Conference Coverage

Clinicians address psoriatic disease risk in the era of COVID-19



COVID-19 has posed serious questions for patients with psoriatic disease and the clinicians who treat them. Both have serious concerns over whether psoriasis or the medications used to treat it pose additional risk for contracting COVID-19 or experiencing worse outcomes with illness.

At the virtual annual meeting of the Group for Research and Assessment of Psoriasis and Psoriatic Arthritis, experts gathered to discuss these concerns and what is known about the special risk factors for psoriatic disease patients.

Dr. Kevin Winthrop

Dr. Kevin Winthrop

Studies from a few registries have been done already among patients with autoimmune disease, and the results so far suggest that patients may be able to breathe a little easier. “I don’t see any data that suggests that use of immunosuppressives or having autoimmune disease increases your risk of acquiring it. I think most of the risk is driven by risk of exposure,” said Kevin Winthrop, MD, MPH, a professor of public health, infectious diseases, ophthalmology at Oregon Health & Science University, Portland, during a presentation.

That assertion was reinforced by data presented by Rebecca Haberman, MD, a rheumatologist at New York University Langone Health. Her group created the Web-Based Assessment of Autoimmune, Immune-Mediated, and Rheumatic Patients during the COVID-19 Pandemic (WARCOV) cohort study to address the question of whether patients with immune-mediated inflammatory disease (IMID), including inflammatory arthritis, psoriasis, or inflammatory bowel disease, should discontinue or modify their immunotherapy regimens in the face of potential exposure to COVID-19.

To date, the study has data on 1,122 patients; 604 with inflammatory arthritis, 128 of whom have tested positive for COVID-19. The team established a cohort using the first 86 IMID patients confirmed to have contracted COVID-19. The hospitalization rate was 16% overall, and use of corticosteroids was associated with increased hospitalization risk. A follow-up analysis looking at the first 103 inflammatory arthritis patients who contracted COVID-19 showed a hospitalization rate of 26% and a mortality of 4%. That hospitalization rate is similar to the general hospitalization rate estimated by the New York Department of Health, Dr. Haberman said in her presentation.

Risk factors associated with hospitalization included being older and having asthma or COPD, which is similar to the general population. Use of oral glucocorticoids was linked to a big increase in risk for hospitalization, even with doses less than 10 mg prednisone daily (odds ratio, 14.31; 95% confidence interval, 3.55-57.70). There were no links between use of any cytokine therapy and risk, but use of TNF inhibitors was associated with a reduced risk (OR, 0.35; 95% CI, 0.13-0.97), while use of JAK inhibitors was associated with greater risk (OR, 6.30; 95% CI, 1.68-23.69). The latter result is tentative because of a small sample size, and it was driven largely by the experiences of patients with psoriatic arthritis.

Dr. Leonard Calabrese

Dr. Leonard Calabrese

Another study, run by the COVID-19 Global Rheumatology Alliance, looked at 600 patients with rheumatic disease from 40 countries, and “found no smoking gun,” said Leonard Calabrese, DO, who leads the Cleveland Clinic’s section of clinical immunology, during his presentation. “People can develop this when they’re on hydroxychloroquine. They seem to do not remarkably bad or remarkably good. There is no adverse signal for biologics, but being on prednisone [at a dose of] more than 10 mg is not great,” said Dr. Calabrese, who also noted that other publications have supported these conclusions.

So given these findings, how should clinicians address patient concerns? In the absence of probable exposure, “we say it’s better to have a well-controlled IMID on therapy than a poorly-controlled IMID on submaximal therapy. We say stick to therapy and try to wean the prednisone down as low as possible,” Dr. Calabrese said.

More controversially, what should patients do if they have had a significant exposure, such as a close proximity, prolonged exposure encounter with an individual with documented COVID-19, or at high-risk of disease? Dr. Calabrese noted that the American College of Rheumatology (ACR) guidelines recommend that low-level immunomodulation can be continued, “with an asterisk if it’s hydroxychloroquine, and it is in most of our minds now that we know that it is not effective, and the toxicity in the COVID setting is still being worked out,” he said.

With respect to other immunosuppressants, the ACR recommends stopping them temporarily, although IL-6 inhibitors may be continued in select circumstances. Resumption of the therapeutics can resume after a negative COVID test or completion of a 2-week observation period.

When patients contract COVID-19, antimalarial medications can be continued because they have been studied. “But medium-level immunomodulators, in particular methotrexate, I have grave concerns about because it can inhibit the adaptive immune response and antibody formation,” he said. COVID-19 is a serious infection, and all serious biologics have a package insert saying to stop them in a serious infection. Again, IL-6 inhibitors may be considered an exception in the right circumstances. When to resume these medications remains unknown. “I think that’s a work in progress. Test-based versus clinic-based strategies are a matter of controversy,” Dr. Calabrese said.

Dr. Kristina Duffin

Ultimately, the question of what to do with immunosuppressive therapies in this population will continue to be a challenge. “The only good answer is to follow the rules of social distancing and to wear a mask,” said Kristina Callis Duffin, MD, a cochair of the department of dermatology and associate professor of dermatology at the University of Utah, Salt Lake City.

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