How does older people’s immune system place them at high risk of sepsis and death?

Increased risk of sepsis and death from infectious causes among the elderly is a well-known phenomenon—particularly as witnessed in the Covid-19 era— and is in part due to 2 major age-related alterations of their immune system: 1. Defective T and B cell functions in response to acute infections; and 2. Once infection sets in, inadequate control of sepsis-induced pro-inflammatory response and its attendant procoagulant state. Interestingly, the essential elements of the innate immunity (eg, neutrophils, dendritic cells, complements) are generally spared from the effects of aging.1,2

Increased susceptibility of the elderly to acute infections is in part caused by poorer T helper cell function and suboptimal B cell humoral response to neoantigens. Despite this, serum levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines such as IL-1, IL-6,TNF-alpha, and IFN-gamma are intact.  In fact, production of IL-6 and its duration of response is actually increased in the elderly.1,2

Poor control of the inflammatory state due to sepsis in older patients may be related to the difficulty in clearing a pathogen or dysfunction in the signaling by counter-regulatory cytokines, such as IL-10.2 Either way, unchecked inflammatory response is deleterious to the patient and is associated with increased risk of thrombosis and thromboembolism, multiorgan system failure, septic shock and death. 

Bonus Pearl: Did you know that even in the absence of infection, older people are more prone to thrombosis and thromboembolism , in part related to elevated plasma levels of fibrinogen, as well as factor VII, VIII, and IX, among others?2,3  

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 References

  1. Ticinesi A, Lauretani F, Nouvenne A, et al. C-reactive protein (CRP) measurement in geriatric patients hospitalized for acute infection. Eur J Intern Med 2017;37:7-12. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27594414/
  2. Opal SM, Girard TD, Ely EW. The immunopathogenesis of sepsis in elderly patients. Clin Infect Dis 2005;41: (Suppl 7) S504-12. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16237654/
  3. Mari D, Coppola R, Provenzano R. Hemostasis factors and aging. Experimental Gerontology 2008;43:66-73. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0531556507001404?via%3Dihub

Disclosures: The listed questions and answers are solely the responsibility of the author and do not necessarily represent the official views of Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Catalyst, Harvard University, its affiliate academic healthcare centers, or its contributors. Although every effort has been made to provide accurate information, the author is far from being perfect. The reader is urged to verify the content of the material with other sources as deemed appropriate and exercise clinical judgment in the interpretation and application of the information provided herein. No responsibility for an adverse outcome or guarantees for a favorable clinical result is assumed by the author. Thank you!

 

How does older people’s immune system place them at high risk of sepsis and death?

What’s the connection between Covid-19 and cytokine release syndrome?

Severe Covid-19 is associated with a high inflammatory state similar to that seen in cytokine release syndrome (CRS) in adults with secondary hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis (sHLH) which is often due to viral infections.1,2

sHLH is characterized by unremitting fever, pulmonary involvement (including ARDS), pancytopenias, and high serum levels of ferritin, C-reactive protein (CRP) and many inflammatory cytokines, such as Interleukin (IL)-6. These features are also often seen in severe Covid-19 disease. In fact, elevated serum IL-6 has been shown to be associated with respiratory failure, ARDS, adverse clinical outcomes, and death in Covid-19.1,2  

Why CRS in Covid-19? It all begins with SARS-CoV2 activation of monocytes, macrophages and dendritic cells leading to IL-6 release. IL-6 in turn activates B and T lymphocytes as well as the innate immune system. In addition, IL-6 has a profound effect on endothelial cells resulting in vascular permeability, neutrophil recruitment and further increase in IL-6 production, setting the stage for a “perfect  cytokine storm.”  IL-6 also induces the liver to synthesize CRP and ferritin.

The importance of IL-6 in severe Covid-19 is further highlighted by the excitement surrounding drugs that block its action, potentially improving morbidity and mortality in this disease. Tocilizumab, a monoclonal antibody against IL-6 receptor used in the treatment of certain rheumatological diseases and CRS in CAR T cell therapy, looks promising.3

Bonus Pearl: Did you know that IL-6 was formally called B-cell stimulatory factor-2 because it induced B cells to produce immunoglobulins?

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References

 

  1. Moore JB, June CH. Cytokine release syndrome in severe Covid-19. Science 2020;368:473-4. doi:10.1126/science.abb8925
  2. Mehta P, McAuley DF, Brown M, et al. Covid-19:consider cytokine storm syndromes and immunosuppression. Lancet 2020;395:1033-4. https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(20)30628-0/fulltext
  3. Fu B, Xu X, Wei H. Why tocilizumab could be an effective treatment for severe COVID-19. J Transl Med 2020;18:164. https://translational-medicine.biomedcentral.com/track/pdf/10.1186/s12967-020-02339-3
  4. Kishimoto T. IL-6: From its discovery to clinical applications. Int Immunol 2010;22:347-52. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20410258/

Disclosures: The listed questions and answers are solely the responsibility of the author and do not necessarily represent the official views of Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Catalyst, Harvard University, its affiliate academic healthcare centers, or its contributors. Although every effort has been made to provide accurate information, the author is far from being perfect. The reader is urged to verify the content of the material with other sources as deemed appropriate and exercise clinical judgment in the interpretation and application of the information provided herein. No responsibility for an adverse outcome or guarantees for a favorable clinical result is assumed by the author. Thank you!

What’s the connection between Covid-19 and cytokine release syndrome?

What’s the evidence that patients with Covid-19 are at high risk of blood clots?

Although we often think of it as a respiratory disease, emerging evidence suggests that Covid-19, particularly when severe,  is also associated with high risk of thrombotic events, including pulmonary embolism, venous thrombosis, and arterial thrombotic events.1

A Chinese study found that ICU patients with severe Covid-19 had a venous thromboembolism (VTE) incidence of 25%, with disseminated intravascular coagulopathy (DIC) found in the majority of fatal cases.2

A prospective Dutch study involving critically ill ICU patients with Covid-19 reported VTE in 27% and arterial thrombotic events in another 3.7%, despite standard VTE prophylaxis.3 The authors suggested the use of “high prophylactic doses” of anticoagulants in these patients due to concern over hypercoagulability.

An ICU French study also found high frequency of thrombotic complications in Covid-19 patients with ARDS, with 11.7% of patients having pulmonary embolism vs 2.1% in non-Covid-19 patients with ARDS. As with the Dutch study, thrombotic complications occurred despite standard prophylactic anticoagulation.4

Postmortem studies have also shown marked changes in lung microvasculature with the presence of microthrombi, with some calling it “pulmonary intravascular coagulopathy” to distinguish it from DIC.1

A NEJM letter reported 5 Covid-19 patients less than 50 years of age who presented with large vessel stroke symptoms without an alternative explanation.5 Of interest, 2 of these patients had no other symptoms suggestive of Covid-19.  A pre-print article from China reported an acute stroke incidence of 5% in hospitalized patients with Covid-19.6

The finding of a hypercoagulable state in patients with severe Covid-19 is not surprising given the frequent association of this infection with a high inflammatory state and the well-known capability of SARS-CoV-2 to attack the endothelial surfaces of blood vessels. High inflammatory state can promote activation of blood coagulation through release of inflammatory cytokines (eg, IL-6, IL-8, and TNF-alpha).1

Perhaps even more intriguing is the finding of extremely high levels of factor VIII found in some Covid-19 patients which could make them hypercoagulable.7 This phenomenon should be suspected when a patient appears to be resistant to anticoagulation by heparin based on aPTT but not based on anti-Xa assay.7

 Bonus pearl: Did you know that the overall incidence of VTE is lowest among Asians-Pacific islanders, followed by Hispanics and Caucasians, with highest rate among African-Americans? 1 ,8

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References

  1. Fogarty H, Townsend L, Cheallaigh CN, et al. COVID-19 coagulopathy in Caucasian patients. Br J Haematol 2020, https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/epdf/10.1111/bjh.16749
  2. Cui S, Chen S, Li X, et al. Huang C, Wang Y, Li X, et al. Prevalence of venous thromboembolism in patients with severe novel coronavirus pneumonia. J Thromb Haematol 2020, April 9. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/epdf/10.1111/jth.14830
  3. Klok FA, Kruip MJHA, van der Meer NJM, et al. Incidence of thrombotic complications in critically ill ICU patients with COVID-19. Thromb Res 2020. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0049384820301201?via%3Dihub
  4. Helms J, Tacquard C, Severac F, et al. High risk of thrombosis in patients in severe SARS-CoV-2 infection: a multicenter prospective cohort study. Intensive Care Med 2020; https://www.esicm.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/863_author_proof.pdf
  5. Oxley TJ, Mocco J, Majidie S, et al. Large-vessel stroke as a presenting feature of Covid-19 in the young. N Engl J Med. 2020, April 28. https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMc2009787?query=featured_home
  6. Li Y, Wang M. Acute cerebrovascular disease following COVID-19: A single center, retrospective, observational study. 2020. https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3550025
  7. Beun R, Kusadasi N, Sikma M, et al. Thromboembolic events and apparent heparin resistance in patients infected with SARS-CoV-2. Int J Lab Hematol 2020, April 20. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/ijlh.13230
  8. White RH, Keenan CR. Effects of race and ethnicity on the incidence of venous thromboembolism. Thromb Res 2009;123 Suppl 4:S11-S17. doi:10.1016/S0049-3848(09)70136-7

Disclosures: The listed questions and answers are solely the responsibility of the author and do not necessarily represent the official views of Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Catalyst, Harvard University, its affiliate academic healthcare centers, or its contributors. Although every effort has been made to provide accurate information, the author is far from being perfect. The reader is urged to verify the content of the material with other sources as deemed appropriate and exercise clinical judgment in the interpretation and application of the information provided herein. No responsibility for an adverse outcome or guarantees for a favorable clinical result is assumed by the author. Thank you!

What’s the evidence that patients with Covid-19 are at high risk of blood clots?

Does Covid-19 affect males more than females?

Although there is no clear gender pattern in terms of susceptibility to Covid-19, once infected, men have consistently been shown to have higher fatality rates when compared to women.1

In an earlier study involving over 1000 Covid-19 patients, males accounted for 58% of cases.2  However, a review of over 72,000 patients reported by the Chinese CDC found nearly equivalent male to female ratio (~1:1).3 Among Covid-19 patients who have died, male to female ratio has frequently been found to be between 1.5-3.8:1, depending on the reporting country.1  

In a case series from New York City, males accounted for 55% of Covid-19 patients not on invasive mechanical ventilation but 71% of those who required invasive mechanical ventilation.4 Chinese CDC reported case fatality rates of 2.8% for males and 1.7% for females.3 Higher case-fatality rates among males with 2 other coronavirus-related diseases, SARS and MERS, have also been reported.5

Potential explanations for more fatal outcomes among males with Covid-19 include more robust innate and humoral immune responses to infections among females.6 Immune suppressive activity of testosterone and potential immune enhancing effects of estrogens, such as increased expression of the anti-viral cytokine interferon (IFN)-gamma, have long been recognized.6 Life style differences between men and women such as higher prevalence of smoking in men are often mentioned as well.7 Interestingly, circulating ACE2, a receptor for SARS-CoV-2, has also been reported to be higher in men.8

Bonus pearl: Did you know that testosterone is associated with decreased production of pro-inflammatory cytokines such as IFN-gamma, TNF-alpha and may suppress immunoglobulin production?6

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 References

  1. Global Health 5050. Towards gender equality in global health. http://globalhealth5050.org/covid19/ , accessed April 27, 2020.
  2. Guan WJ, Ni AY, Hu Y, et al. Clinical characteristics of coronavirus disease 2019 in China. N Engl J Med 2020;Feb 28, 2020. https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa2002032
  3. Chinese CDC. Vital surveillances: the epidemiological charcteristics of an outbreak of 2019 novel coronavirus diseases (COVID-19)-China, 2020; 2:113-22. http://weekly.chinacdc.cn/en/article/id/e53946e2-c6c4-41e9-9a9b-fea8db1a8f51
  4. Goyal P, Choi JJ, Pinheiro LC, et al. Clinical characteristics of Covid-19 in New York City. N Engl J Med 2020, April 17. https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMc2010419
  5. Channappanavar R, Fett C, Mack M, et al. Sex-based differences in susceptibility to SARS-CoV infection. J Immunol 2017;198:4046-4053. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5450662/#!po=3.84615
  6. Ysrraelit MC, Correale J. Impact of sex hormones on immune function and multiple sclerosis development. Immunology 2018;156:9-22. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/epdf/10.1111/imm.13004
  7. Wenham C, Smith J, Morgan R. COVID-19: the gendered impacts of the outbreak. Lancet 2020:395:846-7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/32151325
  8. Patel SK, Velkoska E, Burrell LM. Emerging markers in cardiovascular disease: Where does angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 fit in? Clin Exp Pharmacol Physiol 2013;40:551-9. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23432153/

Disclosures: The listed questions and answers are solely the responsibility of the author and do not necessarily represent the official views of Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Catalyst, Harvard University, its affiliate academic healthcare centers, or its contributors. Although every effort has been made to provide accurate information, the author is far from being perfect. The reader is urged to verify the content of the material with other sources as deemed appropriate and exercise clinical judgment in the interpretation and application of the information provided herein. No responsibility for an adverse outcome or guarantees for a favorable clinical result is assumed by the author. Thank you!

 

Does Covid-19 affect males more than females?

Why was the myocardial infarction in my postop patient silent?

Myocardial infarction (MI) in postop patients is in fact usually silent (1,2) but what is less clear is how myocardial ischemia can occur without any symptoms.

Although use of analgesics and narcotics postop may dampen or mask chest pain or other symptoms associated with MI, other factors are also likely to play an important role, such as decreased sensitivity to painful stimuli, autonomic neuropathy (eg, in diabetes mellitus), and higher pain threshold among some patients (3).

Additional factors associated with silent MIs include cerebral cortical dysfunction since frontal cortical activation appears to be necessary to experience cardiac pain. Mental stress is also a frequent trigger for asymptomatic myocardial ischemia, infarction and sudden cardiac death (4).  High levels of beta-endorphin, an endogenous opiate, may also play a role (5).

 
Perhaps the most intriguing explanation for lack of symptoms is the observation that the levels of anti-inflammatory cytokines (interleukin-4 and -10)—which block pain transmission pathways and increase the threshold for nerve activation—seem to be increased in patients with silent myocardial ischemia (6).  Even more relevant to our postop patient is the finding that interleukin-10 production increases during and after major abdominal surgery and correlates with the amount of intraoperative blood loss (7). 

No wonder MIs in postop patients are often silent!

References
1. Devereaux PJ, Xavier D, Pogue J, et al. Characteristics nd short-term prognosis of perioperative myocardial infarction in patients undergoing noncardiac surgery: a cohort study. Ann Intern Med 2011;154:523-8. https://annals.org/aim/article-abstract/746934/characteristics-short-term-prognosis-perioperative-myocardial-infarction-patients-undergoing-noncardiac 
2. Badner NH, Knill RL, Brown JE, et al. Myocardial infarction after noncardiac surgery. Anesthesiology 1998;88:572-78. http://anesthesiology.pubs.asahq.org/article.aspx?articleid=1948483
3. Ahmed AH, Shankar KJ, Eftekhari H, et al. Silent myocardial ischemia:current perspectives and future directions. Exp Clin Cardiol 2007;12:189-96. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2359606/ 
4. Gullette EC, Blumenthal JA, Babyak M, et al. Effects of mental stress on myocardial ischemia during daily life. JAMA 1997;277:1521-6. https://jama.jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/articlepdf/416233/jama_277_19_029.pdf
5. Hikita H, Kurita A, Takase B, et al. Re-examination of the roles of beta-endorphin and cardiac autonomic function in exercise-induced silent myocardial ischemia. Ann Noninvasive Electrocardiol 1997;2:319-25. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1542-474X.1997.tb00195.x
6. Mazzone A, Cusa C, Mazzucchelli I, et al. Increased production of inflammatory cytokines in patients with silent myocardial ischemia. J Am Coll Cardiol 2001;38:1895-901. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11738291
7. Kato M, Honda I, Suzuki H, et al. Interleukin-10 production during and after upper abdominal surgery. J Clin Anesth 1998;10:184-8. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9603586 

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Why was the myocardial infarction in my postop patient silent?

How exactly do urinary tract infections (UTIs) cause delirium in my elderly patients?

 UTIs are often considered in the differential diagnosis of causes of delirium in the elderly. Though largely speculative, 2 possible pathophysiologic basis for this association are suggested:1-3

  •  Direct brain insult (eg, in the setting of sepsis/hypotension)
  • Indirect aberrant stress response, involving cytokines/inflammatory pathways,  hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal [HPA] axis and sympathetic nervous system (SNS). One or both pathways can interact with the neurotransmitter and intracellular signal transduction systems underlying delirium in the brain, which may already be impaired in the elderly due to age-related or other pathologic changes.

The indirect aberrant stress pathway suggests that not only pain and discomfort (eg from dysuria) can contribute to delirium but UTI-associated circulating cytokines may also cause delirium.  Indeed, a large study of older adults undergoing elective surgery found a significant association between delirium postoperatively (postop day 2) and serum proinflammatory cytokine levels such as IL-6. 4  

The corollary is that bacteriuria is unlikely to be associated with delirium in the absence of significant systemic inflammatory response, pain or discomfort. We just need to do proper studies to prove it!

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References

1.Trzepacz P, van der Mast R. The neuropathophysiology of delirium. In Lindesay J,  Rockwood K, Macdonald A (Eds.). Delirium in old age, pp. 51–90. Oxford University Press, Oxford , 2002.

2.Flacker JM, Lipsitz LA. Neural mechanisms of delirium: current hypotheses and evolving concepts. J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci. 1999; 54: B239–B246 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10411009

3. Maclullich AM, Ferguson KJ, Miller T, de Rooij SE, Cunningham C. Unravelling the pathophysiology of delirium: a focus on the role of aberrant stress responses. J Psychosom Res. 2008;65:229–38. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18707945

4. Vasunilashom SM, Ngo L, Inouye SK, et al. Cytokines and postoperative delirium in older patients undergoing major elective surgery. J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci 2015;70:1289-95. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4817082/pdf/glv083.pdf

Contributed by Henrietta Afari MD, Mass General Hospital, Boston, MA

How exactly do urinary tract infections (UTIs) cause delirium in my elderly patients?

What is the association between sepsis and jaundice in patients without biliary obstruction?

Up to 20% of cases of jaundice in community hospitals may be due to sepsis and bacterial infections, often occurring within a few days of onset of bacteremia or even before other clinical features of infection become apparent. 1 

Although biliary obstruction as the cause of jaundice is usually suspected, many patients lack extrahepatic cause for their jaundice. Gram-negative bacteria (eg, E. coli) are often the culprit with intraabdominal or urinary tract infection, pneumonia, endocarditis, and meningitis sources also often cited. Hyperbilirubinemia (often 2-10 mg/dl) is commonly associated with elevated alkaline phosphatase and mild aminotransferases elevations, and usually resolves with treatment of infection.1

Although factors such as increased bilirubin load from hemolysis, hepatocellular injury, and drugs (eg, penicillins and cephalosporins) may play a role, cholestasis—likely due to cytokines such as tumor necrosis factor (TNF)α— is the predominant cause. 1  

Interestingly, anti-TNF-α antibodies block reduction in bile flow and bile salt excretion in laboratory animals2

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References

  1. Chand N, Sanyal AJ. Sepsis-induced cholestasis. HEPATOLOGY 2007;45: 230-240. https://aasldpubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/hep.21480
  2. Whiting J, Green R, Rosenbluth A, Gollan J. Tumor necrosis factor-alpha decreases hepatocyte bile salt uptake and mediates endotoxin-induced cholestasis. HEPATOLOGY 1995;22:1273-1278. https://www.deepdyve.com/lp/wiley/tumor-necrosis-factor-alpha-decreases-hepatocyte-bile-salt-uptake-and-J9rdeMQBpF
What is the association between sepsis and jaundice in patients without biliary obstruction?

Besides malignancy, what other causes of cachexia should we usually consider in our hospitalized patients?

Although cachexia , a loss of >5% body weight over 12 months,  has been reported in about 30% of patients with cancer, many other chronic conditions  commonly encountered in our hospitalized patients may also be a culprit.  In fact, cachexia is not infrequent in CHF (20%), COPD (20%), kidney failure (40%), or rheumatoid arthritis (10%) (1,2).  We also shouldn’t overlook HIV and tuberculosis as a cause.

Cachexia is a multifactorial disease which does not fully reverse with nutritional support.  Numerous mediators have been implicated, including cytokines such as tumor-necrosis factor-α, and interleukin [IL]-1 and -6, as well as transforming growth factors such as myostatin and activin A (2). 

In patients with CHF, angiotensin II appears to be a key mediator, associated with insulin resistance, depletion of  ATP in skeletal muscles, poor appetite, reduction in insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1), and an increase in glucocorticoid and IL-6 levels.  All these factors contribute to “cardiac cachexia” through muscle wasting, reduced food intake and lower muscle regeneration. 

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References

  1. Morely JE, Thomas DR, Wilson M-M G. Cachexia: pathophysiology and clinical relevance. Am J Clin Nutr 2006;83:735-43. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16600922
  2. Yoshida T, Delafontaine P. Mechanisms of cachexia in chronic disease states. Am J Med Sci 2015;35:250-256. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4587350/
Besides malignancy, what other causes of cachexia should we usually consider in our hospitalized patients?