Soon after the coronavirus pandemic began, we learned that older adults and people with certain chronic conditions, such as high blood pressure or diabetes, are at increased risk for severe COVID-19. One condition on that list is an immunocompromised state (a weakened immune system). This can be due to a number of conditions, including having had an organ transplant, having HIV, or taking medications that suppress the immune system.
If you have an autoimmune condition such as rheumatoid arthritis or lupus (also called systemic lupus erythematosus), you may wonder how this affects your risk. It’s thought that these conditions occur because the immune system misfires and attacks organs in the body. And many people with these disorders are treated with medications that suppress the immune system.
Two newly published studies examine this. While the results are not definitive, they do provide some reassurance. Most people recovered from COVID-19, and most of their prior treatments did not seem to worsen their infections.
Lupus and COVID-19
In the first study, researchers enrolled 226 people with lupus. After comparing those who had COVID-19 with those who did not, they found that
- nearly 60% of those with COVID-19 and lupus became sick enough to be hospitalized, and 10% were admitted to the intensive care unit.
- about 10% died.
- risk factors for hospitalization were similar to those reported in people outside of this study who did not have lupus. For example, race (more hospital admissions among those who were Hispanic or nonwhite), other chronic diseases (including kidney failure, lung disease, and hypertension), and being overweight or obese were more common among those needing hospital admission.
- steroid treatment for lupus was nearly two times higher among hospitalized patients (54%) compared with those who were not hospitalized (29%). However, this difference was not statistically significant.