Serious infection risk in rheumatoid arthritis compared with non-inflammatory rheumatic and musculoskeletal diseases: A US national cohort study

Bella Mehta, Sofia Pedro, Gulsen Ozen, Andre Kalil, Frederick Wolfe, Ted Mikuls, Kaleb Michaud

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Objectives To identify serious infection (SI) risk by aetiology and site in patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) compared with those with non-inflammatory rheumatic and musculoskeletal diseases (NIRMD). Methods Patients participating in FORWARD from 2001 to 2016 were assessed for SIs; defined by infections requiring hospitalisation, intravenous antibiotics or followed by death. SIs were categorised by aetiology and site. SI risk was assessed through Cox proportional hazards models. Best models were selected using machine learning Least Absolute Shrinkage and Selection Operator (LASSO) methodology. Results Among 20 361 patients with RA and 6176 patients with NIRMD, 1600 and 276 first SIs were identified, respectively. Incidence of SIs was higher in RA compared with NIRMD (IRR = 1.5; 95% CI 1.2 to 1.5). The risk persisted after adjusting using the LASSO model (HR 1.7; 95% CI 1.5 to 1.8), but attenuated when additionally adjusted for glucocorticoid use (HR 1.3; 95% CI 1.2 to 1.5). SI risk was significantly higher in RA versus NIRMD for bacterial infections as well as for respiratory, skin, bone, joint, bloodstream infections and sepsis irrespective of glucocorticoid use. Compared with NIRMD, SI risk was significantly increased in patients with RA who were in moderate and high disease activity but was similar to those in low disease activity/remission (p trend < 0.001). Conclusions The risk of all SIs, particularly bacterial, respiratory, bloodstream, sepsis, skin, bone and joint infections are significantly increased in patients with RA compared with patients with NIRMD. This infection risk appears to be greatest in those with higher RA disease activity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere000935
JournalRMD Open
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jun 1 2019



  • cohort study
  • non-inflammatory rheumatic disease
  • rheumatoid arthritis
  • serious infection

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Immunology and Allergy
  • Rheumatology
  • Immunology

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