Fuad El Rassi, MD, Tracks COVID-19 and Sickle Cell Disease For a Year

Of the SCD patients who contracted COVID-19, 49% of them visited the Grady Comprehensive Sickle Cell center because of a vaso-occlusive event.

Fuad El Rassi, MD, is an Associate Professor of Hematology and Medical Oncology at Emory University School of Medicine, and the Director of Sickle Cell Disease Research at the Georgia Comprehensive Sickle Cell Center at Grady Health System.

El Rassi investigated COVID-19 infection and outcomes at the Comprehensive Sickle Cell Center at Grady Health system, the largest adult sickle cell disease (SCD) center in the US, and presented the results of his study at the 2021 American Society of Hematology (ASH) Annual Meeting & Exposition.

The Grady Comprehensive Sickle Cell Center has the first acute care unit for managing sickle cell vaso-occlusive events (VOEs), also known as pain crises. While a pain crisis can occur at any time, the care unit is open around the clock, prepared to provide treatment whenever one does occur.

The clinical database tracked a total of 1343 patients over a year from March 2020-March 2021 that investigators analyzed and found that 55 patients contracted COVID-19. In the beginning of the pandemic during the lockdown, the center transitioned to treating patients virtually through telehealth.

“The really important finding here is that a lot of the patients, almost about 50% of the patients who had COVID-19,” El Rassi said, “had their main presenting sign or symptom related to a sickle cell vaso-occlusive crisis, a painful event, more than it being really symptoms related or driven by COVID-19.”

It’s a possibility that the vaso-occlusive events could have been brought on by COVID-19, but that’s just speculation, El Rassi explained.

“About 20% of the patients did not require hospitalization, which was impressive," he said, "but 80% did have symptoms from this, so this tells you how it can lead to a complication.”