News - 15 Mar `20FAQ: Vitiligo and Coronavirus

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Am I at higher risk of catching SARS-CoV-2 if I have vitiligo?

In short, NO. 

The normal role of our immune system is to protect us from external and internal threats, like infections and cancers.  Yet, we do not know every detail about how the immune system works and why it goes crazy sometimes.  

In people with vitiligo, a part of the immune system becomes over-reactive to a certain type of cells in the skin and other organs — melanocytes. This abnormal response kills healthy cells that produce pigment in the skin, which causes white — or more correctly, colourless — spots to appear. 

We know that vitiligo has some protective benefits and may reduce risk of internal cancers. Those with vitiligo often say they are less affected by common colds. They may be better at fighting the novel coronavirus once they come in contact, but everyone is a little different, — so it’s a wild guess at this moment. 

There are always exceptions to the rule. In rare cases, people get comorbid autoimmune diseases. This may be an indicator of a compromised immune system and extra precautions against infections are necessary. 

The bottom line is: having vitiligo does not make your immune system weak. You are no more likely to get an infection than people around you. You might even be able to fight it faster. 

What about if I take an immunosuppressant medication?

You may be at extra risk of complications from the virus if you are infected, although chances are slim.

Topical medications — that are applied directly to skin — don't have any effect on the immune system outside the application area. They pose a very low risk of affecting your ability to fight infections.

Unfortunately, some other medications treat active form of vitiligo by supressing the entire immune system. Oral or injectable medications can make you more prone to contracting coronavirus and having a more severe infection. If you have a flu-like symptoms, your doctor may recommend stopping or lowering dose of these medications and then resuming them once your infection has cleared. 

Low-dose dexamethasone and JAK inhibitors, like Xeljanz (tofacitinib) or Jakafi (ruxolitinib), fall somewhere in-between on the risk scale. 

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