January 16, 2021

Some COVID-19 deaths may not be caused by cytokine storms

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By Lynn Allison  From Newsmax

The theory that the cytokine storms triggered by COVID-19 often causes fatal damage to vital organs of its victims is under scrutiny.

During the early days of the pandemic, medical experts noted that people who died from the disease often had little or no virus in their systems. This led to the hypothesis that the immune system did such a good job in eliminating the pathogen, it went into overdrive, sending tissue-damaging cytokines throughout the body.

According to The New York Times, recent studies show that the chief suspect in these so-called cytokine storms, interleukin-6, or il-6, may not be the culprit after all. Despite a few reports that giving seriously ill patients drugs that block il-6 helped them recover, researchers say that clinical studies do not bear this out. Some studies also show that il-6 levels in many of these patients are not even elevated.

Giving drugs such as the commonly used il-6 inhibitor, tocilizumab, used to treat rheumatoid arthritis, did not reduce mortality in critically ill COVID-19 patients, according to a study published in JAMA Internal Medicine. Even its manufacturer, Roche, did its own studies and confirmed the drug was not useful in treating COVID-19 patients.

Scientists now say that il-6 may not be the sole culprit and that hundreds of cytokines are released by the immune system to fight infection. Dr. Bruce Walker, the director of the Ragon Institute of Massachusetts General Hospital and a leading infectious disease specialist, told the Times it is optimistic to think il-6 “will be the answer to everything.”

On top of the new research, experts are finding that drugs that quell cytokines and the immune response have not proved helpful. Researchers are now looking at inflammation as a possible reason for COVID-19 fatalities. Dexamethasone, a drug that calms the immune system and reduces inflammation, has shown that it can reduce the death rate, according to the Times.

Dr. Walker said another possibility for COVID-19’s morbidity is that the virus attacks critical centers of the body, such as lymph nodes where antibodies are produced, and cripples them. He said he and others are “sadder but wiser about using il-6 drugs to treat COVID-19 patients.”

“All of us were hopeful that this would work,” he said. “It was definitely worth a try.”

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