No evidence of ‘cytokine storm’ in COVID-19

No evidence of ‘cytokine storm’ in COVID-19

A study of COVID-19 patients in the Netherlands did not find the disease to be associated with cytokine storm, as previously suggested. This may have implications for treatment.

Sometimes our immune systems can work against us. In the case of autoimmune diseases, for example, the immune system attacks the body’s own tissue to cause the illness.

Autoimmune involvement has come up in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, with numerous reports describing so-called cytokine storm in severe cases of the disease.

Cytokine storm happens when an immune response releases more cytokines than are beneficial. Cytokines play a number of important roles in the immune system, but when too many are released, it can cause a severe inflammatory reaction that can be fatal.

On the basis of these reports, researchers have suggested that the use of anti-cytokine therapies could be beneficial in the treatment of patients with severe COVID-19.

However, a study recently appearing in JAMA Network suggests otherwise.

The new article compares levels of inflammatory cytokines in COVID-19 patients with those in other patient groups, finding no evidence of cytokine storm in patients with COVID-19.

The authors, therefore, suggest that anti-cytokine therapies may not be beneficial in the treatment of the disease.

Patient groups

The study used data from patients admitted to the intensive care unit (ICU) of Radboud University Medical Center, in the Dutch city of Nijmegen.

The researchers measured the levels of three inflammatory cytokines, tumor necrosis factor-alpha and interleukins 6 and 8 (IL-6, IL-8), in the blood of 46 COVID-19 patients. All of these patients were seriously ill, having severe acute respiratory infections and receiving mechanical ventilation.

The team then compared their findings with those of people admitted to the ICU with other conditions: bacterial septic shock, cardiac arrest, or severe trauma, such as that sustained from an accident. These groups collectively contained 156 people.

The same technician performed all the measurements, using the same equipment and protocol.


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