Background: The outcome is reported of a prospective uncontrolled study based on a stepwise treatment protocol during an outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in Hong Kong.
Method: One hundred and thirty eight patients were treated with broad spectrum antibiotics, a combination of ribavirin and low dose corticosteroid, and then intravenous high dose methylprednisolone according to responses. Sustained response to treatment was defined as (1) defervescence for > or =4 consecutive days, (2) resolution of lung consolidation by >25%, and (3) oxygen independence by the fourth day without fever. Patients with defervescence who achieved either criterion 2 or 3 were classified as partial responders. Patients who fell short of criteria 2 and 3 were non-responders.
Results: Laboratory confirmation of SARS coronavirus infection was established in 132 (95.7%). None responded to antibiotics but 25 (18.1%) responded to ribavirin + low dose corticosteroid. Methylprednisolone was used in 107 patients, of whom 95 (88.8%) responded favourably. Evidence of haemolytic anaemia was observed in 49 (36%). A high level of C-reactive protein at presentation was the only independent predictor for use of methylprednisolone (odds ratio 2.18 per 10 mg/dl increase, 95% confidence interval 1.12 to 4.25, p = 0.02). Thirty seven patients (26.8%) required admission to the intensive care unit and 21 (15.2%) required invasive mechanical ventilation. There were 15 deaths (mortality rate 10.9%), most with significant co-morbidities, whereas 122 (88.4%) had been discharged home 4 months after the outbreak onset.
Conclusion: The use of high dose pulse methylprednisolone during the clinical course of a SARS outbreak was associated with clinical improvement, but randomised controlled trials are needed to ascertain its efficacy in this condition.