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IBD patients develop new gastrointestinal symptoms with COVID-19

12th August 2021

New gastrointestinal symptoms in patients with irritable bowel disease is a feature of infection with COVID-19 rather than a disease flare.

The presence of gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms among those infected with COVID-19, occurs in around 17.6% of patients. Whether or not the presence of GI symptoms is prognostic for more severe disease, however, remains unclear except perhaps for abdominal pain. In contrast, other studies have indicated that the development of GI symptoms could even attenuate any COVID-19 associated inflammation. The term inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is essential an umbrella term which covers both Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis although typically, both groups of patients will experience symptoms of diarrhoea, abdominal pain, fatigue, rectal bleeding and weight loss. Some evidence indicates that among those with IBD infected with COVID-19, there is a higher incidence of both diarrhoea and abdominal pain, compared to non-IBD patients. In fact, in a review of 1028 patients with IBD infected with COVID-19, 20% experienced diarrhoea. Given that infection with COVID-19 can lead to gastrointestinal symptoms in nearly a fifth of patients without IBD, researchers from the Henry D Janowitz Division of Gastroenterology, Icahn School of Medicine, New York, US, decided to examine the extent of symptoms experienced by IBD patients using data held within a global disease registry. The Surveillance Epidemiology of Coronavirus Under Research Exclusion for Inflammatory Bowel Disease (SECURE-IBD) is an international registry, created to monitor the outcomes of COVID-19 in both adults and children with IBD. Clinicians are advised to the voluntarily report all cases of PCR-confirmed infections in all their IBD patients onto the registry to enable the capture of data related to those with IBD. Using this registry, the team sought to determine the association between any new GI symptoms with the odds of death due to COVID-19.

Findings
Data were available for 2917 IBD patients who had COVID-19, of whom, 26.4%, with a mean age of 43 years (55.5% female) developed new GI symptoms when infected with the virus. There was no significant difference in the incidence of new GI symptoms in those with Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis. Moreover, new gastrointestinal symptoms occurred more frequently in those with active disease compared to those in remission (29.4% vs 23.3%, p < 0.01). The pattern of symptoms however, was broadly similar apart from abdominal pain. For instance, diarrhoea occurred in 83% vs 76% (active disease vs remission) and nausea in 24% vs 25% (active disease vs remission). The greatest disparity was in abdominal pain (44% vs 26%, active disease vs remission). In addition, patients with IBD experiencing new GI symptoms were more likely to be hospitalised because of COVID-19 (31.4% vs 19.2%, p < 0.01) although the development of new symptoms was not associated with a higher risk of death.

The authors discussed how the development of new gastrointestinal symptoms were unlikely to represent a disease flare, because a large number of those in remission also experienced new symptoms after becoming infected. They concluded that the presence of new gastrointestinal symptoms in a patient with IBD should clinicians to consider infection with COVID-19 although the team also felt that further studies were needed to determine if infection could trigger an IBD flare or even alter the subsequent course of the disease.

Citation
Ungaro RC et al. New Gastrointestinal Symptoms Are Common in Inflammatory Bowel Disease Patients With COVID-19: Data from an International Registry. Inflamm Bowel Dis 2021

Infliximab attenuates COVID-19 antibody response

29th March 2021

Immunosuppressant therapy affects an individual’s immune response but how this impacts on the COVID-19 antibodies is uncertain.

The production of an effective immune response after infection with COVID-19 is of paramount importance in preventing further bouts of infection. Moreover, biologicals such as infliximab, which target tumour necrosis factor (TNF), are known to impair protective immunity following a number of viral infection vaccinations including influenza, viral hepatitis and pneumococcus, thereby increasing the risk of serious infection. Hence in the early part of the COVID-19 pandemic, patients prescribed immunosuppressant therapy were advised to shield. Fortunately, information derived from international registry data indicates that the rates of severe infection among patients prescribed immunosuppressants are similar to the background population rates. However, whether anti-TNF drugs actually impair the immune response in those who have already been infected with COVID-19 is uncertain. This prompted a team from the Department of Gastroenterology, Royal Devon and Exeter Trust, UK, to examine the subsequent immune response in those with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) after infection with COVID-19 and treated with infliximab. In an effort to test whether the immune response was blunted, the team retrospectively compared antibody responses in those treated with either infliximab or vedolizumab, a gut selective anti-integrin alpha4beta7 monoclonal antibody, for at least 6 weeks. Consecutive patients at the hospital were recruited when attending their infusion appointments and those who had participated in any of the COVID-19 vaccine trials were excluded. The primary outcome was the proportion of patients with a positive COVID-19 test and a secondary outcome was the magnitude of the antibody response between the two treatment groups, in those who tested positive. The team collected several additional pieces of information including demographics as well as information on IBD disease activity and mental health wellbeing and anxiety assessment and used this to construct multivariate logistic regression analysis.

Findings
A total of 6935 patients were included in the analysis of whom, 67.6% were prescribed infliximab with a mean age of 37.1 years (45.5% female). The majority of those prescribed infliximab had Crohn’s disease (66.6%) or ulcerative colitis (31.1%). In contrast, most of those (60.1%) prescribed vedolizumab had ulcerative colitis. There were a similar proportion of patients in both groups who either reported COVID-19 symptoms (8.3% vs 8.9%, infliximab vs vedolizumab) or tested positive (5.2% vs 4.3%) or who were hospitalised (0.2% vs 0.2%) because of their infection. Overall, the prevalence of COVID-19 antibodies was 4.3% but this was significantly lower in those using infliximab (3.4% vs 6%, p < 0.0001). Additionally, among those with PCR confirmed COVID-19 infection, seroconversion was observed in fewer patients treated with infliximab (48% vs 83%).

In a discussion of their findings, the authors noted how infliximab appeared to attenuate the subsequent serological response to the virus despite a similar level of rates of either symptoms or positive tests. They also described how as the action of TNF is to stimulate B cells, the effect of infliximab was biologically plausible.

They concluded that their work had important implications for vaccinating those prescribed infliximab and called for serological surveillance to detect suboptimal vaccine responses.

Citation
Kennedy NA et al. Anti-SARS-CoV-2 antibody responses are attenuated in patients with IBD treated with infliximab. Gut 2021