During the height of pandemic in 2020 and 2021, we received countless questions regarding coronavirus. People from the vitiligo community were keen to learn if they were at higher risk of contracting the novel virus. Given vitiligo is often proclaimed as an autoimmune skin disorder (which means that people with vitiligo have an immune system that is somehow malfunctioning), it was understandable why people had such thoughts. However, in absence of any research study on the subject, it was tough for us to clarify if people with vitiligo were/are generally at high/less risk of contracting coronavirus. Thankfully, we have some clarity (though not absolutely) on the same now.
New cohort analysis data suggest that the risk of COVID-19 related hospitalization and mortality is about 38% decreased among patients with vitiligo. In study by a team of investigators (Rahul Raiker) from the West Virginia University School of Medicine, vitiligo was found to be associated with a decreased likelihood of severe COVID-19 outcomes among infected patients with the condition. For the retrospective analysis, Raiker and his team used the 80 million-patient TriNetX federal database. They identified adult ≥18 years old that were diagnosed with COVID-19 between January 20, 2020 and December 1, 2021. Note: patients vaccinated against the virus prior to infection were excluded from this analysis.
While the analysis was certainly limited by the potential inaccuracy of database information (and is marked by the researchers’ inability to track COVID-19 course or variant subtype in infected patients), it elucidates a potential antiviral protective effect with vitiligo – something that can be further investigated in future studies on vitiligo and its potential treatment.
“Conversely, it has also been hypothesized that vitiligo may provide protection against severe COVID-19 outcomes based on the propensity of the disorder to induce interferon signaling,” Raiker and colleagues wrote in the research letter. The study named “Risk of COVID-19 related complications in vitiligo patients: A database study” was published in Journal of the German Society of Dermatology.