BACKGROUND: While rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and its treatments are associated with an increased infection risk, it remains unclear whether these factors impact the risk or severity of COVID-19.
METHODS: We conducted a matched cohort study using national Veterans Affairs data. Among non-deceased individuals on January 1, 2020 who received VA care in 2019, we matched RA to non-RA patients (1:1) on age, sex, and VA site. COVID-19 and severe COVID-19 (hospitalization or death) were obtained from a national VA COVID-19 surveillance database through December 10, 2020. We used multivariable Cox models to compare the risk of COVID-19 and COVID-19 hospitalization or death after adjusting for demographics, comorbidities, health behaviors, and county level COVID-19 incidence rates.
RESULTS: RA and non-RA patients (n=33,886 each) were male predominant (84.5%) and had a mean age of 67.8 years. During follow-up, there were 1,503 COVID-19 diagnoses, 388 severe COVID-19 cases, and 228 non-COVID-19 related deaths. After multivariable adjustment, RA was associated with a higher risk of COVID-19 (hazard ratio [HR] 1.25 [95% confidence interval 1.13, 1.39]) and COVID-19 hospitalization or death (HR 1.35 [1.10, 1.66]). DMARDs and prednisone, but not RA autoantibody seropositivity, as well as black race, Hispanic ethnicity, and several chronic conditions were associated with COVID-19 and COVID-19 hospitalization or death.
CONCLUSIONS: Patients with RA are at higher risk for COVID-19 and COVID-19 hospitalization or death than non-RA. With a COVID-19 risk that approaches other recognized chronic conditions, these findings suggest RA patients should be prioritized for COVID-19 prevention and management.