Progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy: a national estimate of frequency in systemic lupus erythematosus and other rheumatic diseases

Arthritis Rheum. 2009 Dec;60(12):3761-5. doi: 10.1002/art.24966.


Objective: Progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy (PML) is a rare, typically fatal, central nervous system demyelinating disease that results from reactivation of the JC virus, which generally occurs in immunosuppressed hosts. The aim of this study was to generate a national estimate of the frequency of PML among patients with rheumatic diseases.

Methods: Data were obtained from the Nationwide Inpatient Sample database. This is a 20% sample of all hospital discharges, weighted to represent the entire US inpatient population. Data were analyzed for the years 1998-2005 inclusive, representing 297,797,180 hospital discharges. Cases of PML, systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), and other rheumatic diseases were identified by diagnostic codes from the International Classification of Diseases, Ninth Revision, Clinical Modification.

Results: A total of 9,675 cases of PML were identified. The majority were associated with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV; 7,934 patients [82.00%]), hematologic cancers (813 patients [8.40%]), and solid cancers (274 patients [2.83%]). Among the rheumatic diseases, 43 cases of PML (0.44%) were associated with SLE, 24 (0.25%) with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), and 25 (0.26%) with other connective tissue diseases (CTDs). When patients with other potential risk factors for PML (HIV, malignancy, bone marrow or other organ transplantation) were excluded, the rates of PML per 100,000 discharges coded for SLE, RA, and other CTDs were 4, 0.4 and 2, respectively, compared with a rate of PML in the background population of 0.2/100,000 discharges.

Conclusion: This study was confined to hospitalized patients with rheumatic diseases, and it was also limited by the lack of information regarding immunosuppressive therapy. Nevertheless, the findings suggest that, although rare overall, PML occurs more commonly in SLE than in other rheumatic diseases.

MeSH terms

  • Comorbidity
  • Databases, Factual
  • HIV Infections / epidemiology
  • HIV Infections / immunology
  • HIV Infections / virology
  • Hospitals / statistics & numerical data
  • Humans
  • Immunocompromised Host
  • Leukoencephalopathy, Progressive Multifocal / epidemiology*
  • Leukoencephalopathy, Progressive Multifocal / immunology
  • Leukoencephalopathy, Progressive Multifocal / virology
  • Lupus Erythematosus, Systemic / epidemiology*
  • Lupus Erythematosus, Systemic / immunology
  • United States / epidemiology