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March 18, 2019
Research Roundup
March 21, 2019

People with Autoimmune Disease and the COVID-19 Pandemic

Dr. Betty Diamond, Chair, AARDA Scientific Advisory Board

The worldwide spread of COVID19 has disrupted all our lives. Unfortunately, the lack of information, and the slow engagement of scientific leadership, has enabled rumors and misinformation to spread. Fortunately, we all still exercise some control over our own health during this crisis. We, at AARDA, take this opportunity to offer some advice for individuals with autoimmune diseases during this pandemic.

It is clear that social distancing is an important component of infection control. Stay away from crowded venues. If you must use public transportation, try to travel during non-peak hours. Postpone gatherings with friends and family. Most importantly, wash hands often and thoroughly. Each individual’s unique circumstances will be different, but the principle that should apply to everyone is to minimize contact with other people to the extent possible – for your own health, your family’s health, and for the sake of public health. We each have a responsibility to minimize the spread of the virus in the community even if we are willing to take risks for ourselves.

It is a certainty that those on immunosuppressive medication and corticosteroids are more at risk for infections. It is also likely that individuals on immunosuppressive therapy who develop the virus may not exhibit a fever. Corticosteroids and immunosuppressive therapies lessen the activation of those immune cells which are responsible for a fever. Therefore, individuals with autoimmune diseases requiring these therapies need to know that a cough, fatigue and certainly any difficulty breathing are reason enough to contact your physician with or without a fever. Try to establish in advance how you will contact your doctor should you develop symptoms or have concerns that you were or might have been exposed to a person infected by the virus. Emergency rooms and triage centers are not good places to be. Alternative ways to access care is preferable if possible.

Unfortunately, some misinformation is being circulated online. There is no current treatment or cure for COVID19 apart from supportive measures. There are a few specialized hospitals that are starting clinical trials of anti-viral drugs, and there are efforts underway to design vaccines. These will need to be tested for safety and effectiveness before they can be distributed to the general public. This takes time and is why health officials think it will be about a year before a vaccine is available.

Catch up on your reading. As we learn more, we will share with you.

There are many online sites that will give you accurate and frequently updated information about COVID19. These can inform you about new developments and new knowledge. Here are a few:

Betty Diamond, MD Head, Center for Autoimmune and Musculoskeletal Diseases


About the Author

Dr. Betty Diamond graduated with a BA from Harvard University and an MD from Harvard Medical School. She performed a residency in internal medicine at Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center and received postdoctoral training in immunology at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine.

Dr. Diamond has headed the rheumatology divisions at Albert Einstein School of Medicine and at Columbia University Medical Center. She also directed the Medical Scientist Training Program at Albert Einstein School of Medicine for many years. She is currently head of the Center for Autoimmune, Musculoskeletal and Hematopoietic Diseases at The Feinstein Institutes for Medical Research and director of the PhD and MD/PhD programs of the Donald and Barbara Zucker School of Medicine at Hofstra/Northwell.

A former president of the American Association of Immunology, Dr. Diamond has also served on the Board of Directors of the American College of Rheumatology and the Scientific Council of the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS).

Dr. Diamond is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and a member of the National Academy of Medicine. She serves as the Chair of AARDA’s Scientific Advisory Board.

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