Conference Coverage

Age leads COVID-19 hospitalization risk factors in RMDs



Being aged older than 65 years was associated with the highest risk of people with rheumatic and musculoskeletal diseases (RMDs) needing hospital treatment for COVID-19, according to the first results to be reported from ReCoVery, the German national COVID-19 registry.

Older patients with RMDs were five times more likely than younger patients to be hospitalized if they tested positive for SARS‑CoV‑2 and developed COVID-19 (odds ratio, 5.1; 95% confidence interval, 2.3-11.4).

The likelihood of hospitalization was also significantly increased by the current or prior use of glucocorticoids (OR, 2.59; 95% CI, 1.2-5.4) and by the presence of cardiovascular disease (OR, 2.27; 95% CI, 1.2-5.4).

“The register is a joint initiative of the German Society for Rheumatology and the Justus Liebig University in Giessen,” explained Anne Regierer, MD, during a live session of the annual European Congress of Rheumatology, held online this year due to COVID-19.

“The current pandemic has changed all of our lives. For patients it brought a lot of uncertainty and fears,” said Dr. Regierer, of the German Rheumatism Research Center Berlin.

“The risk of SARS-CoV-2 infection in patients with inflammatory rheumatic diseases [IRD] is still largely unknown. We still don’t know whether they have a high risk of getting the infection or whether they have a higher risk of a severer case ... therefore there’s an urgent need to have data to generate evidence for the management of our patients.”

Launched at the end of March 2020, the German registry now includes data on 251 patients – 194 of whom have recovered – provided by more than 200 registered rheumatologists. The registry data have now been integrated into the EULAR COVID-19 Database, which is itself part of a global effort to better understand and optimally manage RMD patients during the pandemic.

Dr. Kimme Hyrich of the University of Manchester in England

Dr. Kimme Hyrich

“The data presented by Dr. Regierer looked at similar outcomes and found quite similar results, which is reassuring,” Kimme Hyrich, MD, PhD, professor of epidemiology at the University of Manchester (England) and a consultant rheumatologist in the Kellgren Centre for Rheumatology at Manchester University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, said in an interview.

“We are very grateful for this collaboration [with the German society and others]. Our first publication has looked at hospitalization, but with more data we may have the opportunity to look at less-common outcomes [e.g. death, other COVID complications] or within individual diseases or treatments. So far I don’t think we will come to a different conclusion,” observed Dr. Hyrich, who is on the steering committee for the EULAR COVID-19 Database.

“These initial data are reassuring in that the majority of cases of COVID reported to our database have recovered, including those who were hospitalized,” she said.

Current EULAR advice is to continue treatment with glucocorticoids in patients who are being chronically treated, but to use them at the lowest possible dose.

The objectives of this first analysis of the German registry was to provide a description of the patients who did and did not require hospitalization and those who needed ventilation, as well as look at possible risk factors for hospitalization.

Dr. Regierer reported that, of 192 patients they included – all with a positive lab test for SARS-CoV-2 – 128 (67%) did not require hospital admission. Of those that did (n = 64), 43 (22%) did not need ventilation and 21 (11%) did. Fifteen patients died, all of whom had been hospitalized, and all but one of them had needed ventilation.

Concerning the characteristics of the patients, those who needed hospital treatment with and without ventilation were older than those who were not admitted (70 vs. 65 vs. 54 years, respectively).

“Looking at the sexes, the gender distribution is also interesting. We see 69% females in the nonhospitalized patients, 65% of the inpatients without ventilation, but only 43% females in the ventilated patients. So in this group, the male patients are the majority,” Dr. Regierer observed.

Just over half of all patients in the nonhospitalized and the hospitalized without ventilation groups had IRD in remission, but those in the hospitalized with ventilation group less than one-fifth had their IRD under control.

“Of course we have to keep in mind the small sample sizes,” Dr. Regierer said, but the distribution of patients by disease type was “what you’d expect in clinical care.” The majority of patients in each of the three groups had RA (47%, 56%, and 57%), followed by psoriatic arthritis (19%, 7%, and 14%), axial spondyloarthritis (11%, 5%, and 0%), systemic lupus erythematosus (6%, 2%, and 0%), and vasculitis (1%, 5%, and 5%).

Patients who were hospitalized with and without ventilation were more likely to have more than one comorbidity than those who were not hospitalized with COVID-19.

“The most frequent comorbidity was cardiovascular disease with 58% and 76% in the inpatient groups,” Dr. Regierer reported. One-third of the nonhospitalized patients had a cardiovascular comorbidity.

“If we look at pulmonary disease, we see that 38% of the ventilator patients had an underlying pulmonary disease,” she added. This was in comparison with 19% of the hospitalized without ventilation and 13% of the nonhospitalized patients. Diabetes was another common comorbidity in hospitalized patients with (16%) and without (19%) ventilation versus just 2% of nonhospitalized patients. While these and other comorbidities such as chronic renal insufficiency were associated with higher odds ratios in the multivariate risk factor analysis, they did not reach statistical significance.

With regard to RMD treatments, more than 60% of patients in the hospitalized group had received treatment with glucocorticoids versus 37% of those who did not get admitted. No differences were seen for the other treatments.

Interestingly, “female sex, remission, and use of NSAIDs have an odds ratio smaller than 1. So there might be a lower risk of hospitalization associated with these factors,” Dr. Regierer said.

Dr. Regierer has received grant support and is part of speaker’s bureaus for a variety of pharmaceutical companies. Dr. Hyrich disclosed grant income from Bristol-Myers Squibb, UCB, and Pfizer, and receiving speaker fees from AbbVie.

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