For people who have received liver transplants, taking immunosuppressant medications to prevent rejection of the organ apparently does not increase the risk of COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the new coronavirus, MedPage Today reports.

That’s according to a small study conducted in Italy and published in a letter in the Lancet Gastroenterology & Hepatology. The study also suggests that due to the fact that an excessive immune response may be one of the drivers of negative health outcomes and deaths from COVID-19, immunosuppressants may actually be protective for those who contract coronavirus.

Led by Vincenzo Mazzaferro, MD, PhD, of the Istituto Nazionale Tumori in Milan, the study included 141 immunosuppressed liver transplant recipients, including 111 people who had received their transplant more than 10 years prior and 40 who had received a new liver within the past two years.

Six members of the cohort tested positive for COVID-19, including three from the long-term and short-term transplant groups. All three members of the long-term transplant group died. Those in the short-term group experienced an “uneventful course of the disease” and recovered.

All three of the individuals who died were over 65 and overweight and were on medications to lower their blood pressure and had high blood lipids and diabetes. Their transplant outcomes had been good and their immunosuppressive regimens had been tapered such that they were taking very low levels of calcineurin inhibitors.

Research out of China has suggested that high blood pressure, diabetes, high blood pressure and being overweight are all risk factors for worse outcomes from COVID-19, including death.

In keeping with guidance from the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases, the study authors suggested that immunosuppressant medications should not be reduced or stopped for liver transplantees during the coronavirus pandemic.

To read the MedPage Today article, click here.

To read the letter, click here.