People suffering from cardiovascular diseases are more susceptible to coronavirus as their immune systems are weak, a Turkish health expert said on Friday.

In an exclusive interview, Dr. Omer Bayezid from the Department of Cardiovascular Surgery at Akdeniz University Hospital spoke about the measures people with heart conditions should take during the ongoing pandemic.

“Heart transplant patients are vulnerable to infections because they take drugs that suppress the immune system. Thus, they must take more precautions to protect themselves,” Dr. Bayezid, who has performed 110 heart transplants, and over 150 artificial heart transplants in his years-long career, told Anadolu Agency.

The more recent they had their surgery, he said, the more susceptible they are to risks.

Like others, the professor also stressed the need for adequate sleep and a healthy diet, along with self-isolation as much as possible.

“A 20-year-old patient with an organ transplant should be considered as over 65, and isolate themselves,” he said.

“These patients should certainly not leave their homes except unless absolutely necessary. When they go out, they must wear a mask and distance themselves from people.”

He also advised them to consume vitamin C supplements along with zinc and selenium.

Stressing that COVID-19 mostly affects the lungs, Dr. Bayezid said smokers and COPD patients were on “high-risk” of getting the virus, which has so far infected over 1 million people in 181 countries.

Nearly 54,000 have died while 217,000 have recovered, according to data compiled by U.S.-based Johns Hopkins University.

In Turkey, the death toll is 356. 

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