COVID-19 in Western Australia: Am I at greater risk if I have arthritis?

Important Information from Prof Hans Nossent
Chair Rheumatology and Musculoskeletal Medicine, UWA

The risk of COVID-19 infection in WA is currently low, but this may change.     
It is not clear  yet whether having arthritis makes you more susceptible. What we do know is that – like seasonal flu – older adults and people with autoimmune disease, such as rheumatoid arthritis, are more likely to get seriously sick if they become infected, so it is important to take appropriate precautions.

The Covid-19 epidemic may last several months, so if you stop your medicine, you will be likely to have a flare during this period and restart or have to take more intensive treatment with Prednisone.

We do not recommend stopping your rheumatology medication.
The main concern is not only the virus infection which may be mild or severe, but also the chance that secondary bacterial infection and other complications may arise when your body’s defences are in a weakened state. For these reasons, it is essential to call your doctor right away if you think you’ve been exposed or are experiencing flu-like symptoms. Be sure to state that you are taking immune-suppressing drugs.

The mortality associated with covid-19 is up to 2% and major risk factors for the severe disease have been identified as being aged over 80, having chronic heart, lung disease and diabetes. The data from studies of the outbreak in China have so far not identified treatment with immunosuppressive drugs such as Methotrexate in rheumatology patients as a risk factor for higher mortality. Still, it is a reasonable cause for concern, and the data on the disease is being monitored.

What kind of precautions to take?

This virus is spread through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. It can also be transmitted on surfaces touched by a person with the disease. To protect yourself and your family from this virus, follow the same common-sense precautions you would take to protect from cold or flu viruses.

·     Wash your hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds
·     Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth, especially with unwashed hands
·     Avoid close contact with people who are sick
·     When coughing or sneezing:
·     cover your mouth and nose with your arm or tissues to reduce the spread of germs
·     immediately dispose of any tissues you have used into the garbage as soon as possible and wash your hands afterwards
·     Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces, such as toys, electronic devices and doorknobs
·     Stay home if you are sick to avoid spreading illness to others

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Prof Hans Nossent MD, PhD, FRACP
Chair Rheumatology and Musculoskeletal Medicine, UWA
(partly funded by Arthritis & Osteoporosis WA)

Updated: 17 March 2020

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