How does COVID-19 affect patients with inflammatory bowel disease? That’s what gastroenterologist Brindusa Truta and colleagues hope to find out during the pandemic through periodic surveys of their 3,000 patients with IBD.
“There is absolutely no data regarding IBD and the virus,” Truta says. “Therefore, we decided to go ahead and interview our patients from time to time about their infection status, their medications and other risk factors.”
It’s not yet clear how being on immunosuppressive medications can alter the variables and risk factors for contracting the pandemic coronavirus compared with typical adults not taking the medications, says Truta. IBD clinic staff will be interviewing patients during telemedicine checkups or through questionnaires about their daily habits and activities, employment status, transportation and living arrangements. If patients have no symptoms of COVID-19 at the time of the interview, clinic staff members follow up with them later. If they do become infected, they’re asked to call the clinic to let them know, and to potentially have their medications adjusted.
“Every step in unlocking the economy is going to come with more interactions among people and more exposure,” she says. “Some of our patients will return to work, so we wanted to deploy our questionnaire at different points of time trying to capture what happens.”
So far, patients have been very willing to share their information. Some who did develop symptoms called the clinic to say what they were doing and how they think they became infected. Based only on evidence so far, says Truta, the virus does not currently appear to impact this population any worse than the general population. Most patients infected and on immunosuppression seem to recover without going to the hospital, with some variations based on age and comorbidities.
“You would expect that patients who are on medications to lower their immune response, as many of our IBD patients are, would have a higher risk of getting infected [with coronavirus] and a poorer outcome, but based on our data so far, we are not seeing that,” Truta says.
While the study is still ongoing, she says, “we really appreciate and are very impressed with the patients’ enthusiasm and unselfishness to share information and help others.”