Blood cancer and coronavirus
What if I get coronavirus symptoms?
Coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, is a virus that can affect the lungs and airways. People with blood cancer are more at risk of serious illness if they get coronavirus.
If you are a healthcare professional, our healthcare professionals pages contain the latest guidance and tools to help you care for your patients and yourself.
Page last updated 26 October 2021
It can be hard to tell the difference between coronavirus symptoms, symptoms of blood cancer and side effects of treatment, but if you have any symptoms that could be coronavirus, you must self-isolate straight away.
It’s important to remember that even after you’ve had a covid vaccination, you may still be at risk of catching coronavirus. This is because the vaccine may not be as effective in people with a weak immune system. Also, it takes a while for your immune system to develop the protection the vaccine offers.
Being vaccinated should mean that you’re less likely to catch coronavirus, and if you do, that you get it more mildly. But you should still take coronavirus symptoms seriously if you have blood cancer or have had it in the past.
If you go to hospital with coronavirus
If you go to hospital with coronavirus, make sure the hospital knows you have blood cancer. It may help if you take a letter from your treating team or GP which shows your diagnosis and gives their contact details. Or, use our medical information card (just download it and fill in your details, then print it or take a photo on your phone).
The hospital should test you to see if you have developed covid antibodies after your vaccinations. If not, they can give you a drug called Ronapreve. Ronapreve which has been shown to help people with suppressed immune systems to recover from covid. Find out more about Ronapreve.
Step one: Self-isolate and tell your healthcare team
Stay at home and isolate from other members of your household, as best you can.
Contact your healthcare team (or GP if they’re managing your care) as soon as you can. Outside normal working hours, call the emergency contact number you’ve been given.
If you’re currently having chemotherapy, call your local cancer chemotherapy helpline.
Step two: Get a test
If your test is negative, tell your healthcare team straight away. They may want to check in with you now they know your symptoms weren’t caused by coronavirus, especially if the symptoms haven’t gone away.
If your test is positive, follow step three.
Step three: Monitor your symptoms
If you test positive for coronavirus, tell your healthcare team straight away and listen to their advice. They may offer to call you regularly to check on your symptoms. Or they may tell you when you should call them. Follow your healthcare team’s advice about how to look after yourself. If you’re having treatment, you may need to have a break while you’re ill with coronavirus but your healthcare team will tell you what to do.
If you're currently having chemotherapy, call the the chemotherapy helpline number you've been given if you have any symptoms of an infection.
This general advice is also useful and is based on current guidance from the NHS about self-isolating at home:
- Make sure someone rings you regularly or talks to you through a door so they can hear your voice and tell how breathless you are. This could be someone you live with, or a friend or neighbour if you live on your own.
- If you have one, use a pulse oximeter to check your blood oxygen level regularly. The normal range is 95 to 100%.
Call your healthcare team or chemotherapy helpline if you have these symptoms:
- a blood oxygen level of 94 or 93% as measured by a pulse oximeter (check it twice within an hour before calling)
- breathlessness or difficulty breathing, especially when standing up or moving
- severe muscle aches or tiredness
- shakes or shivers
- a sense that something is wrong (general weakness, severe tiredness, loss of appetite, peeing much less than normal, unable to do simple tasks like washing and dressing or making food).
Call 999 or go to A&E if you have these symptoms:
- a blood oxygen level of 92% or less as measured by a pulse oximeter (make sure by checking it again immediately)
- you’re unable to say short sentences because you’re too breathless, even when you’re resting
- your breathing gets worse suddenly
- you cough up blood
- you feel cold and sweaty with pale or blotchy skin
- you collapse or faint
- you develop a rash that doesn’t fade when you roll a glass over it
- you become agitated, confused or very drowsy
- you stop peeing or pee much less than usual.
If you need to go to hospital for coronavirus treatment, tell the hospital staff that you have blood cancer or had it in the past, and who’s responsible for your care. To help you do this, you can download and use our Blood Cancer Medical Information Card. The hospital should test you for covid antibodies, and give you a drug called Ronapreve if you haven't develop antibodies from your covid vaccinations. Find out more about Ronapreve.
Neutropenic sepsis is a life-threatening condition which can develop quickly from an infection with bacteria, especially in people with a weakened immune system.
If you have a viral infection like coronavirus, you can also get a bacterial infection because your immune system is under stress. This means you’re more at risk of neutropenic sepsis, especially if you’ve had chemotherapy recently.
The main symptom of neutropenic sepsis is a high temperature (over 37.5°C). It needs to be treated urgently with antibiotics. Talk to your healthcare team about what to look out for.
Step four: Take care while you recover
Most people recover from coronavirus within three weeks. Keep your healthcare team updated on how you are.
The NHS advises people recovering from coronavirus to:
- take paracetamol or ibuprofen (check with your healthcare team whether it’s OK to take these with your other medicines)
- drink lots of fluids
Coronavirus can leave some people feeling poorly for a long time - this is known as long covid. If you continue to feel ill, contact your healthcare team or GP. Make sure you get medical advice because there are other reasons why you might be feeling poorly, so it’s best to check.
If you want to talk
Coronavirus remains a big worry to many people living with or after blood cancer. The vaccine brings hope, but being repeatedly told you’re in the clinically extremely vulnerable group doesn’t help you to feel safe. If you need a listening ear, please call our Support Services Team on 0808 208 8888 or email [email protected]. You can also join our online community forum to share your thoughts and feelings with other people affected by blood cancer.
“Please have a test Dad, this could be coronavirus.”
Carla's dad has chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL). Her worst fears came true when he caught coronavirus in October, but he's making a good recovery.
Last updated: 14 July 2020
Coronaviruses are a family of viruses that cause disease in animals. Some of them have made the jump to humans. The latest coronavirus to do this is COVID-19.
COVID-19 is a new illness so we don't know exactly how it is passed on. However, similar viruses are spread through small droplets when people cough.
The infection could also be passed on by touching a surface that has the virus on it and then touching your mouth, nose or eyes.
People with blood cancer may have compromised immune systems and therefore be more at risk of serious illness from coronavirus. We have more information about who is at high risk.
Join our mailing list for key updates about coronavirus for people with blood cancer, what we're doing to help, and ways you can help, including campaigns you may be interested in.
Support for you
Call our free and confidential support line on 0808 2080 888. We are currently receiving a very high volume of calls related to coronavirus, so if you're not able to get through straight away, please leave a message and we'll get back to you as soon as we can.
You can also email us if you prefer to get in contact that way. We'll usually get back to you within two working days, but due to the current rate of calls and emails we are currently receiving it may take us longer.
Talk to other people with blood cancer on our Online Community Forum – there is a group for coronavirus questions and support.
You can also find out what's helping other people affected by blood cancer through coronavirus and beyond in our pages on living well with or after blood cancer.
The following companies have provided funding for our coronavirus support, but have had no further input: AbbVie, AstraZeneca, Celgene, Gilead, Incyte, Kyowa Kirin, Novartis, Pfizer, Sanofi, Takeda.