Early corticosteroids in severe influenza A/H1N1 pneumonia and acute respiratory distress syndrome

Am J Respir Crit Care Med. 2011 May 1;183(9):1200-6. doi: 10.1164/rccm.201101-0135OC. Epub 2011 Mar 4.


Rationale: Despite their controversial role, corticosteroids are often administered to patients with adult respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) secondary to viral pneumonia.

Objectives: To analyze the impact of corticosteroid therapy on outcomes of patients having ARDS associated with influenza A/H1N1 pneumonia.

Methods: Patients from the French registry of critically ill patients with influenza A/H1N1v 2009 infection were selected if fulfilling criteria for ARDS, excluding patients having other indication for corticosteroids, or decompensated underlying disease as the primary cause for intensive care unit admission. Survival to hospital discharge was analyzed using Cox regression, accounting for the time to administration of steroids, and after adjustment on the propensity for receiving steroid therapy.

Measurements and main results: Of 208 patients with ARDS, 83 (39.9%) received corticosteroids (median initial dose of 270 mg equivalent hydrocortisone per day for a median of 11 d). Steroid therapy was associated with death, both in crude analysis (33.7 vs. 16.8%; hazard ratio, 2.4; 95% CI, 1.3-4.3; P = 0.004) and after propensity score-adjusted analysis (adjusted hazard ratio, 2.82; 95% CI, 1.5-5.4; P = 0.002), controlling for an admission severity Simplified Acute Physiology Score, version 3, greater than 50, initial administration of vasopressors, and immunodepression. Early therapy (≤ 3 d of mechanical ventilation) appeared more strongly associated with mortality than late administration. Patients receiving steroids had more acquired pneumonia and a trend to a longer duration of ventilation.

Conclusions: Our study provides no evidence of a beneficial effect of corticosteroids in patients with ARDS secondary to influenza pneumonia, but suggests that very early corticosteroid therapy may be harmful.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Cohort Studies
  • Female
  • France
  • Humans
  • Hydrocortisone / therapeutic use*
  • Influenza A Virus, H1N1 Subtype / drug effects*
  • Influenza, Human / complications
  • Influenza, Human / drug therapy*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pneumonia, Viral / complications
  • Pneumonia, Viral / drug therapy*
  • Respiratory Distress Syndrome / complications
  • Respiratory Distress Syndrome / drug therapy*
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Survival Analysis
  • Time Factors
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents
  • Hydrocortisone