A powerful class of steroid drugs that are used to treat inflammatory diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and ulcerative colitis, when used over the long-term, may make patients more susceptible to life-threatening staph blood infections.
Systemic glucocorticoids, which are also considered a type of corticosteroids, are known as immunosuppressive drugs that have anti-inflammatory properties. However, they can also suppress the body’s immune system, leaving some patients more susceptible to infections.
In a new study published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings, Danish researchers examined the medical records of 30,000 patients. People who were given systemic glucocorticoids were 2.5 times more likely than those who didn’t take the drug to have a staph bacteria-associated blood infection outside of a hospital.
The risk of infection rose the higher the dose. Patients on a 90-day corticosteroid cumulative dose up to 150 mg had 2.4 times higher risk than non-users. But the risk for those taking more than 1,000 mg of the drug over the same time period was 6.3 times greater.
People with pre-existing medical conditions also faced the highest risk of infection. For example, the risk was highest among patients who had connective tissue disease and chronic lung disease and who used glucocorticoids over the long term. In cancer patients, new users of the drugs faced the highest risk.
The researchers advise that physicians weigh the benefits of glucocorticoid therapy with the increased risk for staph infections in all patients.