Background: The Covid-19 pandemic may have a deleterious impact on patients with autoimmune systemic diseases (ASD) due to their deep immune-system alterations.
Objective: This study aims to investigate the prevalence of symptomatic Covid-19 and its correlations with both organ involvement and ongoing treatments in a large series of Italian ASD patients during the first wave of pandemic.
Methods: Our multicenter telephone 6-week survey included 3,029 unselected ASD patients enrolled at 36 tertiary referral centers of northern, central, and southern Italian macro-areas with different diffusion of the pandemic. Symptomatic SARS-CoV-2 infection was classified as definite Covid-19 (presence of symptoms plus positive oral/nasopharyngeal swabs) or highly suspected Covid-19 (highly suggestive symptoms, in the absence of a swab testing).
Results: A significantly higher prevalence of definite plus highly suspected Covid-19 compared to the Italian general population was detected in the whole ASD series (p=.000), as well as in patients from the three macro-areas (p=.000 in all). Statistically higher prevalence of Covid-19 was also found in connective tissue diseases compared to chronic arthritis subgroup (p=.000) and in ASD patients with pre-existing interstitial lung involvement (p=.000). Patients treated with either conventional disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs) and/or biological DMARDs showed a significantly lower prevalence of Covid-19 (p=.000 in both). Finally, scleroderma patients undergoing low-dose aspirin showed a significantly lower rate of Covid-19 compared to those without (p=0.003).
Conclusion: The higher prevalence of Covid-19 in ASD patients, along with the significant correlations with important clinical features and therapeutic regimens, suggests the need to develop targeted prevention/management strategies during the current pandemic wave.