Viral infections associated with haemophagocytic syndrome

Rev Med Virol. 2010 Mar;20(2):93-105. doi: 10.1002/rmv.638.


Haemophagocytic syndrome (HPS) or haemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis (HLH) is a rare disease caused by a dysfunction of cytotoxic T cells and NK cells. This T cell/NK cell dysregulation causes an aberrant cytokine release, resulting in proliferation/activation of histiocytes with subsequent haemophagocytosis. Histiocytic infiltration of the reticuloendothelial system results in hepatomegaly, splenomegaly, lymphadenopathy and pancytopenia ultimately leading to multiple organ dysfunctions. Common clinical features include high fevers despite broad spectrum antimicrobials, maculopapular rash, neurological symptoms, coagulopathy and abnormal liver function tests. Haemophagocytic syndrome can be either primary, i.e. due to an underlying genetic defect or secondary, associated with malignancies, autoimmune diseases (also called macrophage activation syndrome) or infections. Infectious triggers are most commonly due to viral infections mainly of the herpes group, with EBV being the most common cause. HPS can be fatal if untreated. Early recognition of the clinical presentation and laboratory abnormalities associated with HPS and prompt initiation of treatment can be life saving. HPS triggered by viral infections generally does not respond to specific antiviral therapy but may be treated with immunosuppressive/immunomodulatory agents and, in refractory cases, with bone marrow transplantation.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Antiviral Agents / therapeutic use
  • Bone Marrow Transplantation
  • Humans
  • Immunosuppressive Agents / therapeutic use
  • Lymphohistiocytosis, Hemophagocytic / diagnosis
  • Lymphohistiocytosis, Hemophagocytic / epidemiology*
  • Lymphohistiocytosis, Hemophagocytic / pathology*
  • Lymphohistiocytosis, Hemophagocytic / therapy
  • Virus Diseases / complications*


  • Antiviral Agents
  • Immunosuppressive Agents