The Arthritis NewsletterSpring 2021
I have a Compromised Immune System. How Could COVID-19 Affect Me?
Arthritis Research Canada’s Dr. Paul Fortin, and a team of researchers and patient partners, have launched a study to examine how infections, such as COVID-19, affect patients with autoimmune inflammatory diseases.
“The current pandemic offers a chance to improve our understanding of how infections specifically impact patients with autoimmune inflammatory diseases like systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) and rheumatoid arthritis (RA),” said Fortin, a senior scientist of rheumatology and epidemiology.
Why this Research is Important
Patients with SLE and RA have weakened immune systems, which can lead to damage of healthy tissues and organs. Treatments for these diseases rely on long-term use of antimalarial drugs such as hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine, traditional disease-modifying drugs and biological agents.
But it is not currently known whether SLE and RA patients are at more risk for, or protected against, developing severe complications from viral infections like COVID-19. How antimalarial and other anti-rheumatic drug treatments affect that risk is also unknown.
What will be Done
Researchers from hospitals and universities across Canada will follow 3,000 people with RA and SLE. They will compare those already taking antimalarial drugs to those who are not in order to assess how COVID-19 (and other infections like it), affect the two groups.
Patients will be asked to answer questionnaires online in the first year of the study and then come back for a blood test and answer further questionnaires in the following two years. This research will create a collection of biological samples that could be used to answer questions like:
1) How does the COVID-19 pandemic influence the health of people with rheumatic diseases?
2) How will compromised immune systems react to a COVID-19 infection or to the new vaccines?
The End Goal
The ultimate goal of this research is to determine whether patients on antimalarials and other anti-rheumatic drugs will be protected or not from severe disease; to determine if patients with SLE experience increases in stress and anxiety during this period; to model who is at risk for more severe COVID-19 disease; and to learn about the psychosocial impact of a serious infection in vulnerable groups of people with arthritis.
The COVID-19 pandemic has raised many questions and concerns for individuals living with autoimmune inflammatory arthritis. This research seeks to find answers for hundreds of thousands of Canadians.