A recent study found that patients on immunosuppressive therapy for common skin and rheumatic diseases, such as psoriasis and rheumatoid arthritis, are not at an increased risk for contracting coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) and should continue to take their medicine as prescribed.

These findings should reassure patients and physicians since most of these patients do not have any greater risk for COVID-19 than the general population, despite their weakened immune system, according to study author Jesse Veenstra, MD, PhD.

"If you require an immune suppressant medication for your condition to be well controlled, you should not be afraid to continue that medication during the pandemic," Veenstra said in a press release.

This is one of the first studies to analyze the association between immunosuppressive medications for skin diseases and the risk of COVID-19 infection and outcomes, according to the authors. They added that little was known about managing patients on these medications during the pandemic and whether they may have an increased risk for infection with COVID-19 or related complications because of their weakened immune system, according to the press release.

An analysis of 213 patients who were taking immunosuppressive medication for an immune-mediated inflammatory disease was conducted by the researchers. The patients were tested for COVID-19 between February 1 and April 18, 2020, and had been receiving an immunosuppressive medication for at least 1 month prior to being tested for COVID-19.

Of the 213 patients, 36% tested positive for COVID-19 and had no greater odds of being hospitalized or placed on a ventilator than the general population. Further, there was no evidence that any single immunosuppressive medication increased a patient’s odds for testing positive or developing serious disease, according to the study.

The results also showed that race was a predictor for COVID-19 status, with African Americans having greater odds of testing positive. Additionally, patients prescribed a TNF alpha inhibitor had significantly lower odds for hospitalization.

Patients who were on multi-drug therapy regimens were at greater odds of being hospitalized than those taking a single medication, according to the study authors. More research is needed to fully explain this finding, but the authors said it suggests that multiple medications may further suppress a patient’s immune system, thus making them more susceptible to COVID-19.

The patient population who were analyzed has not been reported to be at a higher risk for COVID-19, although patients who are immunosuppressed are predisposed to upper respiratory infections, such as the common cold, a runny nose, and sore throat.

"Traditionally, you think of these medications putting you at higher risk for infection," Veenstra said in a press release. "With COVID-19, this is a new type of pathogen, and no one really knows how these medications affect your immune system's ability to deal with the infection. The question is, do these medications put you at greater risk for contracting COVID-19, and if you did get it, would you be sicker because of these medications."

REFERENCE
New Henry Ford Study finds certain immuno suppressing drugs do not increase risk for contracting COVID-19. https://www.henryford.com/news/2020/09/immunosuppressive-study. Published September 14, 2020. Accessed September 22, 2020.