Incidence of COVID-19 in Patients With Rheumatic Diseases Treated With Targeted Immunosuppressive Drugs: What Can We Learn From Observational Data?

Arthritis Rheumatol. 2020 Oct;72(10):1600-1606. doi: 10.1002/art.41388. Epub 2020 Sep 6.


Objective: To describe the incidence and severity of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) in patients with rheumatic diseases treated with targeted synthetic or biologic disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) compared with that in the general population living in the same Italian region.

Methods: Patients followed up at 2 rheumatology referral centers in Lombardy from February 25, 2020 to April 10, 2020 were invited to participate in a survey designed to identify patients who had confirmed COVID-19, close contact with others with confirmed COVID-19, or symptoms of the infection, and to detect changes in work, behavior, and disease management made in an attempt to prevent infection. The incidence of COVID-19 in the Lombardy population was obtained from the National Institute of Statistics. COVID-19 cases were confirmed by nasopharyngeal swab.

Results: The survey was given to 955 patients (531 patients with rheumatoid arthritis, 203 patients with psoriatic arthritis, 181 patients with spondyloarthritis, and 40 patients with connective tissue diseases, vasculitides, or autoinflammatory diseases). These patients had a mean age of 53.7 years, and 67.4% were women. The rate of response to the survey was 98.05%, and the incidence of confirmed COVID-19 cases was consistent with that in the general population (0.62% versus 0.66%; P = 0.92). None of the patients had severe complications or required intensive care treatment, and all of the patients who tested positive for COVID-19 temporarily discontinued ongoing targeted synthetic drug or biologic DMARD therapy. Almost all patients took precautions to prevent the COVID-19 infection (90.6%), and almost all continued treatment with targeted synthetic drugs or biologic DMARDs (93.2%). Disease activity remained stable in 89.5% of patients.

Conclusion: Our results reflected the attitude of patients with rheumatic diseases regarding the prevention of the infection while maintaining their long-term treatment regimens. The incidence and severity of COVID-19 in patients treated with targeted synthetic drugs or biologic DMARDs was not significantly different from that in the general population in the same region.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Antirheumatic Agents / therapeutic use*
  • COVID-19 / epidemiology*
  • Comorbidity
  • Female
  • Health Surveys
  • Humans
  • Immunosuppressive Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Incidence
  • Italy / epidemiology
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Rheumatic Diseases / drug therapy
  • Rheumatic Diseases / epidemiology*
  • Severity of Illness Index


  • Antirheumatic Agents
  • Immunosuppressive Agents