Coronavirus/COVID-19 update

In light of health and safety concerns around the current coronavirus/COVID-19 situation in the UK, we wanted to let everyone know how we are working to protect our donors, potential donors and patients whilst continuing to offer a second chance of life for those who need it.

For an accessible version of this page please go to: https://covid.reciteme.com/dkms-covid-19/

This article and FAQ's was last updated on 29th April 2020.

Importance of registration

Blood cancer patients around the world are still in urgent need of blood stem cell transplants and many are still not able to find a matching donor. This is why DKMS continues to encourage everyone who can to register as a blood stem cell donor. We are grateful for every registration and potential donors can still easily register online at http://www.dkms.org.uk/register-now by ordering their registration kit to be sent to their home address.

The swabbing process for the registration of potential stem cell donors is completely separate from the procedure for supporting and assessing someone for a blood stem cell donation if they are identified as potential match for a patient in need of a transplant. Potentially it is possible that the swabs used in registrations from someone with a coronavirus/COVID-19 diagnosis or symptoms could pass on the disease to anyone else who handles the swabs, however, our medical advice says that the risk is very, very low. We already take precautions with the handling of the swabs in our offices and laboratories, and have increased these (to include a period of quarantine for the swab packs) in the current situation. There are no risks for transplant patients from the swabbing that takes place in the registration process, as this is not linked with the process of stem cell donation and transplantation. 

We still urgently need people to register as potential stem cell donors. 

However, it is important that everyone follows current UK government and medical advice on quarantining or social isolation while they are registering as a potential stem cell donor or in the process of registering. For example, if they have been diagnosed with coronavirus/COVID-19, or have been required to self-isolate for 7 or 14 days, they should not breach any required quarantining or self-isolation requirements in order to return their swabs. However, once any period of quarantining or self-isolation is over, we would be grateful if they would return your swabs, while continuing to observe any existing social distancing rules.

Donor recruitment and fundraising events

Based on the current UK Government guidance that that large gatherings should not take place we have decided to postpone all planned events and will not be organising any new event for the time being. 

However, we are keen to work with anyone who wishes to support our work in recruiting more potential blood stem cell donors, so would recommend that you encourage anyone interested in registering to do so at: https://www.dkms.org.uk/en/register-now.

Processing swab kit requests

We are doing everything that we can to ensure the registration process runs smoothly and with no risk to any of the parties involved. As a result of the current Coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic, we have agreed an alternative plan with our swab request distribution centre, which minimises undue risk for their staff. We work extremely closely with our fulfilment partner to ensure that potential donors receive their home swab kits within 10 days of their first registration. However, we are aware that a small number of potential donors have experienced delays receiving their kits owing to the reduced staffing levels of our fulfilment partner. In addition to this, and despite their best endeavours, the Royal Mail report that it is likely that some areas of the country will experience a reduction in service levels due to coronavirus-related absences. Regrettably, a small number of potential donors might not receive their swab kits within the 10 day period we normally expect, but we’d like to reassure everyone that DKMS will continue to work with all our partners to get swab kits out as quickly as possible. 

Processing returned swab kits

When swabs are received into the DKMS UK office, we usually prep them to go to the lab within 24 hours. However, we’re now going to wait seven days before we do this, so that staff processing them are completely protected. Unfortunately, this means there may be some delay in letting registrants know we’ve received their swabs. However, we are still working to get potential donors registered as quickly as possible.

Protecting our donors

The health and safety of our donors is our highest priority. We will consider on an individual basis the circumstances for all of our donors who are asked to donate their blood stem cells, specifically regarding their travel to a hospital or GP clinic. We will ensure the best and safest solution possible. 

While health experts have confirmed that there is currently no evidence that coronavirus/COVID-19 can be transmitted via blood, bone marrow, or stem cell products, current medical guidance for people identified and matched as a stem cell donor is as follows:

  • Donors who have tested positively for COVID-19/coronavirus – will have their donation deferred for at least 28 days and possibly up to 3 months from when their symptoms resolve, 
  • Donors who are self-isolating or who have previously self-isolated – will have their donation deferred for at least 4 weeks from the first day of isolation.
  • Donors who have been in close contact with coronavirus/COVID-19 cases – will have their donation deferred for at least 4 weeks from the last point of such contact.
  • In cases of travel to high risk areas for coronavirus/COVID-19 (as defined by health authorities) or being in close contact with person travelling from such an area, donors shall be deferred from donation for at least 28 days

In addition, where possible, donors may be tested during the stem cell donation process for COVID-19/coronavirus in line with current UK medical guidance For further information, see NICE guideline (NG 164, published 1 April 2020) COVID-19 rapid guideline: haematopoietic stem cell transplantation - https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/ng164.

Transport of blood stem cells

The majority of blood stem cell collections from DKMS donors travel across borders to patients in other countries. 

Due to the restrictions on entry into the USA, the DKMS has been in contact with the World Marrow Donor Association (WMDA) and the National Marrow Donor Program (NMDP) and together we have managed to obtain special permits for stem cell couriers from Germany and Europe to enter the USA.

As many other countries have also imposed travel restrictions, we are in regular and close contact with all parties involved in the transport, as well as with the relevant national and international authorities and organisations.

Protecting our patients

As there is no evidence of transmission via blood, bone marrow, or blood stem cells, DKMS follows the recommendations of the regulatory agencies such as the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) and (American Association of Blood Banks (AABB) which currently do not recommend or require the testing or quarantining of any blood stem cells that have been donated for transplant. 

Planned transplantations will go ahead.

Further information

We have created some FAQs that will be reviewed and updated regularly: 

If you have any further questions about how registering, donating or other activities related to DKMS UK may be affected by coronavirus/COVID-19, please feel free to contact us.

FAQs

Registrations

With all the concerns about the coronavirus/COVID-19 outbreak can I still register as a donor?

Blood cancer patients around the world are still in urgent need of blood stem cell transplants and many are still not able to find a matching donor. This is why DKMS continues to encourage everyone who can to register as a blood stem cell donor. 

Health experts have confirmed that there is currently no evidence that coronavirus/COVID-19 can be transmitted via blood, bone marrow, or stem cell products. 

However, registered donors who live in or have travelled to high risk areas may have to be blocked for a short time for search requests, as they are currently not eligible to proceed with a donation, but people in these categories can still register, as they will be checked again at the time of donation through a screening and testing process. See further information below specifically for people who have been matched as a blood stem cell donor.

We are grateful for every registration and you can still easily register online at http://www.dkms.org.uk/register-now by ordering your registration kit to be sent to your home address. See further information and considerations below on the registration process.  

Are you able to detect whether I have coronavirus from my returned swabs?

We do not have the facility to check whether you have the coronavirus/COVID-19 from your returned swabs.

If you are selected as a match or potential match for a patient, we will run some further checks, screening and tests to make sure that your bloods are clear of infections and that you are the best match for the patient. This includes travel history, contact with anyone infected with COVID-19, reported symptoms, etc, and, where possible, may include any necessary COVID-19 testing in line with current UK medical guidelines. If necessary, we will defer the donation.

Can I register if I have been diagnosed with coronavirus/COVID-19?

The swabbing process for the registration of potential stem cell donors is completely separate from the procedure for supporting and assessing someone for a blood stem cell donation if they are identified as a potential match for a patient in need of a transplant. Potentially it is possible that the swabs used in registrations from someone with a coronavirus/COVID-19 diagnosis or symptoms could pass on the disease to anyone else who handles the swabs, however, our medical advice says that the risk is very, very low. We already take precautions with the handling of the swabs in our offices and laboratories, and have increased these (to include a period of quarantine for the swab packs) in the current situation. There are no risks for transplant patients from the swabbing that takes place in the registration process, as this is not linked with the process of stem cell donation and transplantation. 

We still urgently need people to register as potential stem cell donors. 

However, it is important that you follow current UK government and medical advice on quarantining or social isolation while you are registering as a potential stem cell donor or in the process of registering. For example, if you have been diagnosed with coronavirus/COVID-19, or have been required to self-isolate for 7 or 14 days, please do not breach any required quarantining or self-isolation requirements in order to return your swabs. However, once any period of quarantining or self-isolation is over, we would be grateful if you would return your swabs, while continuing to observe any existing social distancing rules.

Health experts have also confirmed that there is currently no evidence that coronavirus can be transmitted via blood, bone marrow, or stem cell products.

Please register online at http://www.dkms.org.uk/register-now by ordering your registration kit to be sent to your home address.

I registered online for a swab kit, when can I expect to receive it?

We aim to get the swab kit to you within 10 days of your signing up to receive them. However, at the moment, as a result of the impact of coronavirus/COVID-19, and due to delays in distribution and postal services, it could take up to 14 days.

When I receive my swab kit at home, is it safe to handle and open it? Should I wear gloves?

Human coronaviruses are not very stable on dry surfaces, such as paper or cardboard; this means that they do not survive very long on these materials. The stability depends on many factors, including the temperature, humidity, the viral quantity and the material. According to an article in the New England Journal of Medicine, the decay of the COVID-19 virus in a dried state takes up to 24 hours on cardboard, which as a material can be compared to our swab kits. Therefore, a transmission is unlikely, but cannot be excluded.

To protect yourself from virus transmission through possibly contaminated surfaces we advise donors to follow the general hygiene recommendations such as regularly washing your hands and avoiding touching your face.

If I don’t have any coronavirus/COVID-19 symptoms or haven’t been diagnosed with the virus, should I take extra precautions before using the kit, such as doing it alone or far away from people of any risk group?

If you do not have any coronavirus/COVID-19 symptoms and have not tested positive for the virus in the last 28 days, then you do not need to take any special precautions when taking your cheek swabs, except for following the general hygiene and physical distancing rules and recommendations as laid out by the NHS and UK government.

Do I need to leave my kit in quarantine before sending it back?

It is not necessary to put your kit in quarantine before sending it back to us. To protect all of our staff, when we receive the swab kits back in our office, before handling the kits and swabs, we wait for the minimum amount of time until the risk of transmission of the virus can be excluded. 

 

Donors

I’m a registered donor, and have been diagnosed with coronavirus what should I do?

If you are a registered donor, there is nothing you need to do. However, if you have been identified as a potential match for a patient in need of a blood stem cell transplant, then please contact us straight away to let us know about your diagnosis.

While health experts have confirmed that there is currently no evidence that coronavirus/COVID-19 can be transmitted via blood, bone marrow, or stem cell products, current medical guidance for people identified and matched as a stem cell donor is as follows:
  • Donors who have tested positively for COVID-19/coronavirus – will have their donation deferred for at least 28 days and possibly up to 3 months from when their symptoms resolve, 
  • Donors who are self-isolating or who have previously self-isolated – will have their donation deferred for at least 4 weeks from the first day of isolation.
  • Donors who have been in close contact with coronavirus/COVID-19 cases – will have their donation deferred for at least 4 weeks from the last point of such contact.
  • In cases of travel to high risk areas for coronavirus/COVID-19 (as defined by health authorities) or being in close contact with person travelling from such an area, donors shall be deferred from donation for at least 28 days.

In addition, where possible, donors may be tested during the stem cell donation process for COVID-19/coronavirus in line with current UK medical guidance. For further information, see NICE guideline (NG 164, published 1 April 2020) COVID-19 rapid guideline: haematopoietic stem cell transplantation - https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/ng164.

Someone who I see regularly has coronavirus, what should I do? 

If you are a registered donor, there is nothing you need to do. However, if you have been identified as a potential match for a patient in need of a blood stem cell transplant, then please contact us straight away to let us know about their diagnosis.

While health experts have confirmed that there is currently no evidence that coronavirus/COVID-19 can be transmitted via blood, bone marrow, or stem cell products, current medical guidance for people identified and matched as a stem cell donor is as follows:

  • Donors who have tested positively for COVID-19/coronavirus – will have their donation deferred for 28 days and possibly up to 3 months from when their symptoms resolve, 
  • Donors who are self-isolating or who have previously self-isolated – will have their donation deferred for at least 4 weeks from the first day of isolation.
  • Donors who have been in close contact with coronavirus/COVID-19 cases – will have their donation deferred for at least 4 weeks from the last point of such contact.
  • In cases of travel to high risk areas for coronavirus/COVID-19 (as defined by health authorities) or being in close contact with person travelling from such an area, donors shall be deferred from donation for at least 28 days.

In addition, where possible, donors may be tested during the stem cell donation process for COVID-19/coronavirus in line with current UK medical guidance. For further information, see NICE guideline (NG 164, published 1 April 2020) COVID-19 rapid guideline: haematopoietic stem cell transplantation - https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/ng164.

I’ve got some of the symptoms of coronavirus what should I do?

If you are a registered donor, there is nothing you need to do. However, if you have been identified as a potential match for a patient in need of a blood stem cell transplant, then please contact us straight away to let us know about your diagnosis.

While health experts have confirmed that there is currently no evidence that coronavirus/COVID-19 can be transmitted via blood, bone marrow, or stem cell products, current medical guidance for people identified and matched as a stem cell donor is as follows:

  • Donors who have tested positively for COVID-19/coronavirus – will have their donation deferred for at least 28 days and possibly up to 3 months from when their symptoms resolve, 
  • Donors who are self-isolating or who have previously self-isolated – will have their donation deferred for at least 4 weeks from the first day of isolation.
  • Donors who have been in close contact with coronavirus/COVID-19 cases – will have their donation deferred for at least 4 weeks from the last point of such contact.
  • In cases of travel to high risk areas for coronavirus/COVID-19 (as defined by health authorities) or being in close contact with person travelling from such an area, donors shall be deferred from donation for at least 28 days

In addition, where possible, donors may be tested during the stem cell donation process for COVID-19/coronavirus in line with current UK medical guidance. For further information, see NICE guideline (NG 164, published 1 April 2020) COVID-19 rapid guideline: haematopoietic stem cell transplantation - https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/ng164.

I do not want to travel to donate my stem cells, where else can I go?

Unfortunately, these are the only two locations where we are currently able to arrange stem cell donations, although we are currently working with new hospitals so that we can have more sites to support our donors. 

Please call us and we will try and work with you to find a hospital to donate in that is closer to your home 

Patients

What is DKMS doing to make sure patients do not receive a transplant from someone with coronavirus?

Health experts have confirmed that there is currently no evidence that coronavirus can be transmitted via blood, bone marrow, or stem cell products.

We have adjusted our practices in line with UK Government and health authority regulations. We are also continuing to monitor the situation locally and globally so we can respond to any changes. See also the information above which sets out the screening and testing processes and deferral timescales for people who are matched as a blood stem cell donor and either have or may have been exposed to coronavirus/COVID-19.