Infection-associated hemophagocytic syndrome (IAHS), a severe complication of various infections, is potentially fatal. This study aims to determine whether IAHS occurs in critically ill patients with coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). We conducted a retrospective observational study on 268 critically ill patients with COVID-19 between February 1st, 2020 and February 26th, 2020. Demographics, clinical characteristics, laboratory results, information on concurrent treatments and outcomes were collected. A diagnosis of secondary hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis (sHLH) was made when the patients had an HScore greater than 169. Histopathological examinations were performed to confirm the presence of hemophagocytosis. Of 268 critically ill patients with confirmed SARS-CoV-2 infection, 17 (6.3%) patients had an HScore greater than 169. All the 17 patients with sHLH died. The interval from the onset of symptom of COVID-19 to the time of a diagnosis of sHLH made was 19 days and the interval from the diagnosis of sHLH to death was 4 days. Ten (59%) patients were infected with only SARS-CoV-2. Hemophagocytosis in the spleen and the liver, as well as lymphocyte infiltration in the liver on histopathological examinations, was found in 3 sHLH autopsy patients. Mortality in sHLH patients with COVID-19 is high. And SARS-CoV-2 is a potential trigger for sHLH. Prompt recognition of IAHS in critically ill patients with COVID-19 could be beneficial for improving clinical outcomes.
Keywords: coronavirus disease 2019; infection-associated hemophagocytic syndrome; severe acute respiratory coronavirus 2.