Isolation, behavioral changes and low seroprevalence of SARS-CoV-2 antibodies in patients with Systemic Lupus Erythematosus or Rheumatoid arthritis

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OBJECTIVES: Patients with chronic rheumatic diseases (CRD), such as Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE) and Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA), require special attention during the COVID-19 pandemic, as they are considered at risk of severe infections. We assessed the seroprevalence of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) antibodies in patients with SLE and RA and patient behavior, disease-related symptoms, and mental health.

METHODS: More than 900 participants were included: 405 patients with RA or SLE (CRD-patients) and 513 blood donors. All participants had blood SARS-CoV-2 total antibodies measured (sensitivity 96.7%, specificity 99.5%) and answered a questionnaire concerning behavior, anxiety, and symptoms of depression (PHQ-9). The CRD patients were further asked about physical activity, adherence to medication, and disease-related symptoms.

RESULTS: CRD-patients had a significant lower seroprevalence of SARS-CoV-2 antibodies (n=1/365, 0.3%) compared to blood donors (n=10/513, 1.9%) (p=0.03). Almost 60% of patients were unable to exercise as usual, increased pain was experienced by 34% of patients and increased disease activity by 24%. Almost 10% of patients reduced or discontinued their immunosuppressive treatments at their own initiative. Symptoms of moderate depression were present in 19% of patients compared to 6,8% blood donors (p<0.001).

CONCLUSIONS: Low seroprevalence in patients with CRDs indicates successful mitigation of exposure to SARS-CoV-2. However, this appears to occur at the expense of physical activity, experience of increased pain, disease activity, and symptoms of depression. There is a need for care providers to be aware of these negative side-effects and for further studies to investigate the possible long-term consequences.

Original languageEnglish
JournalArthritis Care & Research
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 31 May 2021

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