Because you have chronic lymphocytic leukemia or CLL, you may be at higher risk for COVID-19, the illness caused by the new coronavirus. Here’s why and what you can do about it.
CLL is cancer that affects a type of white blood cell called a “lymphocyte.” These cells help you fight infection. They’re an important part of your immune system.
CLL causes your body to make lymphocytes that don’t work right. This weakens your immune system and makes it harder for your body to fight off infections.
Many of the treatments used for CLL also weaken your immune system and raise your infection risk. And if you’re getting treatment for CLL, it might put you at a higher risk for severe illness if you do get COVID-19.
Your Immune System and COVID-19
Your doctor will watch your blood counts closely, especially while you’re getting CLL treatment. This is done to get an idea of how well your immune system is working. You’ll be taught how to help reduce your chances of getting an infection and which symptoms might mean you have one. This is especially important during the coronavirus pandemic.
If needed, you may be given treatment to boost your immune system. For instance, lab-made antibodies can be given as an IV infusion so you have enough to fight infection.
Reduce Your Risk for COVID-19
Fortunately, there are things you can do to reduce your risk. The coronavirus is mainly spread from person to person, so these steps can help:
- Clean your hands often and for at least 20 seconds. Use soap and water or hand sanitizer that’s at least 60% alcohol.
- Don’t touch your eyes, nose, or mouth with unwashed hands.
- Keep at least 6 feet from other people. Stay home as much as you can and avoid anyone who’s sick.
- Wear a cloth face cover when you go out in public.
- Cover your nose and mouth with your elbow or a tissue when you cough or sneeze.
- Clean and disinfect surfaces you touch a lot.
Watch for Signs of COVID-19
The most common symptoms of COVID-19 include:
- Trouble breathing or shortness of breath
- Muscle aches and pains
- Sore throat
- Loss of taste or smell
Call before going for medical care. If you’re getting treatment for your CLL, call your cancer doctor. If you’re not getting treatment, call your primary care doctor.
Your doctor will ask you about your symptoms and whether you think you’ve been exposed to the new coronavirus. They will also tell you what to do next and how to care for yourself and protect the people around you.
Most cases of COVID-19 are mild, and if that happens, you can stay home and recover there. But some symptoms are signs of an emergency. Call 911 right away if you have:
- Trouble breathing that’s getting worse
- Chest pain or pressure that doesn’t go away or is getting worse
- New confusion or trouble staying awake
- A blue tint to your lips or face
Be sure to tell the 911 operator that you have CLL and think you might have COVID-19. Put a cloth cover over your mouth and nose before the paramedics arrive.