Impact of corticosteroids and immunosuppressive therapies on symptomatic SARS-CoV-2 infection in a large cohort of patients with chronic inflammatory arthritis

Ennio Giulio Favalli, Serena Bugatti, Catherine Klersy, Martina Biggioggero, Silvia Rossi, Orazio De Lucia, Francesca Bobbio-Pallavicini, Antonella Murgo, Silvia Balduzzi, Roberto Caporali, Carlomaurizio Montecucco

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


BACKGROUND: Prevalence and outcomes of coronavirus disease (COVID)-19 in relation to immunomodulatory medications are still unknown. The aim of the study is to investigate the impact of glucocorticoids and immunosuppressive agents on COVID-19 in a large cohort of patients with chronic immune-mediated inflammatory arthritis.

METHODS: The study was conducted in the arthritis outpatient clinic at two large academic hospitals in the COVID-19 most endemic area of Northern Italy (Lombardy). We circulated a cross-sectional survey exploring the prevalence of severe acute respiratory syndrome-coronavirus-2 nasopharyngeal swab positivity and the occurrence of acute respiratory illness (fever and/or cough and/or dyspnea), administered face-to-face or by phone to consecutive patients from 25 February to 20 April 2020. COVID-19 cases were defined as confirmed or highly suspicious according to the World Health Organization criteria. The impact of medications on COVID-19 development was evaluated.

RESULTS: The study population included 2050 adults with chronic inflammatory arthritis receiving glucocorticoids, conventional-synthetic (cs), or targeted-synthetic/biological (ts/b) disease-modifying drugs (DMARDs). Laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 and highly suspicious infection were recorded in 1.1% and 1.4% of the population, respectively. Treatment with glucocorticoids was independently associated with increased risk of COVID-19 (adjusted OR [95% CI] ranging from 1.23 [1.04-1.44] to 3.20 [1.97-5.18] depending on the definition used). Conversely, patients treated with ts/bDMARDs were at reduced risk (adjusted OR ranging from 0.46 [0.18-1.21] to 0.47 [0.46-0.48]). No independent effects of csDMARDs, age, sex, and comorbidities were observed.

CONCLUSIONS: During the COVID-19 outbreak, treatment with immunomodulatory medications appears safe. Conversely, glucocorticoids, even at low-dose, may confer increased risk of infection.

TRIAL REGISTRATION: Retrospectively registered. Not applicable.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)290
JournalArthritis research & therapy
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Dec 30 2020


  • Adrenal Cortex Hormones/administration & dosage
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Antirheumatic Agents/administration & dosage
  • Arthritis/diagnosis
  • COVID-19/diagnosis
  • Cohort Studies
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Immunosuppressive Agents/administration & dosage
  • Italy/epidemiology
  • Male
  • Middle Aged


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