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11 March 2020
Tags: News

Managing Haemato-Oncology Patients during the COVID-19 pandemic

Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that are common in people. Coronaviruses are zoonotic. Meaning they are transmitted between animals and people. Rarely, animal coronaviruses can infect people and then spread between people such as with MERS-CoV, SARS-CoV, and now with this new virus (named SARS-CoV-2). A novel coronavirus (nCoV) is a new strain that has not been previously identified in humans.

There remains a lot of unknown with regards to COVID-19. Reported illnesses have ranged from very mild (including some with no reported symptoms) to severe, including illness resulting in death. 

Not everyone will get sick. But like the flu virus, there are definitely people who are more at risk.

Older people and people of all ages with severe underlying health conditions — like heart disease, lung disease and diabetes, for example — seem to be at higher risk of developing serious COVID-19 illness.This is a rapidly evolving situation, where the numbers of new confirmed cases of coronavirus infection seems to change every day with more than 100,000 infections reported worldwide.

Testing strategies continue to evolve and change, in response to the spread of the disease. Additionally, there is the potential opportunity for innovation, as several pharma and biotech companies are now working to find treatments for the virus.

“Patients with hematologic [blood] malignancies we believe will have the biggest risk.Also, patients who are in active chemotherapy and bone marrow transplant patients. Those are the ones with the most profound immune deficits.” says Fred Hutch infectious disease expert Dr. Steve Pergam. 

“The risk extends beyond the period of active treatment.The after-effects of treatment don’t end when people finish their last course of therapy or leave the hospital after surgery. The after-effects of cancer and the immunosuppressive effects of treatment can be long term” says Health Policy expert and oncologist Dr Gary Lyman.

For haematologists who treats Multiple Myeloma patients who have compromised immune systems, this represent a distinct challenge. 

The National Centre for Infections in Cancer (Australia) has developed an interim guidance for the management of Haemato-Oncology patients during COVID-19 pandemic.