat coronavirus, but media critic Erik Wemple says it is time for the government to speak with one clear voice about public health. (Video: The Washington Post, Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

As luck would have it, I saw my rheumatologist on Monday. He told me to stay on my medication. If the war in my body resumes after I stop taking it, my immune system will be compromised and just as likely to develop the most serious complications from the virus. In other words, I’m at high risk either way. There is no good option.

He also advised me to cancel my ski trip to Utah next week; as a high-risk patient, he said, I shouldn’t risk being on an airplane. That’s no big deal, under the circumstances, and I’m definitely not alone in having to change plans. A colleague who advocates for people with Down syndrome canceled a trip to Washington; her daughter has Down syndrome, and she can’t risk becoming infected.

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Even scarier, a friend who is immunosuppressed due to ankylosing spondylitis, another inflammatory form of arthritis, has placed herself in quarantine after being exposed to two colleagues diagnosed with the coronavirus. She’s checking her temperature, calling her doctor to see if she can get tested — and worrying about the tingling feeling in her chest, not sure if it’s real or a product of her anxiety.

I’ve received a few looks and comments from people who think I’m overreacting about the coronavirus. Some people have complained about being inconvenienced if schools are closed or vacations get canceled. Others think it’s inevitable that we’ll all get it and anticipate suffering through a bad cold or flu symptoms.

I worry about dying on a ventilator.

I’m preparing for a difficult and anxious few months. My public activities will be strictly limited going forward and most, if not all, of my work will be performed from home. I will remain vigilant for evidence that anyone in my family has a cough or elevated temperature. Instead of going to the gym, I will get my exercise from solitary bike rides.

As we grapple with this new and evolving reality, I ask my fellow Americans to take the threat of this virus seriously. Please protect yourselves and your families by following the recommended public health measures. It will protect you — and it may save my life.

Read more:

Megan McArdle: When a danger is growing exponentially, everything looks fine until it doesn’t

The Post’s View: The government’s response to the coronavirus must be big — or we’ll pay a greater price

Leana S. Wen: We’re having a public health emergency. Now’s not the time for finger-pointing.

Tom Bossert: It’s now or never for the U.S. if it hopes to keep coronavirus from burning out of control

Alyssa Rosenberg: Coronavirus is a nightmare. These stories tell us how to survive — and rise above it.

Nicholas Christakis: Compassion in the time of coronavirus

Coronavirus: What you need to know

Vaccines: The CDC recommends that everyone age 5 and older get an updated covid booster shot designed to target both the original virus and the omicron variant. Here’s some guidance on when you should get the omicron booster and how vaccine efficacy could be affected by your prior infections.

Variants: Instead of a single new Greek letter variant, a group of immune-evading omicron spinoffs are popping up all over the world. Any dominant variant will likely knock out monoclonal antibodies, targeted drugs that can be used as a treatment or to protect immunocompromised people.

Tripledemic: Hospitals are overwhelmed by a combination of respiratory illnesses, staffing shortages and nursing home closures. And experts believe the problem will deteriorate further in coming months. Here’s how to tell the difference between RSV, the flu and covid-19.

Guidance: CDC guidelines have been confusing — if you get covid, here’s how to tell when you’re no longer contagious. We’ve also created a guide to help you decide when to keep wearing face coverings.

Where do things stand? See the latest coronavirus numbers in the U.S. and across the world. In the U.S., pandemic trends have shifted and now White people are more likely to die from covid than Black people. Nearly nine out of 10 covid deaths are people over the age 65.

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