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Therapeutics which suppress the immune system in people who have inflammatory diseases like psoriasis and rheumatoid arthritis”are not associated with a significantly greater risk” for contracting COVID-19, according to a study which says these patients should continue taking their medicine as prescribed.
Dermatology researchers in the Henry Ford Health System in the US, which treats a large number of patients with inflammatory diseases like psoriasis, eczema and lupus, said most of these patients aren’t at any increased risk for COVID-19 compared to general population, despite their weakened immune system.
While patients who are immunosuppressed are predisposed to upper respiratory illnesses like the common cold, which might cause coughing, a runny nose and a sore throat, the scientists said this patient population hasn’t been reported to be at higher risk for COVID-19 thus far.
According to the researchers, the study, published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, is one of the first to analyse the association between immunosuppressive medications for skin diseases and the possibility of COVID-19 disease and outcomes.
“If you require an immune suppressant medicine for your condition to be well controlled, you should not be afraid to continue that medicine during the pandemic,” said Jesse Veenstra, a Henry Ford dermatologist and the study’s lead author.
The researchers noted that until now, very little was understood about managing patients on these drugs in the pandemic, and if they may be at increased risk for infection with COVID-19, or related complications because of their weakened immune system.
In the present study, they conducted a retrospective analysis of 213 patients who were taking immunosuppressive medication for an immune-mediated inflammatory disease.
They tested the patients who had been receiving immunosuppressive medication for at least one month before being tested for COVID-19 between February 1 and April 18.
The study found that 36 percent of the 213 patients tested COVID-19 positive, and had no higher odds of being hospitalised or placed on a ventilator than the general population.
The scientists said they didn’t find any evidence of an immunosuppressive medication increasing a patient’s odds for testing positive or developing serious illness.
Doctors prescribed a TNF alpha inhibitor, which are protein therapeutics portion of a class of immunosuppressive agents, had significantly lower odds for hospitalisation, the study noted.
To the contrary, Veenstra said, patients who had been on multidrug therapy regimens were at greater likelihood of being hospitalised than those taking one medication.
He added that more study is required to fully explain this finding.
Citing the limitations of the research, the scientists noted that being a single-center study, the findings may not be readily transported to other communities.
They added that only patients who tested for COVID-19 were analysed in the study.
However, the researchers believe the findings suggest that multiple medications further suppress a patient’s immune system, thus rendering them more vulnerable to COVID-19.
“Traditionally, you think of these medications putting you at higher risk for disease,” Veenstra said.
“With COVID-19, this is a new type of pathogen, and nobody really understands how these medications affect your immune system’s ability to take care of the disease,” he added.