Background: An anti-inflammatory cytokine profile on whole-blood stimulation in vitro is associated with fatal outcome of meningococcal disease. We investigated whether an anti-inflammatory cytokine profile in the circulation is associated with adverse outcome in other infectious diseases.
Methods: We enrolled 464 consecutive patients (272 men, 192 women) who presented to hospital with fever (> or = 38.2 degrees C). On admission we measured plasma interleukin 10 (IL-10) and tumour necrosis factor alpha (TNF alpha), and collected clinical and microbiological data on the febrile illness, then followed up all patients for clinical outcome.
Findings: In at least 399 of the 464 patients fever was caused by infection. 33 patients died after a median hospital stay of 11 days (interquartile range 3-20). Concentrations of IL-10 were significantly higher in non-survivors (median 169 pg/mL [IQR 83-530]) than in survivors (median 88 pg/mL [42-235], p=0.042). When dichotomised around the median, the mortality risk was two times higher in patients who had high concentrations of IL-10 than in those with low concentrations (relative risk 2.39 [95% CI 1.07-5.33]), in patients with low and high concentrations of TNF alpha. In the 406 patients without haemodynamic deterioration in the first 24 h, IL-10 was higher and TNF alpha lower in patients who died than in those who survived. The ratio of IL-10 to TNF alpha was higher in non-survivors (median 6.9 [3.0-21.0]) than in survivors (median 3.9 [2.0-7.0], p=0.040). This ratio was highest in patients who died without underlying disease (median 21.5 [5.0-25.0]). Age, sex, and duration of fever before admission did not explain the differences in IL-10 and TNF alpha.
Interpretation: An anti-inflammatory cytokine profile of a high ratio of IL-10 to TNF alpha is associated with fatal outcome in febrile patients with community-acquired infection. Our findings caution against a widespread use of proinflammatory cytokine inhibition in patients with sepsis.