Severe COVID-19 infection was more likely in hospitalized patients with systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) who had comorbidities and risk factors associated with severe infection in the general population, notably older age, male gender, and hypertension, based on data from a nationwide epidemiologic study of inpatients in France.
“Recently, anti-interferon antibodies have been implicated in severe SARS-CoV-2 infection while it has been known for decades that patients with SLE may produce such autoantibodies,” but large-scale data on the risk of severe COVID-19 infection in SLE patients are limited, Arthur Mageau, MD, of Bichat–Claude Bernard Hospital in Paris, and colleagues wrote.
In a research letter published in, the researchers used the French health care database Programme de Médicalisation des Systèmes d’Information to identify 11,055 adult SLE patients who had at least one hospital stay between March 1, 2020, and Oct.31, 2020. Of these, 1,411 (12.8%) also were diagnosed with COVID-19, and these patients had a total of 1,721 hospital stays.
Overall, in-hospital mortality was approximately four times higher among SLE patients with COVID-19 infection, compared with SLE patients without COVID-19 infection (9.5% vs. 2.4%, P < .001), and 293 (17%) of the COVID-19 hospital stays involved an intensive care unit. In the ICU, 78 (26.7%) of the COVID-19 patients required invasive ventilation, and 71 (24.7%) required noninvasive mechanical ventilation.
The SLE patients with COVID-19 who died were significantly more likely than the SLE patients with COVID-19 who recovered to be older and male, and to have conditions including chronic kidney disease, high blood pressure, chronic pulmonary disease, and a history of cardiovascular events or lupus nephritis. The study findings were limited by the focus on hospitalized patients only, so the results cannot be generalized to all lupus patients, the researchers said.
“Interestingly, while the overall mortality rate was lower in SLE/COVID-19–positive inpatients as compared with the total population admitted for SARS-CoV-2 infection in France during the same period (9.5% vs 15.7%, P < .0001), the mortality rate at a younger age tended to be higher in patients with SLE,” the researchers wrote, but the difference for these younger patients was not statistically significant. This disparity may be caused by the reduced need for immunosuppressive drugs in SLE patients as they age, and the observed increased mortality in younger SLE patients, compared with the general population, suggests that SLE may promote poor outcomes from COVID-19 infection.
Dr. Mageau received PhD fellowship support from the Agence Nationale pour la recherche. He and the other researchers had no financial conflicts to disclose. The study received no outside funding.