How does iron overload increase the risk of infection?

Iron overload, either primary (eg, hereditary hemochromatosis) or secondary (eg, hemolysis/frequent transfusion states), may increase the risk of infections through at least 2 mechanisms: 1. Enhancement of the virulence of the pathogen; and 2. Interference with the body’s normal defense system.1-7

Excess iron has been reported to enhance the growth of numerous organisms, ranging from bacteria (eg, Yersinia, Shigella, Vibrio, Listeria, Legionella, Ehrlichia, many other Gram-negative bacteria, staphylococci, streptococci), mycobacteria, fungi (eg, Aspergillus, Rhizopus/Mucor, Cryptococcus, Pneumocystis), protozoa (eg, Entamaeba, Plasmodium, Toxoplasma) and viruses (HIV, hepatitis B/C, cytomegalovirus, parvovirus). 1-7

In addition to enhancing the growth of many pathogens, excess iron may also inhibit macrophage and lymphocyte function and neutrophil chemotaxis .1,2 Iron loading of macrophages results in the inhibition of interferon-gamma mediated pathways and loss of their ability to kill intracellular pathogens such as Legionella, Listeria and Ehrlichia. 2

Not surprisingly, there are numerous reports in the literature of infections in hemochromatosis, including Listeria monocytogenes meningitis, E. Coli septic shock, Yersinia enterocolitica sepsis/liver abscess, Vibrio vulnificus shock (attributed to ingestion of raw oysters) and mucormycosis causing periorbital cellulitis. 2

Bonus pearl: Did you know that the ascitic fluid of patients with cirrhosis has low transferrin levels compared to those with malignancy, potentially enhancing bacterial growth and increasing their susceptibility to spontaneous bacterial peritonitis? 8

Liked this post? Download the app on your smart phone and sign up below to catch future pearls right into your inbox, all for free!

Subscribe to Blog via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

 References

  1. Weinberg ED, Weinberg GA. The role of iron in infection. Curr Opin Infect Dis 1995;8:164-69. https://journals.lww.com/co-infectiousdiseases/abstract/1995/06000/the_role_of_iron_in_infection.4.aspx
  2. Khan FA, Fisher MA, Khakoo RA. Association of hemochromatosis with infectious diseases: expanding spectrum. Intern J Infect Dis 2007;11:482-87. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1201971207000811
  3. Thwaites PA, Woods ML. Sepsis and siderosis, Yersinia enterocolitica and hereditary haemochromatosis. BMJ Case Rep 2017. Doi:10.11336/bvr-206-218185. https://casereports.bmj.com/content/2017/bcr-2016-218185
  4. Weinberg ED. Iron loading and disease surveillance. Emerg Infect Dis 1999;5:346-52. https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/eid/article/5/3/99-0305-t3
  5. Matthaiou EI, Sass G, Stevens DA, et al. Iron: an essential nutrient for Aspergillus fumigatus and a fulcrum for pathogenesis. Curr Opin Infect Dis 2018;31:506-11. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6579532/
  6. Alexander J, Limaye AP, Ko CW, et al. Association of hepatic iron overload with invasive fungal infection in liver transplant recipients. Liver Transpl 12:1799-1804. https://aasldpubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/lt.20827
  7. Schmidt SM. The role of iron in viral infections. Front Biosci (Landmark Ed) 2020;25:893-911. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31585922/
  8. Romero A, Perez-Aurellao JL, Gonzalez-Villaron L et al. Effect of transferrin concentration on bacterial growth in human ascetic fluid from cirrhotic and neoplastic patients. J Clin Invest 1993;23:699-705. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/epdf/10.1111/j.1365-2362.1993.tb01289.x

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 iron overload increase the risk of infection?

My patient with sepsis and bacteremia has an extremely high serum Creatine kinase (CK) level. Can his infection be causing rhabdomyolysis?

 Absolutely! Although trauma, toxins, exertion, and medications are often listed as common causes of rhabdomyolysis, infectious etiologies should not be overlooked as they may account for 5% to 30% or more of rhabdomyolysis cases (1,2).

Rhabdomyolysis tends to be associated with a variety of infections, often severe, involving the respiratory tract, as well as urinary tract, heart and meninges, and may be caused by a long list of pathogens (1).  Among bacterial causes, Legionella sp. (“classic” pathogen associated with rhabdomyolysis), Streptococcus sp. (including S. pneumoniae), Salmonella sp, Staphylococcus aureus, Francisella tularensis have been cited frequently (3).  Some series have reported a preponderance of aerobic gram-negatives such as Klebsiella sp., Pseudomonas sp. and E. coli  (1,2).   Among viral etiologies, influenza virus, human immunodeficiency virus, and coxsackievirus are commonly cited (2,3).  Fungal and protozoal infections (eg, malaria) may also be associated with rhabdomyolysis (5).

So how might sepsis cause rhabdomyolysis? Several potential mechanisms have been implicated, including tissue hypoxemia due to sepsis, direct muscle invasion by pathogens (eg, S. aureus, streptococci, Salmonella sp.), toxin generation (eg, Legionella), cytokine-mediated muscle cell toxicity (eg, aerobic gram-negatives) as well as muscle ischemia due to shock (1,5).

Bonus Pearl: Did you know that among patients with HIV infection, infections are the most common cause (39%) of rhabdomyolysis (6)? 

Liked this post? Download the app on your smart phone and sign up below to catch future pearls right into your inbox, all for free!

Subscribe to Blog via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

References

1. Kumar AA, Bhaskar E, Shantha GPS, et al. Rhabdomyolysis in community acquired bacterial sepsis—A retrospective cohort study. PLoS ONE 2009;e7182. Doi:10.1371/journa.pone.0007182. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19787056.

2. Blanco JR, Zabaza M, Sacedo J, et al. Rhabdomyolysis of infectious and noninfectious causes. South Med J 2002;95:542-44. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12005014

3. Singh U, Scheld WM. Infectious etiologies of rhabdomyolysis:three case reports and review. Clin Infect Dis 1996;22:642-9. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8729203

4. Shih CC, Hii HP, Tsao CM, et al. Therapeutic effects of procainamide on endotoxin-induced rhabdomyolysis in rats. PLOS ONE 2016. Doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0150319. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26918767

5. Khan FY. Rhabdomyolysis: a review of the literature. NJM 2009;67:272-83. http://www.njmonline.nl/getpdf.php?id=842

6. Koubar SH, Estrella MM, Warrier R, et al. Rhabdomyolysis in an HIV cohort: epidemiology, causes and outcomes. BMC Nephrology 2017;18:242. DOI 10.1186/s12882-017-0656-9. https://bmcnephrol.biomedcentral.com/track/pdf/10.1186/s12882-017-0656-9

My patient with sepsis and bacteremia has an extremely high serum Creatine kinase (CK) level. Can his infection be causing rhabdomyolysis?

The urine antigen for Legionella in my patient with severe community-associated pneumonia is negative. How well does it rule out Legionella pneumonia?

Not as well as you might think!

Legionella urine antigens are 60%-80% sensitive (>99% specific) for detecting L. pneumophila serogroup 1 which accounts for about 70%-80% of Legionnaire’s disease (LD) in the US1; there are at least 15 serogroups.2 So as many as 40% or more LD may be missed by urine antigen testing alone. 2 

Urine antigen can be excreted as early 3 days after the onset of symptoms and can persist for >300 days which may present a problem in diagnosing a current illness in patients with recurrent pneumonia. 2 One study reported lowest sensitivity (80%) for antigen testing during days 4 to 7 days of symptoms.3

Other means of looking for Legionella include culture of respiratory samples for L. pneumophila which can detect all types of Legionella species (sensitivity 20%-80%) but has a lengthy turnaround time. Paired antibody testing may also be performed (sensitivity 70%-80%) in undiagnosed cases of severe pneumonia. 1

Take home point: Don’t depend totally on urine antigen testing to rule out LD.

Final fun fact: Did you know that legionellae survive in the aquatic environment by parasitizing free-living protozoa?

Liked this post? Download the app on your smart phone and sign up below to  catch future pearls right into your inbox, all for free!

Subscribe to Blog via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

 

References

  1. CDC. Legionellosis: United States, 2000-2009. MMWR 2011;60:1083-86. https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm6032a3.htm
  2. Fields BS, Benson RF, Besser RE. Legionella and Legionnaire’s disease: 25 years of investigation. Clin Micro Rev 2002;15:506-26. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12097254  
  3. Kohler RB, Zimmerman SE, Wilson E, et al. Onset and duration of urinary antigen excretion in Legionnaire’s disease. J Clin Microbiol 20:605-7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC271393
The urine antigen for Legionella in my patient with severe community-associated pneumonia is negative. How well does it rule out Legionella pneumonia?