COVID-19 and Sickle Cell Disease

Experts, including CSL Behring’s Dr. Greg Kato, weigh whether sickle cell patients are more at risk of severe impacts from coronavirus.

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Microscopic view of sickle shaped blood cell

Though it’s early and data is limited, sickle cell patients could be at increased risk from COVID-19, say experts, including CSL Behring’s Dr. Greg Kato.

 “It’s too soon to know,” he said, “but we do know that influenza poses a moderately higher risk to sickle cell disease patients than to the general population and that COVID-19 is likely to do the same.”

Kato, Senior Director of Global Clinical Programs for Hematology and Thrombosis, joined CSL Behring after decades of treating sickle cell disease patients. He did stints at Johns Hopkins, the U.S. National Institutes of Health and most recently the University of Pittsburgh’s Blood Science Center at the Vascular Medicine Institute.

While everyone might be at equal risk of contracting COVID-19, sickle cell patients could be at more risk of developing severe symptoms, he said. Harvard Medical School’s recent coronavirus update listed sickle cell among the diseases that could make people more likely to get very sick from COVID-19. Coronavirus, now a global pandemic, causes mild illness in many, but fatal complications for the old and medically vulnerable.

Dr. Greg Kato at his desk

The Sickle Cell Society, based in London, is telling patients to follow precautions for the general public and acknowledging that little is known about risk for sickle cell patients. The disease affects a person’s blood cells, bending them into sickle shapes or crescent moons. Patients experience pain episodes and organ damage. 

Until recently, few new treatments were available. With two clinical studies for sickle cell disease underway, CSL Behring would be a new entrant in the race to provide overdue relief in the form of potential new treatment options.

In light of the global pandemic, Kato knows people with sickle cell disease will be wondering about whether they should keep regular doctor appointments or avoid healthcare settings. It will depend on many factors, so call your doctor’s office to explore telehealth and other possible options, Kato advised.

In the meantime, all of us who are able should follow the guidance about hand washing and staying home to flatten the curve, Kato said. Doing so slows down transmission, which can prevent hospitals and clinics from getting overwhelmed. This will help maintain medical care for everybody, including those with sickle cell disease.

For more information, the American Society of Hematology created a COVID-19 resource page on its website.