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Weak immune system and COVID-19

Last updated: 18 June 2020 at 9.40am

Having a weak immune system may put you at a higher risk of serious illness from COVID-19 (coronavirus).

Follow the advice for people who may be at higher risk groups from COVID-19.

Many things can cause a weak immune system (immunosuppressed).

These include:

  • cancer treatment
  • treatment for autoimmune diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, multiple sclerosis (MS) and inflammatory bowel diseases
  • HIV - if you're not on effective treatment
  • having an organ transplant or a bone-marrow transplant

Immunosuppressive treatments and steroids

There is no evidence to date that you are more at risk of a serious infection from COVID-19 if you are on:

  • immunosuppressive treatments
  • steroids

But other infections can cause severe illness for people on immunosuppressive treatment. It could be the same for COVID-19. We just don't know yet.

Steroids

Keep taking your steroids unless your doctor tells you not to. Stopping steroids suddenly can make you very unwell.

Never start taking steroids unless your doctor tells you to. This includes medicines such as prednisolone and dexamethasone.

Other steroids, such as inhalers, do not usually cause immunosuppression. Continue to take these medicines as you normally would.

Immunosuppressive treatments

Keep taking your medicine or following any treatment plan unless your doctor tells you not to. If you stop your medicine you may be more likely to have a flare up of your condition.

Attend any planned treatment or blood tests unless you are told not to. But phone your hospital in advance as some hospital services are disrupted.

Immunosuppressive medicines include:

  • biologic agents
  • certain steroids such as prednisolone - brand name: Deltacortril
  • methotrexate
  • azathioprine

If you were previously on immunosuppressants, you may still be immunosuppressed. This can last for months after stopping treatment.

You may need to cocoon if you have certain conditions or are having certain immunosuppression treatments.

If you get COVID-19

If you get COVID-19, ask your GP or consultant if they recommend any changes to your treatment. Do this before taking your next dose of treatments.

If you are an essential worker

If you are an essential worker on an immunosuppressant treatment, phone your GP. They will advise you on safe working.

Looking after your mental health

It is difficult living with any medical condition during the current uncertainty.

Read advice on minding your mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Related topics

People at higher risk from COVID-19

How to self-isolate

How to get tested

Dealing with fake health information

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