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      COVID-19: consider cytokine storm syndromes and immunosuppression

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      a , e , f , c , d , g , h , b , HLH Across Speciality Collaboration, UK
      Lancet (London, England)
      Elsevier Ltd.

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          Abstract

          As of March 12, 2020, coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) has been confirmed in 125 048 people worldwide, carrying a mortality of approximately 3·7%, 1 compared with a mortality rate of less than 1% from influenza. There is an urgent need for effective treatment. Current focus has been on the development of novel therapeutics, including antivirals and vaccines. Accumulating evidence suggests that a subgroup of patients with severe COVID-19 might have a cytokine storm syndrome. We recommend identification and treatment of hyperinflammation using existing, approved therapies with proven safety profiles to address the immediate need to reduce the rising mortality. Current management of COVID-19 is supportive, and respiratory failure from acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) is the leading cause of mortality. 2 Secondary haemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis (sHLH) is an under-recognised, hyperinflammatory syndrome characterised by a fulminant and fatal hypercytokinaemia with multiorgan failure. In adults, sHLH is most commonly triggered by viral infections 3 and occurs in 3·7–4·3% of sepsis cases. 4 Cardinal features of sHLH include unremitting fever, cytopenias, and hyperferritinaemia; pulmonary involvement (including ARDS) occurs in approximately 50% of patients. 5 A cytokine profile resembling sHLH is associated with COVID-19 disease severity, characterised by increased interleukin (IL)-2, IL-7, granulocyte-colony stimulating factor, interferon-γ inducible protein 10, monocyte chemoattractant protein 1, macrophage inflammatory protein 1-α, and tumour necrosis factor-α. 6 Predictors of fatality from a recent retrospective, multicentre study of 150 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Wuhan, China, included elevated ferritin (mean 1297·6 ng/ml in non-survivors vs 614·0 ng/ml in survivors; p<0·001) and IL-6 (p<0·0001), 2 suggesting that mortality might be due to virally driven hyperinflammation. As during previous pandemics (severe acute respiratory syndrome and Middle East respiratory syndrome), corticosteroids are not routinely recommended and might exacerbate COVID-19-associated lung injury. 7 However, in hyperinflammation, immunosuppression is likely to be beneficial. Re-analysis of data from a phase 3 randomised controlled trial of IL-1 blockade (anakinra) in sepsis, showed significant survival benefit in patients with hyperinflammation, without increased adverse events. 8 A multicentre, randomised controlled trial of tocilizumab (IL-6 receptor blockade, licensed for cytokine release syndrome), has been approved in patients with COVID-19 pneumonia and elevated IL-6 in China (ChiCTR2000029765). 9 Janus kinase (JAK) inhibition could affect both inflammation and cellular viral entry in COVID-19. 10 All patients with severe COVID-19 should be screened for hyperinflammation using laboratory trends (eg, increasing ferritin, decreasing platelet counts, or erythrocyte sedimentation rate) and the HScore 11 (table ) to identify the subgroup of patients for whom immunosuppression could improve mortality. Therapeutic options include steroids, intravenous immunoglobulin, selective cytokine blockade (eg, anakinra or tocilizumab) and JAK inhibition. Table HScore for secondary HLH, by clinical parameter Number of points Temperature <38·4°C 0 38·4–39·4°C 33 >39·4°C 49 Organomegaly None 0 Hepatomegaly or splenomegaly 23 Hepatomegaly and splenomegaly 38 Number of cytopenias * One lineage 0 Two lineages 24 Three lineages 34 Triglycerides (mmol/L) <1·5 mmol/L 0 1·5–4·0 mmol/L 44 >4·0 mmol/L 64 Fibrinogen (g/L) >2·5 g/L 0 ≤2·5 g/L 30 Ferritin ng/ml <2000 ng/ml 0 2000–6000 ng/ml 35 >6000 ng/ml 50 Serum aspartate aminotransferase <30 IU/L 0 ≥30 IU/L 19 Haemophagocytosis on bone marrow aspirate No 0 Yes 35 Known immunosuppression † No 0 Yes 18 The Hscore 11 generates a probability for the presence of secondary HLH. HScores greater than 169 are 93% sensitive and 86% specific for HLH. Note that bone marrow haemophagocytosis is not mandatory for a diagnosis of HLH. HScores can be calculated using an online HScore calculator. 11 HLH=haemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis. * Defined as either haemoglobin concentration of 9·2 g/dL or less (≤5·71 mmol/L), a white blood cell count of 5000 white blood cells per mm3 or less, or platelet count of 110 000 platelets per mm3 or less, or all of these criteria combined. † HIV positive or receiving longterm immunosuppressive therapy (ie, glucocorticoids, cyclosporine, azathioprine).

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          Clinical features of patients infected with 2019 novel coronavirus in Wuhan, China

          Summary Background A recent cluster of pneumonia cases in Wuhan, China, was caused by a novel betacoronavirus, the 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV). We report the epidemiological, clinical, laboratory, and radiological characteristics and treatment and clinical outcomes of these patients. Methods All patients with suspected 2019-nCoV were admitted to a designated hospital in Wuhan. We prospectively collected and analysed data on patients with laboratory-confirmed 2019-nCoV infection by real-time RT-PCR and next-generation sequencing. Data were obtained with standardised data collection forms shared by WHO and the International Severe Acute Respiratory and Emerging Infection Consortium from electronic medical records. Researchers also directly communicated with patients or their families to ascertain epidemiological and symptom data. Outcomes were also compared between patients who had been admitted to the intensive care unit (ICU) and those who had not. Findings By Jan 2, 2020, 41 admitted hospital patients had been identified as having laboratory-confirmed 2019-nCoV infection. Most of the infected patients were men (30 [73%] of 41); less than half had underlying diseases (13 [32%]), including diabetes (eight [20%]), hypertension (six [15%]), and cardiovascular disease (six [15%]). Median age was 49·0 years (IQR 41·0–58·0). 27 (66%) of 41 patients had been exposed to Huanan seafood market. One family cluster was found. Common symptoms at onset of illness were fever (40 [98%] of 41 patients), cough (31 [76%]), and myalgia or fatigue (18 [44%]); less common symptoms were sputum production (11 [28%] of 39), headache (three [8%] of 38), haemoptysis (two [5%] of 39), and diarrhoea (one [3%] of 38). Dyspnoea developed in 22 (55%) of 40 patients (median time from illness onset to dyspnoea 8·0 days [IQR 5·0–13·0]). 26 (63%) of 41 patients had lymphopenia. All 41 patients had pneumonia with abnormal findings on chest CT. Complications included acute respiratory distress syndrome (12 [29%]), RNAaemia (six [15%]), acute cardiac injury (five [12%]) and secondary infection (four [10%]). 13 (32%) patients were admitted to an ICU and six (15%) died. Compared with non-ICU patients, ICU patients had higher plasma levels of IL2, IL7, IL10, GSCF, IP10, MCP1, MIP1A, and TNFα. Interpretation The 2019-nCoV infection caused clusters of severe respiratory illness similar to severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus and was associated with ICU admission and high mortality. Major gaps in our knowledge of the origin, epidemiology, duration of human transmission, and clinical spectrum of disease need fulfilment by future studies. Funding Ministry of Science and Technology, Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences, National Natural Science Foundation of China, and Beijing Municipal Science and Technology Commission.
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            Clinical predictors of mortality due to COVID-19 based on an analysis of data of 150 patients from Wuhan, China

            Dear Editor, The rapid emergence of COVID-19 in Wuhan city, Hubei Province, China, has resulted in thousands of deaths [1]. Many infected patients, however, presented mild flu-like symptoms and quickly recover [2]. To effectively prioritize resources for patients with the highest risk, we identified clinical predictors of mild and severe patient outcomes. Using the database of Jin Yin-tan Hospital and Tongji Hospital, we conducted a retrospective multicenter study of 68 death cases (68/150, 45%) and 82 discharged cases (82/150, 55%) with laboratory-confirmed infection of SARS-CoV-2. Patients met the discharge criteria if they had no fever for at least 3 days, significantly improved respiratory function, and had negative SARS-CoV-2 laboratory test results twice in succession. Case data included demographics, clinical characteristics, laboratory results, treatment options and outcomes. For statistical analysis, we represented continuous measurements as means (SDs) or as medians (IQRs) which compared with Student’s t test or the Mann–Whitney–Wilcoxon test. Categorical variables were expressed as numbers (%) and compared by the χ 2 test or Fisher’s exact test. The distribution of the enrolled patients’ age is shown in Fig. 1a. There was a significant difference in age between the death group and the discharge group (p < 0.001) but no difference in the sex ratio (p = 0.43). A total of 63% (43/68) of patients in the death group and 41% (34/82) in the discharge group had underlying diseases (p = 0.0069). It should be noted that patients with cardiovascular diseases have a significantly increased risk of death when they are infected with SARS-CoV-2 (p < 0.001). A total of 16% (11/68) of the patients in the death group had secondary infections, and 1% (1/82) of the patients in the discharge group had secondary infections (p = 0.0018). Laboratory results showed that there were significant differences in white blood cell counts, absolute values of lymphocytes, platelets, albumin, total bilirubin, blood urea nitrogen, blood creatinine, myoglobin, cardiac troponin, C-reactive protein (CRP) and interleukin-6 (IL-6) between the two groups (Fig. 1b and Supplementary Table 1). Fig. 1 a Age distribution of patients with confirmed COVID-19; b key laboratory parameters for the outcomes of patients with confirmed COVID-19; c interval from onset of symptom to death of patients with confirmed COVID-19; d summary of the cause of death of 68 died patients with confirmed COVID-19 The survival times of the enrolled patients in the death group were analyzed. The distribution of survival time from disease onset to death showed two peaks, with the first one at approximately 14 days (22 cases) and the second one at approximately 22 days (17 cases) (Fig. 1c). An analysis of the cause of death was performed. Among the 68 fatal cases, 36 patients (53%) died of respiratory failure, five patients (7%) with myocardial damage died of circulatory failure, 22 patients (33%) died of both, and five remaining died of an unknown cause (Fig. 1d). Based on the analysis of the clinical data, we confirmed that some patients died of fulminant myocarditis. In this study, we first reported that the infection of SARS-CoV-2 may cause fulminant myocarditis. Given that fulminant myocarditis is characterized by a rapid progress and a severe state of illness [3], our results should alert physicians to pay attention not only to the symptoms of respiratory dysfunction but also the symptoms of cardiac injury. Further, large-scale studies and the studies on autopsy are needed to confirm our analysis. In conclusion, predictors of a fatal outcome in COVID-19 cases included age, the presence of underlying diseases, the presence of secondary infection and elevated inflammatory indicators in the blood. The results obtained from this study also suggest that COVID-19 mortality might be due to virus-activated “cytokine storm syndrome” or fulminant myocarditis. Electronic supplementary material Below is the link to the electronic supplementary material. Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 38 kb)
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              Clinical evidence does not support corticosteroid treatment for 2019-nCoV lung injury

              The 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) outbreak is a major challenge for clinicians. The clinical course of patients remains to be fully characterised, little data are available that describe the disease pathogenesis, and no pharmacological therapies of proven efficacy yet exist. Corticosteroids were widely used during the outbreaks of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS)-CoV 1 and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS)-CoV, 2 and are being used in patients with 2019-nCoV in addition to other therapeutics. 3 However, current interim guidance from WHO on clinical management of severe acute respiratory infection when novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) infection is suspected (released Jan 28, 2020) advises against the use of corticosteroids unless indicated for another reason. 4 Understanding the evidence for harm or benefit from corticosteroids in 2019-nCoV is of immediate clinical importance. Here we discuss the clinical outcomes of corticosteroid use in coronavirus and similar outbreaks (table ). Table Summary of clinical evidence to date Outcomes of corticosteroid therapy * Comment MERS-CoV Delayed clearance of viral RNA from respiratory tract 2 Adjusted hazard ratio 0·4 (95% CI 0·2–0·7) SARS-CoV Delayed clearance of viral RNA from blood 5 Significant difference but effect size not quantified SARS-CoV Complication: psychosis 6 Associated with higher cumulative dose, 10 975 mg vs 6780 mg hydrocortisone equivalent SARS-CoV Complication: diabetes 7 33 (35%) of 95 patients treated with corticosteroid developed corticosteroid-induced diabetes SARS-CoV Complication: avascular necrosis in survivors 8 Among 40 patients who survived after corticosteroid treatment, 12 (30%) had avascular necrosis and 30 (75%) had osteoporosis Influenza Increased mortality 9 Risk ratio for mortality 1·75 (95% CI 1·3–2·4) in a meta-analysis of 6548 patients from ten studies RSV No clinical benefit in children10, 11 No effect in largest randomised controlled trial of 600 children, of whom 305 (51%) had been treated with corticosteroids CoV=coronavirus. MERS=Middle East respiratory syndrome. RSV=respiratory syncytial virus. SARS=severe acute respiratory syndrome. * Hydrocortisone, methylprednisolone, dexamethasone, and prednisolone. Acute lung injury and acute respiratory distress syndrome are partly caused by host immune responses. Corticosteroids suppress lung inflammation but also inhibit immune responses and pathogen clearance. In SARS-CoV infection, as with influenza, systemic inflammation is associated with adverse outcomes. 12 In SARS, inflammation persists after viral clearance.13, 14 Pulmonary histology in both SARS and MERS infections reveals inflammation and diffuse alveolar damage, 15 with one report suggesting haemophagocytosis. 16 Theoretically, corticosteroid treatment could have a role to suppress lung inflammation. In a retrospective observational study reporting on 309 adults who were critically ill with MERS, 2 almost half of patients (151 [49%]) were given corticosteroids (median hydrocortisone equivalent dose [ie, methylprednisolone 1:5, dexamethasone 1:25, prednisolone 1:4] of 300 mg/day). Patients who were given corticosteroids were more likely to require mechanical ventilation, vasopressors, and renal replacement therapy. After statistical adjustment for immortal time and indication biases, the authors concluded that administration of corticosteroids was not associated with a difference in 90-day mortality (adjusted odds ratio 0·8, 95% CI 0·5–1·1; p=0·12) but was associated with delayed clearance of viral RNA from respiratory tract secretions (adjusted hazard ratio 0·4, 95% CI 0·2–0·7; p=0·0005). However, these effect estimates have a high risk of error due to the probable presence of unmeasured confounders. In a meta-analysis of corticosteroid use in patients with SARS, only four studies provided conclusive data, all indicating harm. 1 The first was a case-control study of SARS patients with (n=15) and without (n=30) SARS-related psychosis; all were given corticosteroid treatment, but those who developed psychosis were given a higher cumulative dose than those who did not (10 975 mg hydrocortisone equivalent vs 6780 mg; p=0·017). 6 The second was a randomised controlled trial of 16 patients with SARS who were not critically ill; the nine patients who were given hydrocortisone (mean 4·8 days [95% CI 4·1–5·5] since fever onset) had greater viraemia in the second and third weeks after infection than those who were given 0·9% saline control. 5 The remaining two studies reported diabetes and avascular necrosis as complications associated with corticosteroid treatment.7, 8 A 2019 systematic review and meta-analysis 9 identified ten observational studies in influenza, with a total of 6548 patients. The investigators found increased mortality in patients who were given corticosteroids (risk ratio [RR] 1·75, 95% CI 1·3–2·4; p=0·0002). Among other outcomes, length of stay in an intensive care unit was increased (mean difference 2·1, 95% CI 1·2–3·1; p<0·0001), as was the rate of secondary bacterial or fungal infection (RR 2·0, 95% CI 1·0–3·8; p=0·04). Corticosteroids have been investigated for respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) in clinical trials in children, with no conclusive evidence of benefit and are therefore not recommended. 10 An observational study of 50 adults with RSV infection, in which 33 (66%) were given corticosteroids, suggested impaired antibody responses at 28 days in those given corticosteroids. 17 Life-threatening acute respiratory distress syndrome occurs in 2019-nCoV infection. 18 However, generalising evidence from acute respiratory distress syndrome studies to viral lung injury is problematic because these trials typically include a majority of patients with acute respiratory distress syndrome of non-pulmonary or sterile cause. A review of treatments for acute respiratory distress syndrome of any cause, based on six studies with a total of 574 patients, 19 concluded that insufficient evidence exists to recommend corticosteroid treatment. 20 Septic shock has been reported in seven (5%) of 140 patients with 2019-nCoV included in published reports as of Jan 29, 2020.3, 18 Corticosteroids are widely used in septic shock despite uncertainty over their efficacy. Most patients in septic shock trials have bacterial infection, leading to vasoplegic shock and myocardial insufficiency.21, 22 In this group, there is potential that net benefit might be derived from steroid treatment in severe shock.21, 22 However, shock in severe hypoxaemic respiratory failure is often a consequence of increased intrathoracic pressure (during invasive ventilation) impeding cardiac filling, and not vasoplegia. 23 In this context, steroid treatment is unlikely to provide a benefit. No clinical data exist to indicate that net benefit is derived from corticosteroids in the treatment of respiratory infection due to RSV, influenza, SARS-CoV, or MERS-CoV. The available observational data suggest increased mortality and secondary infection rates in influenza, impaired clearance of SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV, and complications of corticosteroid therapy in survivors. If it is present, the effect of steroids on mortality in those with septic shock is small, and is unlikely to be generalisable to shock in the context of severe respiratory failure due to 2019-nCoV. Overall, no unique reason exists to expect that patients with 2019-nCoV infection will benefit from corticosteroids, and they might be more likely to be harmed with such treatment. We conclude that corticosteroid treatment should not be used for the treatment of 2019-nCoV-induced lung injury or shock outside of a clinical trial.
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                Author and article information

                Contributors
                Journal
                Lancet
                Lancet
                Lancet (London, England)
                Elsevier Ltd.
                0140-6736
                1474-547X
                16 March 2020
                28 March-3 April 2020
                16 March 2020
                : 395
                : 10229
                : 1033-1034
                Affiliations
                [a ]Centre for Inflammation and Tissue Repair, UCL Respiratory, Division of Medicine, University College London, London, UK
                [b ]Department of Rheumatology, University College London Hospital, London NW1 2PG, UK
                [c ]Hospital for Tropical Diseases, University College London Hospital, London NW1 2PG, UK
                [d ]Department of Clinical Virology, University College London Hospital, London NW1 2PG, UK
                [e ]Wellcome-Wolfson Institute for Experimental Medicine, Queen's University Belfast, Belfast, UK
                [f ]Regional Intensive Care Unit, Royal Victoria Hospital, Belfast, UK
                [g ]Department of Rheumatology, Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, Sheffield, UK
                [h ]Sheffield Children's Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, Sheffield, UK
                Article
                S0140-6736(20)30628-0
                10.1016/S0140-6736(20)30628-0
                7270045
                32192578
                93392164-a0d4-4efa-ae1e-f382285b41e1
                © 2020 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

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