People with Autoimmune Arthritis at Greater Risk of Severe COVID  

August 9, 2022 (Vancouver) – People living with autoimmune rheumatic diseases and transplant recipients face an increased risk of complications and death from COVID-19, according to a new Arthritis Research Canada study.

Researchers specifically looked at COVID-19 hospitalizations, intensive care unit admissions, ventilation and mortality among individuals who have autoimmune types of arthritis and found they have a 30 per cent increased risk of hospitalization and ICU admission. They also have a 60 per cent increased risk of being placed on a ventilator. These risks vary across different types of autoimmune rheumatic disease.

For people living with ankylosing spondylitis, an inflammatory disease that affects the spine and causes bones to fuse together, those risks are even higher. The research showed a 103 per cent increased risk of ICU admission, 163 per cent increased risk of being placed on a ventilator and a 118 per cent increased risk of death. The reason for this spike in risk is unknown, but could be linked to persistent chest immobility and impaired respiratory function.

 “These findings demonstrate a need for further research on the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccination in vulnerable groups of people,” said Shelby Marozoff, a research coordinator at Arthritis Research Canada. “It’s concerning that the risk of mortality attributed to COVID goes up by 24 per cent for people living with autoimmune rheumatic diseases and the mortality risk for transplant recipients is five times greater than in the general population.” This study also proves medical care teams at rheumatology and transplant medicine practices need to pay careful attention to people with autoimmune types of arthritis in order to support early COVID-19 diagnosis and care interventions, as well as fast treatment with new therapies, including oral antiviral therapies indicated for adults with mild-to-moderate COVID-19.

Mask mandates and paid sick leave may also continue to be effective tools in reducing the number of individuals infected with COVID and experiencing severe complications.

“This research will ensure patients with autoimmune disease are treated with more urgency following a positive COVID test,” said Dr. Antonio Aviña-Zubieta, a rheumatologist and senior scientist at Arthritis Research Canada. “In order to improve outcomes, decision-makers must keep vulnerable people, including the chronically ill, top of mind when making decisions about public health.”


To learn more about this research, please click here.   


Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in people with arthritis. Patients are at the highest risk for heart attacks, strokes and blood clots in the legs and lungs in the first year after diagnosis, when inflammation is also at its peak. To learn more about how Arthritis Research Canada is addressing this serious complication for people living with different types of arthritis, please click here.



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Arthritis Research Canada is the largest clinical arthritis research institution in North America. Our mission is to transform the lives of people living with arthritis through research and engagement. Arthritis Research Canada’s scientific director, Dr. Diane Lacaille is leading a team of over 100 researchers, trainees and staff whose world recognized research is creating a future where people living with arthritis are empowered to triumph over pain and disability. Arthritis Research Canada is conducting research across Canada in British Columbia, Alberta and Quebec and is affiliated with five major universities: University of British Columbia, Simon Fraser University, University of Calgary, Université Laval, and McGill University. Arthritis Research Canada is leading research aimed at arthritis prevention, early diagnosis, new and better treatment, and improved quality of life.


For more information or to arrange an interview, please contact:

Meeka Marsolais
Marketing and Communications Officer
604-207-4010 or mmarsolais@arthritisresearch.ca

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