Study Offers New Data on COVID-19 and Lupus and Cautions Against Treatment Discontinuation
A newly published study from Italy sheds additional light on how the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting people with lupus. Importantly, treatment discontinuation was significantly associated with lupus flare risk. While immunosuppressive drugs, commonly used to treat lupus, may make people more susceptible to viral infections, abrupt drug withdrawal may be more harmful than helpful.
Age, lupus disease duration and type of organ involvement were not associated with increased risk of COVID-19 infection. However, COVID-19 infection was more common in those treated with biological disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (bDMARDs), like Rituximab.
Researchers assessed 332 people with lupus; 45 were screened for COVID-19 and six (1.8%) tested positive. Five out of the six people with COVID-19 were not socially isolated. One person was asymptomatic, and one individual had a flare during the COVID-19 infection period. Three of the six were hospitalized, but none required treatment in an Intensive Care Unit. The incidence of COVID-19 was slightly higher among this group of people with lupus compared to the incidence of COVID-19 among the general Italian population during the same time (1.8% vs 0.4%, respectively). The researchers also compared incidence of lupus flares before the pandemic (February-July 2019) to the same time frame during the pandemic (February-July 2020) and found there was no significant difference in the incidence of flares.
More research is needed to understand the potential links between lupus, therapeutic approaches and COVID-19, and this study was limited by a very small sample size. Talk to your physician before making any changes to your medications and continue to follow the Lupus Foundation of America for the latest news and updates on lupus and COVID-19.