Some people get better from COVID-19 quicker than others. This is because of several factors, one of which is the condition of the immune system. People with rheumatic diseases such as arthritis take immunosuppressant medications. Are they at a bigger COVID-19 risk? Scientists from UCL decided to look into it.

People who are taking immunosuppressants are at a higher COVID-19 risk group, but these medications don't seem to worsen the outcome. Image credit: Gesundheitsministerium Osttimors via Wikimedia

Immune system is designed to protect our bodies from pathogens, such as bacteria and viruses. It is essential for our survival. However, sometimes it becomes confused and starts attacking healthy cells. This causes several autoimmune diseases. And so people with rheumatic diseases such as arthritis have to take immunosuppressant medications in order to preserve the function of their healthy cells. However, there is an obvious side effect – immunosuppressants reduce immune response to pathogens as well, which technically should mean that these people are more susceptible to diseases like the COVID-19.

Scientists analysed data from 600 COVID-19 patients from 40 countries, who also had rheumatic diseases such as arthritis and lupus. Scientists looked into the effects of the rheumatic disease therapy in the cases of COVID-19. Scientists found that immunosuppressants don’t actually increase the risk of COVID-19 in people with rheumatic diseases.

46 % of people included in this study were hospitalized, 9 % of the participants had died. These numbers are shocking, but they are not as bad as you might expect. Mild cases are less likely to be represented in this study and many go undiagnosed. Not all participants in this study were on conventional disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs. This gave an opportunity to compare the outcomes. Scientists found that these medications do not actually get in a way of COVID-19 treatment.

This study answered a very important question for many people with rheumatic diseases such as arthritis. They are more likely to contract SARS-CoV-2 virus, but the outcomes are not likely to be worse because of the medication that they are taking. But, of course, scientists say that effects of other medicines should be assessed as well. Dr Pedro Machado, co-senior author of the study, said: “There is an urgent need to understand the outcome of patients who have been infected with SARS-CoV-2 while at the same time receiving steroids, synthetic or biological disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs”.

If you are afraid that your condition is going to make you vulnerable to COVID-19, just be careful. It is always a good idea to use all the protective measures in order to preserve one’s health. Most importantly, trust doctors – your condition is probably not unique and they’ve seen many patients like you already.


Source: UCL