Objective: To assess the risk of infection in patients with systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) treated with plasmapheresis in addition to intravenous (I.V.) pulse cyclophosphamide (CYC).
Methods: We searched the records of all our SLE patients for those who had undergone plasmapheresis plus I.V. CYC treatment (n = 9). Consecutive patients with similarly high SLE activity who underwent I.V. CYC therapy but not plasmapheresis were included as controls (n = 12). We evaluated both groups for severe infections, outcome, and confounding clinical variables.
Results: Seven of 9 plasmapheresis-treated patients had serious bacterial or viral infections, including 3 cases of cytomegalovirus infections. Among the 12 patients treated with I.V. CYC alone, only 2 had severe infections (P < 0.01). Three patients in the plasmapheresis group and none in the control group died of infections. Treatment efficacy, however, was similar for both groups.
Conclusion: Among SLE patients treated with plasmapheresis and I.V. CYC, life-threatening bacterial and viral infections and mortality occur more frequently than among patients with similarly active SLE treated with I.V. CYC alone.