Incidence of giant cell arteritis is associated with COVID-19 prevalence: A population-level retrospective study

Ben Mulhearn, Jessica Ellis, Sarah Skeoch, John Pauling, Sarah Tansley

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


BACKGROUND: Following the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, it was observed that giant cell arteritis (GCA) diagnoses increased at the Royal National Hospital for Rheumatic Diseases (RNHRD) in Bath, UK. This finding may support the viral aetiology hypothesis of GCA. Better understanding of the causes of GCA may help improve diagnostic and treatment strategies leading to better outcomes for patients.

OBJECTIVES: The study aims to estimate the local incidence of GCA during the early COVID-19 pandemic (2020-2021) and compare it to pre-pandemic (2015-2019) data. This study will also evaluate the temporal relationship between COVID-19 infections and GCA diagnoses.

METHODS: Annual incidence rates of GCA were calculated between 2015 and 2021. Local COVID-19 prevalence was estimated by measuring the number of hospital beds taken up by COVID-19 positive patients. Poisson statistics were used to compare the annual mean incidence of GCA between 2019 and 2020, and Granger causality tested the temporal relationship between COVID-19 prevalence and GCA incidence.

RESULTS: There were 60 (95% confidence interval [CI] 46-77) GCA diagnoses made in 2020 compared to 28 (CI 19-41) in 2019 ( P = 0.016). Peaks in the number of COVID-19 inpatients correlated with peaks in GCA diagnoses. Granger causality testing found a statistically significant association between these peaks with a lag period of 40-45 days.

CONCLUSION: The incidence of GCA in Bath was significantly increased in 2020 and 2021 compared to 2015-2019. The lag period between peaks was 40-45 days, suggesting that the COVID-19 virus may be a precipitating factor for GCA. More work is currently underway to interrogate the causal relationship between these two diseases.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere17899
Issue number7
Early online date3 Jul 2023
Publication statusPublished - 20 Jul 2023


  • COVID-19
  • Epidemiology
  • Giant cell arteritis
  • Pathogenesis
  • Rheumatology
  • Vasculitis
  • immunology


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