Background: Little is known about the virological and inflammatory responses of severe pandemic 2009 influenza A(H1N1) virus pneumonia during antiviral treatment.
Methods: In a prospective observational study, we recruited consecutive adults hospitalized with confirmed pandemic 2009 H1N1 infection during a 16-week period. Nasopharyngeal aspirate and non-respiratory samples (blood, stool and urine) were collected at presentation, and serial nasopharyngeal flocked swabs (NPFS) and tracheal aspirates (TA) were collected after initiating oseltamivir treatment for quantitative viral RNA assay, using real-time reverse transcriptase-PCR. Serial plasma samples were collected for cytokine/chemokine assay using cytometric bead array. Patients with severe pneumonia (lung infiltrates and hypoxaemia) were compared to those with milder illnesses.
Results: A total of 66 patients were studied (mean age 43 ±20 years); 28 (42%) developed severe pneumonia, of whom 10 (15%) required intubation. Severe pneumonia was associated with older age, dyspnoea, delayed presentation >2 days from onset, extrapulmonary virus detection (13-28%) and higher viral concentration despite late-presentation (multiple linear regression, β=0.94, 95% confidence interval 0.15-1.74; P=0.02). Patients with severe pneumonia exhibited slow viral clearance with oseltamivir treatment, particularly in the lower respiratory tract (median [interquartile range] durations of RNA positivity after antiviral initiation were NPFS 6.0 days [3.0-8.0], TA 11.0 days [7.8-14.3] versus milder illness group NPFS of 2.0 days [1.0-3.0] days; P<0.01). High viral load in lower respiratory tract despite upper-tract RNA negativity and viral rebound after stopping treatment were noted in some patients. H275Y mutation was absent. High plasma levels of interleukin (IL)-6, CXCL-8 (IL-8), CCL2 (monocyte chemoattractant protein-1) and soluble tumour necrosis factor receptor-1 were observed, which correlated with the extent and progression of pneumonia in hospital.
Conclusions: In severe 2009 H1N1 pneumonia, viral clearance is slow with treatment, particularly in the lower respiratory tract. A more sustained antiviral regime appears warranted.