The cytokine storm and COVID-19

J Med Virol. 2021 Jan;93(1):250-256. doi: 10.1002/jmv.26232. Epub 2020 Sep 30.


Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), which began in Wuhan, China, in December 2019, has caused a large global pandemic and poses a serious threat to public health. More than 4 million cases of COVID-19, which is caused by the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), have been confirmed as of 11 May 2020. SARS-CoV-2 is a highly pathogenic and transmissible coronavirus that primarily spreads through respiratory droplets and close contact. A growing body of clinical data suggests that a cytokine storm is associated with COVID-19 severity and is also a crucial cause of death from COVID-19. In the absence of antivirals and vaccines for COVID-19, there is an urgent need to understand the cytokine storm in COVID-19. Here, we have reviewed the current understanding of the features of SARS-CoV-2 and the pathological features, pathophysiological mechanisms, and treatments of the cytokine storm induced by COVID-19. In addition, we suggest that the identification and treatment of the cytokine storm are important components for rescuing patients with severe COVID-19.

Keywords: COVID-19; SARS-CoV-2; cytokine storm; literature review.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • COVID-19 / immunology*
  • COVID-19 / physiopathology
  • COVID-19 Drug Treatment
  • Clinical Trials as Topic
  • Cytokine Release Syndrome / drug therapy*
  • Cytokine Release Syndrome / virology*
  • Humans
  • Lung / immunology
  • Lung / pathology*
  • Lung / virology
  • Severity of Illness Index