The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on autoimmune diagnostics in Europe: A lesson to be learned

Eszter Nagy*, Maria Infantino, Nicola Bizzaro, Hristina Andreeva, Hetty J Bontkes, Xavier Bossuyt, Nicole Fabien, Katarzyna Fischer, Ingmar A F M Heijnen, Manfred Herold, Ana Kozmar, Liisa Kuhi, Marcos López-Hoyos, Rille Pullerits, Maria Jose Rego Sousa, Alexandra Tsirogianni, Jan Damoiseaux, European Autoimmunity Standardisation Initiative

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journal(Systematic) Review article peer-review

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INTRODUCTION: The first wave of COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted almost all areas of the health care services to some extent throughout the world. Although the negative impact of COVID-19 on patients with autoimmune diseases has also been recognized, available data in this regard are limited. In the current study of the European Autoimmunity Standardisation Initiative (EASI) we aimed to provide reliable data on the extent of the impact of COVID-19 pandemic on test requests for different autoantibodies in European countries.

METHODS: Data on test numbers and on the number of positive results were collected in 97 clinical laboratories from 15 European countries on a monthly basis for the year before (2019) and the year during (2020) the COVID-19 pandemic.

RESULTS: A reduction in the number of autoantibody tests was observed in all European countries in the year 2020 compared to 2019. The reduction affected all autoantibody tests with an overall decrease of 13%, ranging from 1.4% (Switzerland) to 25.5% (Greece). In all countries, the decrease was most pronounced during the first wave of the pandemic (March-May 2020) with an overall decrease in those three months of 45.2%. The most affected autoantibodies were those commonly requested by general practitioners (anti-tTG IgA (-71%), RF IgM (-66%) and ACPA (-61%)). In the second wave of the pandemic (October-December 2020) the decrease was less pronounced (6.8%). With respect to the rate of positive results, subtle differences were observed for distinct autoantibodies during the pandemic, but the total rate of positive results was similar in both years.

CONCLUSIONS: Our study demonstrated a strong decrease in autoantibody requests during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic in 15 European countries. The second wave was characterized by a less pronounced impact, with some participating countries hardly affected, while some other countries experienced a second decline. The decrease was clearly associated with the level of lock-down and with the required adjustments in the health care systems in different countries, supporting the importance of an effective strategy for the coordination of autoimmune testing in challenging situations as the COVID-19 pandemic.

Original languageEnglish
Article number102985
Number of pages10
JournalAutoimmunity Reviews
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2021


  • COVID-19
  • Communicable Disease Control
  • Europe
  • Humans
  • Laboratories, Clinical
  • Pandemics
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • COVID-19 pandemic
  • Autoantibody testing
  • Autoimmune diseases

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