A rationale for using steroids
in the treatment of severe cases of H5N1 avian influenza
Marissa J. Carter
Strategic Solutions, Inc., 1143 Salsbury Ave, Cody, WY 82414, USA
"Acute hypercytokinaemia represents an imbalance of pro-inflammatory and anti-inflammatory cytokines, and is believed to be responsible for the development of acute respiratory distress syndrome and multiple organ failure in severe cases of avian (H5N1) influenza. Although neuraminidase inhibitors are effective in treating avian influenza, especially if given within 48 h of infection, it is harder to prevent the resultant hypercytokinaemia from developing if the patient does not seek timely medical assistance. Steroids have been used for many decades in a wide variety of inflammatory conditions in which hypercytokinaemia plays a role, such as sepsis and viral infections, including severe acquired respiratory syndromes and avian influenza. However, to date, the results have been mixed. Part of the reason for the discrepancies might be the lack of understanding that low doses are required to prevent mortality in cases of adrenal insufficiency. Adrenal insufficiency, as defined in the sepsis/shock literature, is a plasma cortisol rise of at least 9 µg dl–1 following a 250 µg dose of adrenocorticotropin hormone (ACTH), or reaching a plasma cortisol concentration of >25 µg dl–1 following a 1–2 µg dose of ACTH. In addition, in the case of hypercytokinaemia induced by potent viruses, such as H5N1, systemic inflammation-induced, acquired glucocorticoid resistance is likely to be present. Adrenal insufficiency can be overcome, however, with prolonged (7–10 or more days) supraphysiological steroid treatment at a sufficiently high dose to address the excess activation of NF-B, but low enough to avoid immune suppression. This is a much lower dose than has been typically used to treat avian influenza patients. Although steroids cannot be used as a monotherapy in the treatment of avian influenza, there might be a potential role for their use as an adjunct treatment to antiviral therapy if appropriate dosages can be determined. In this paper, likely mechanisms of adrenal insufficiency are discussed, drawing from a broad background of literature sources. "