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From what we know thus far, if you have an underlying condition or are taking immunosuppressant medication, you may be at high risk for severe complications.
The concern goes two ways.
When faced with a pathogen, the body’s immune system may go into overdrive, igniting autoimmune flares in what’s known as a cytokine storm. This can damage tissue in the lining of the lungs and blood vessels, leading to serious complications (1).
The other potential scenario involves individuals on immunosuppressive drugs. While limiting the immune system’s ability to attack the body’s own healthy cells, it may also be prevented from fighting off external threats like coronavirus.
However, as we continue to investigate the relationship between autoimmune disease and COVID-19, a recent study shines light on a new possibility.
A case series reported by New York University researchers through the New England Journal of Medicine studied 86 patients with known immune-mediated inflammatory conditions (including autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s, ulcerative colitis, psoriatic arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis, and psoriasis).
Most individuals were taking immunosuppressive medications and were experiencing symptomatic cases of confirmed or suspected COVID-19.
Of the 16% of patients hospitalized, most had other underlying respiratory conditions, diabetes, or hypertension. Still, most of these patients—79%—were discharged after an average of 5-6 days in the hospital.
While the sample size was small, the preliminary findings indicate that severe complications from a COVID-19 infection are not associated with the use of immunomodulating medications.
The study suggests that individuals with certain autoimmune conditions present the same risk of hospitalization from COVID-19 as the general population. More research in this area is needed to further confirm this promising outlook.