General recommendations for adult rheumatic disease management
In terms of general recommendations for the management of adult rheumatic disease patients, Dr. Mikuls said that six statements had been made “specific to risk assessment, prevention of infection, and best practices related to glucocorticoid use and the use of ACE [angiotensin-converting enzyme] inhibitors and ARBs [angiotensin II receptor blockers] during the pandemic.”
For example, general advice is to counsel patients to keep up general preventive measures such as social distancing and regular hand washing, reducing the number of in-person health care visits, and undertaking other means to try to prevent potential SARS-CoV-2 exposure. As for general treatment advice, glucocorticoids should be used at their lowest doses possible and should not be abruptly stopped, and antihypertensive treatment should be used as indicated.
Additional guidance statements include those that address the treatment of patients with stable rheumatic disease in the absence of infection or known exposure to SARS-CoV-2, with guidance specific to the treatment of systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), and those with newly diagnosed or active rheumatic disease.
SLE and inflammatory arthritis recommendations
“There are several sections within the guidance document that address the treatment of patients with systemic lupus erythematosus during this pandemic,” Dr. Gravallese pointed out. “In general, it is recommended that lupus patients who are currently taking hydroxychloroquine can remain on the therapy prior to and during infection and that newly diagnosed patients with lupus can be placed on this medication at full dose. It is recommended that pregnant patients with lupus remain on therapy with this drug.”
She also observed that, for the treatment of active inflammatory arthritis, “the recommendations were written to address specific medications that could be used in this setting. In general, the task force recommendations were guided by the importance of controlling inflammation prior to exposure to the virus, even during this pandemic.
Guidance raises questions
During the ACR’s town hall meeting, the task force answered several questions raised by the guidance, such as the reasoning behind recommending that the use of traditional DMARDs be discontinued in patients with confirmed SARS-CoV-2 infection.
Dr. Mikuls observed: “Maybe if you just read the guidance statements it isn’t terribly intuitive.” There was a lot of discussion about whether or not conventional DMARDs were immunosuppressive, and even though they may not have such effects, it was decided to err on the side of caution.
“I think the task force felt that, with a COVID-19–positive patient, there is a concern of potentially confusing adverse effects related to medicines or conflate those with problems from the infection,” he said. Although rare, examples of those issues could be drug-induced hypersensitivity, hypersensitivity pneumonitis, or gastrointestinal side effects of hepatitis, all of which have been described in COVID-19. “Not only could it cause confusion, but it could maybe worsen those sequalae of COVID-19,” he said.
“I think the other part of this answer was that the panel really felt that the risk in terms of the flaring of the underlying rheumatic disease was likely to be pretty low given the finite time frame you’d be taking about – usually a time frame of 2-3 weeks you’d be holding the agent – so I think that is really why the task force ended up with that recommendation.”
Similarly, for the JAK inhibitors, the decision was to err on the side of caution when COVID-19 was suspected or confirmed. “Not so much because of the risk of thromboembolic disease, but concerns over immunosuppression that these drugs carry with them and also the fact the JAK inhibitors are probably inhibitors of type 1 interferons, which play a significant role in viral immunity and could potentially have a negative impact,” said, who practices rheumatology in the Dallas area.
“On the flipside, there is interest in some of the JAK inhibitors as a potential treatment for COVID-19,” Dr. Cohen said, referring to anecdotal evidence for baricitinib (Olumiant).
, of Brigham and Women’s Hospital, addressed the recent concern over the use of NSAIDs by the public.
“There’s been a lot in the lay press that NSAIDs – because of the effects on receptors in the lung – could lead to deleterious outcomes in patients with COVID and there’s very little data to support this.
“We did recommend that NSAIDs be held in the hospitalized patient and that wasn’t because of the COVID-19 issue, it really was just medical practice, and we didn’t want to confound the care of these really sick patients with potential toxicities from NSAIDs. But as far as routine rheumatological care in your outpatients, we did not recommend that nonsteroidals be stopped if they were tolerated.”
One part of the guidance that might already need revision is the recommendation on the continued use of hydroxychloroquine in patients who develop COVID-19.
“Our guidance document says it’s OK; we were all in very strong agreement to continue hydroxychloroquine in our patients with COVID-19 because at that point, just a couple of weeks ago, we thought it was part of the potential treatment,”, of Brigham and Women’s Hospital, said during the town hall meeting.
“Now the pendulum has swung the other way, and we’re worried about maybe we shouldn’t be continuing it because COVID-19 patients will be getting many other medications,” Dr. Costenbader said, and these may affect the QT-interval. “They will not be getting azithromycin because the pendulum swung the other way on that one too, but definitely on many other medications when they are sick.”
Potentially, she added, “if the rheumatic disease is under good control the inpatient physicians could decide whether they should continue [hydroxychloroquine] or not. If the COVID-19 is a mild disease, I would say we probably could continue in accordance with what we put in the document, but we will have to revisit this as well.”