Sickle Cell Anemia & COVID-19

Last updated: April 27

Based on what we know so far about COVID-19, people with sickle cell anemia and other health concerns have been more likely to have serious complications after contracting the virus than the general population. Your physician can review your medical record to give you a greater understanding of your personal risk.

Here are steps you can take to help protect yourself from COVID-19. Please note that these answers are subject to change as we receive more information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. If you have additional questions not answered here, call your physician or the Northwestern Medicine COVID-19 hotline at 312.47.COVID (312.472.6843).

How to Reduce Your Risk of Infection

  • Stay home unless you must go out to obtain supplies or medical care.
  • Wash your hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If you don’t have access to soap and water, clean your hands with an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that is at least 60 percent alcohol, if possible.
  • Do not touch your face — especially your eyes, nose or mouth — with unwashed hands.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing. Discard the tissue and clean your hands. If a tissue is not available, cough or sneeze into your upper sleeve.
  • Wear a mask in elevators and in the hospital. Do not take the mask off unless instructed to do so by your healthcare provider. Clean your hands before touching the mask or your face. You can make an effective cloth mask with a folded cloth if you do not have a manufactured mask.
  • Do not shake hands with others.
  • Avoid direct contact with people who are sick.
  • Maintain a distance of at least 6 feet between yourself and others. Avoid crowds and situations where this distance cannot be maintained.
  • Avoid buffets and eating areas where self-serve utensils are shared.
  • Use public transportation only when essential and wash your hands after using any public facility.
  • Avoid contact with high-touch surfaces in public places, including elevator buttons, door handles and handrails. If you must touch something, use a tissue, glove or sleeve to cover your hand, if possible. If you have no cover, clean your hands after touching such surface. Remember that gloves, sleeves and tissues are potentially contaminated after they touch these surfaces.
  • Clean your phone frequently with alcohol or disinfectant wipes.
  • Clean high-touch surfaces at home, including tables, doorknobs, light switches, handles, desks, toilets, faucets and sinks.
  • After returning home from an outside visit, wash your clothes and take a shower with soap before settling down. Items that cannot be washed may be put in the clothes dryer to heat them through, then set aside for 24 hours to decrease the risk of contamination.

Symptoms of COVID-19

Symptoms typically appear within 2 to 14 days after exposure. People infected with the virus may be contagious before they develop symptoms.

Patients with COVID-19 typically have mild to severe respiratory illness. Common symptoms include:

  • Fever (this may be less prominent in patients who are immunocompromised, especially those on corticosteroids such as dexamethasone, prednisone and methylprednisolone)
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath

Call your physician or send them a message through the MyNM Patient Portal or the MyNM® mobile app if you have any of these symptoms.

Travel Advice

According to Northwestern Medicine physicians who care for patients with sickle cell anemia, if you don’t have to travel, you should stay home. Postpone or cancel unnecessary trips. This is not simply to avoid exposure on planes and trains; long car journeys are also undesirable. Traveling far from home puts you at risk of getting sick in an area where you may not have an established relationship with the local health system.