Conference Coverage

Webinar confronts unique issues for the bleeding disorders community facing COVID-19


 

In a webinar conducted on March 20, Leonard Valentino, MD, president and CEO of the National Hemophilia Foundation (NHF), provided specific information of relevance and some reassurance to the bleeding disorders community on the impact of COVID-19.

Overall, the risk of comorbidities is no different in the bleeding disorders population than in the general population, and similar precautions should be maintained, Dr. Valentino stated. He listed some of the at-risk populations as designated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In particular, he pointed out that, when the CDC referred to a greater risk of COVID-19 to individuals with bleeding disorders, the organization was referring to patients with HIV and sickle cell disease. The CDC was not referring to patients with other forms of bleeding disorders, such as hemophilia, Dr. Valentino stated.

All individuals should be following CDC and state and federal recommendations with regard to social distancing and hygiene. However, with regard to immunocompromised individuals, “the two populations we [in the bleeding disorders community] have to be concerned about are those in gene therapy clinical trials and those with inhibitors,” said Dr. Valentino.

Patients in a gene therapy clinical trial should exercise additional precautions because the use of steroids, common in these trials. “Steroids are an immunosuppressive drug, and this would increase one’s risk of infection, including COVID-19,” according to Dr. Valentino.

In addition, “I will say, if you have hemophilia and an inhibitor [an antibody to clotting factor treatment], that may alter the immune system, and we don’t know what the implication of that is in terms of coronavirus infection and COVID-19 disease. So people with an inhibitor should take special precautions to limit their exposures.”

Patients with a port should not need to have extra concerns regarding COVID-19, but they should continue to exercise the good hygiene that has always been essential, according to Dr. Valentino.

Dr. Valentino asked: Are patients with a bleeding disorder who become infected with COVID-19 more susceptible to a bleed? “You shouldn’t be more susceptible to bleeding except if you have severe cough, and that cough could result in bleeding to the head,” he answered.

If a patient needs to go to the emergency department for a bleed or possible COVID-19 infection, they should wear a face mask if they are sick to prevent spreading of disease. “This is really the only instance where a face mask may be beneficial” in that it limits other people’s exposure to your infection. It is especially important to call ahead before visiting the doctor or going to the emergency department. “Make sure that they’re aware that you’re coming.”

Of particular concern to patients is the amount of factor product they should have on hand. The current CDC recommendation is a 30-day supply of medicines, but that is misleading, because it refers to general medications, such as high-blood pressure medicine, and not factor products. “The current MASAC [NHF’s Medical and Scientific Advisory Council] recommendation is to have a 14-day supply of factor products available to you,” said Dr. Valentino, “and one should reorder when you have a 1-week supply.”

MASAC has issued a letter on the crisis on the NHF website.

These recommendations should not be exceeded in order to ensure that there is enough factor available to all patients, he added. Hoarding is discouraged, and there are no concerns as yet of factor running out. “We have had conversations with manufacturers and … the supply chain is robust.” The greater concern is with regard to ancillary supplies in the hospital that a hemophilia patient may require during treatment.

Patients and practitioners should consult the COVID-19 pages of both the NHF and Hemophilia Federation of America (HFA) websites. This includes a Health and Wellness update by Dr. Valentino.

With regard to financial issues, he and Sharon Meyers, CEO and president of the HFA, spoke, stating that both NHF and HFA have advocacy for patients seeking to deal with insurance issues or in paying for their products, urging people to go to the organizational websites and to also use their emails: [email protected] and [email protected].

She also announced that the annual meeting of the HFA was being postponed to Aug. 24-26 at the Hilton Inner Harbor Baltimore, Md.

Dr. Valentino and Ms. Meyers did not provide any disclosure information.

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