Objective: In SLE, extracorporeal procedures aiming at reduction of immunoglobulin (Ig) and immune complexes (IC) are used as a rescue therapy. Plasma exchange (PE) has not been proven overall effective in SLE, and long-term treatment in particular has been associated with severe bacterial and viral infections. Immunoadsorption (IAS), in contrast, selectively removes Ig and IC and may thus be safer. We therefore investigated the rate of infections in SLE patients who were undergoing long-term IAS.
Methods: 16 SLE patients were treated with > or = 10 courses of IAS, and nine patients with highly active disease received pulse cyclophosphamide (IVCP) therapy in parallel. We retrospectively analysed the records of all these patients for the occurrence of infections. Patients receiving IAS therapy plus IVCP were compared with 25 patients with similarly active disease treated with standard IVCP therapy within the same observation period. Patients receiving IAS without additional IVCP were compared with patients with similarly moderate disease activity receiving neither IAS nor IVCP.
Results: No potentially life-threatening viral infection occurred in IAS-treated patients and episodes of herpes zoster were equally distributed. No severe infection was observed during IAS without concomittant cyclophosphamide. As expected, more patients with highly active disease receiving IVCP experienced infections than those with less active disease (16 of 34 [47%] vs. 2 of 22 [9%], p < 0.04). On comparing the two groups with highly active disease, infections were similar (IAS+IVCP: 3 of 9 patients [33%], IVCP only: 5 of 25 [20%]), but one patient receiving IAS+IVCP died of septicaemia. Disease activity significantly decreased in both groups treated with IAS.
Conclusion: IAS has an acceptable safety profile with regard to severe infections and appears safe with regard to severe viral disease. Highly active disease and IVCP therapy increase the risk of severe infections in SLE.