Systemic autoimmune diseases and vulnerability to the novel Coronavirus

A study authored by the researchers of the University of Florence highlights for the first time that the risk of getting sick does not seem to increase for patients with these diseases.

University of Florence
2 min readMay 28, 2020

People with systemic autoimmune diseases, such as Systemic Lupus Erythematosus, do not appear to be at a higher risk of contracting the SARS-CoV-2 virus than the rest of the population. This is suggested by the study authored by researchers at the University of Florence and published in the scientific journal Autoimmunity Reviews, which took into consideration a large group of Tuscan patients.

The study was conducted by the team coordinated by Domenico Prisco, at the Centre dedicated to systemic autoimmune diseases of the Careggi university-hospital and involved researchers from the Departments of Experimental and Clinical Medicine, Biomedical, Experimental and Clinical Sciences and of Neuroscience, Psychology, Drug Research and Child Health.

In the first half of April, the researchers contacted 458 individuals affected by systemic autoimmune diseases, to compare the presence of patients with SARS-CoV-2 infection, diagnosed with nasopharyngeal swab, among them with that found in the general population residing in the same region of Tuscany.

“In the study we considered a very wide spectrum of systemic autoimmune diseases, connective tissue diseases (in particular Systemic Lupus Erythematosus), arthritis and systemic vasculitis, but we also involved patients suffering from auto-inflammatory diseases such as Familial Mediterranean fever, recurrent pericarditis and uveitis,” explains Giacomo Emmi, researcher of Internal Medicine.

Of the patients contacted by the team — mostly women and with an average age of 56–13 reported suspicious symptoms of SARS-CoV-2 infection, seven underwent nasopharyngeal swab and, among them, one patient subsequently developed a severe symptomatic infection that required hospitalization.

“The survey, which is based on a very large sample, showed that in our cohort the prevalence of infections due to the new Coronavirus was 0.22% which is comparable to the prevalence of SARS infections- CoV-2 detected in the population residing in Tuscany (0.20%) and comparable also to the incidence in the Italian and European population, in the period taken into consideration,” adds Emmi.

“Another evidence that emerged is that in patients with lowered immune defences, a situation related to the control of systemic autoimmune disease, we have not verified manifestations compatible with SARS-CoV-2 infection. Although we have not yet confirmed the protective efficacy of immunosuppressive therapies our results meanwhile suggest that, in case of SARS-CoV-2 contagion, there is no need to stop the ongoing therapies for autoimmune systemic diseases in place,” comments Domenico Prisco.



University of Florence

The University of Florence is an important and influential centre for research and higher training in Italy