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Marcie Riches, MD, leads the BMT Program at UNC Lineberger and is a co-author of the paper.

COVID-19 disease may be more harmful to people who have received a blood or marrow transplant (BMT), according to a study published in the journal Lancet Haematology.

BMT, also called hematopoietic cell transplantation, or HCT, is the only cure for some blood cancers, such as lymphoma or leukemia, and may also cure blood disorders such as sickle cell disease. It’s vital to understand how COVID-19 affects people who have undergone BMT.

BMT and COVID-19

The study used data reported to the Center for International Blood and Marrow Transplant® (CIBMTR®) and included 318 children and adults who contracted COVID-19 prior to August 2020, after they had received a BMT. Of the patients, 14% were aged 20 or younger. Also, 87% of all patients were from the U.S.

One month after getting COVID-19, 30 percent, or three out of 10 people had died. Based on available data, this is much higher than patients who never had BMT.

“We found that hematopoietic cell transplant recipients were at an increased risk of death if they developed COVID-19 infection, even if they were more than 1 year past transplantation,” said co-first author Akshay Sharma, MBBS, of the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital Department of Bone Marrow Transplantation and Cellular Therapy. “All hematopoietic cell transplant recipients should take utmost precautions to avoid exposure to SARS-CoV-2: practice social distancing, wear face coverings when outside their home, and wash hands frequently.”

“It’s important for everyone to get vaccinated against COVID-19,” said co-author Marcie Riches, MD, director of the BMT Program at the University of North Carolina Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center and a scientific director at the CIBMTR. “This will help protect people who need or had a BMT. It is unknown how well the vaccine works in patients who had BMT, but we encourage vaccination for patients more than 3 months from transplant.”

Researchers at 11 medical centers co-authored this study. More research is needed to study the impacts of recently identified treatment and support for patients with COVID-19 disease.