The available data suggest that the risks posed by COVID-19 infection to patients with psoriasis, including those on therapies that affect immune function, are modest at most, according to a summary of published studies and expert opinions summarized at the annual Coastal Dermatology Symposium, held virtually.

Dr. Kristina C. Duffin is cochair of the department of dermatology at the University of Utah, Salt Lake City

Dr. Kristina C. Duffin

For patients with psoriasis concerned about their outcome if infected with COVID-19, “there is no evidence to support stopping biologics or systemic agents, so I am asking my patients to continue,” Kristina C. Duffin, MD, professor and chair of dermatology at the University of Utah, Salt Lake City, said at the meeting.

The National Psoriasis Foundation, which created a COVID-19 task force and maintains a COVID-19 Resource Center on its website, has provided similar advice. Many statements are phrased cautiously and clinicians are encouraged to practice shared decision-making, but the NPF guidance supports continuing effective therapy – or, in newly diagnosed patients, starting effective therapy – among those who are not infected with SARS-CoV2.

Patients with a new diagnosis of psoriasis “should be aware that untreated psoriatic disease is associated with serious impact on physical and emotional health, and in the case of psoriatic arthritis, can lead to permanent joint damage and disability,” according to the NPF guidance.

Overall, the “existing data generally suggest” that most treatments for psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis “do not meaningfully alter the risks of contracting SARS-CoV2 or having a worse course of COVID-19 illness,” the current guidance states. Yet, because of limited data this “is not known with certainty.”

Chronic systemic steroids are an exception. In a review of recently published studies evaluating whether psoriasis or its therapies increase risk of adverse outcomes in patients with COVID-19 infection, Dr. Duffin pointed to several that associated systemic steroids with hospitalization or other markers of severe disease.

The NPF guidance also recommends avoiding chronic systemic steroids in patients with psoriasis during the current COVID-19 era “if possible.” In patients with psoriatic arthritis who require systemic steroids, the guidance recommends “the lowest dose necessary to achieve the desired therapeutic effect.”

This is not necessarily true in patients with psoriasis and COVID-19 infection. Based on the potential for systemic steroids to improve outcomes in hospitalized COVID-19 patients requiring oxygen, steroids “should not be withheld” even when the justification is concern about the potential risk of flares with withdrawal, according to the NPF guidance statement.

The NPF guidance specifically cautions against use of hydroxychloroquine or chloroquine for prevention or treatment of COVID-19. In addition to an uncertain benefit, these antimalarial drugs have been associated previously with flares of psoriasis.

Dr. Duffin agreed and went on to warn that COVID-19 infection itself is a potential trigger for flares. She cited two published case reports of flares associated with psoriasis. Although one patient had also been exposed to hydroxychloroquine, she said the risk of psoriasis-induced flare “makes sense” based on previous associations made between flares and other viral infections and stress.

In patients with psoriasis who contract COVID-19 infection, Dr. Duffin concurred with the NPF guidance that management decisions should be made on a “case-by-case basis.” Although the NPF guidance states that “most patients can restart psoriasis and/or psoriatic arthritis treatments after complete resolution of COVID-19 symptoms,” no specific advice was offered on the decision to stop treatments.

For protecting psoriasis patients from infection and managing COVID-19 in those who become infected, much of the NPF advice is consistent with that offered to patients without psoriasis. This involves practicing infection control that reduces risk of transmission. Both the NPF guidance and Dr. Duffin suggested telemedicine is appropriate for limiting in-patient visits under pandemic conditions.

Although patients with psoriasis are more likely than the general population to have the comorbidities associated with bad COVID-19 infection outcomes, according to the NPF guidance, Dr. Duffin called the overall data evaluating susceptibility among psoriasis patients “reassuring.” She cautioned that the data are still limited, but the evidence so far suggests that neither psoriasis nor biologics are independent risk factors for acquiring COVID-19 or having a worse outcome if infected.

Yet, more definitive data are needed, and Dr. Duffin advised clinicians and patients to consult the NPF website for updates. “More up-to-date information will certainly be added as we go forward,” she said at the meeting, jointly presented by the University of Louisville and Global Academy for Medical Education.

Joel Gelfand, MD,  a professor, and director of the Psoriasis and Phototherapy Treatment Center at the University of Pennsylvania, Philadlphia.

Dr. Joel Gelfand

This NPF task force on COVID-19 is meeting every 2 weeks, according to Joel M. Gelfand, MD, professor of dermatology, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, and cochair of the task force. Dr. Gelfand reported that updates are based on a discussion of the available data.

“We will be releasing additional recommendations as necessary based on the developments,” he said in an interview. Updates are not necessarily required at this frequency but can be if appropriate. The goal is to keep recommendations current and evidence-based.

Dr. Duffin reported financial relationships with Amgen, AbbVie, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Boehringer-Ingelheim, Celgene, Eli Lilly, Janssen, Novartis, Pfizer, Siena, and UCB. Dr. Gelfand reported financial relationships with AbbVie, Bristol-Myers Squibb, GlaxoSmithKline, Lilly, Pfizer, Roche, and UCB.

This publication and Global Academy for Medical Education are owned by the same parent company.