Chen X, Zhao B, Qu Y, Chen Y, et al. Detectable serum SARS-CoV-2 viral load (RNAaemia) is closely correlated with drastically elevated interleukin 6 (IL-6) level in critically ill COVID-19 patients. Clin Infect Dis. 2020 Apr 17.

Background: Although the detection of SARS-CoV-2 viral load in respiratory specimens has been widely used to diagnose coronavirus disease-19 (COVID-19), it is undeniable that serum SARS-CoV-2 nucleic acid (RNAaemia) could be detected in a fraction of COVID-19 patients. However, it is not clear whether testing for RNAaemia is correlated with the occurrence of cytokine storms or with the specific class of patients.

Methods: This study enrolled 48 patients with COVID-19 admitted to the General Hospital of Central Theater Command, PLA, a designated hospital in Wuhan, China. The patients were divided into three groups according to the “Diagnosis and Treatment of New Coronavirus Pneumonia (6th edition)” issued by the National Health Commission of China. The clinical and laboratory data were collected. The serum viral load and IL-6 levels were determined. . Results: Clinical characteristics analysis of 48 cases of COVID-19 showed that RNAaemia was diagnosed only in the critically ill group and seemed to reflect the severity of the disease. Furthermore, the level of inflammatory cytokine IL-6 in critically ill patients increased significantly, almost 10 times that in other patients. More importantly, the extremely high IL-6 level was closely correlated with the detection of RNAaemia (R = 0.902).

Conclusions: Detectable serum SARS-Cov-2 RNA(RNAaemia) in COVID-19 patients was associated with elevated IL-6 concentration and poor prognosis. Because the elevated IL-6 may be part of a larger cytokine storm which could worsen outcome, IL-6 could be a potential therapeutic target for critically ill patients with an excessive inflammatory response. 

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