The Cytokine Storm

Molecular analysis of severely affected people is bringing much information to the fore and in the worse affected cases there seems to be a severe immune reaction, (at least part of) which is referred to as a cytokine storm. The result of this is the shutting down of the lungs and kidneys, which brings on oxygen deprivation and thickening of the blood. Key molecules such as interleukin-6 are definitely involved as will be the role of background genetics – this give us hope for pharmacological intervention, reducing the cytokine storm and affording the opportunity for the body to destroy the virus.

Key groups remain at increased risk especially where the immune system might not be what it once was (elderly) or those with medical histories which reduce resilience. A vaccine will be the eventual solution of these people but in the mean time we must protect them with testing, isolation and shielding.

While “cytokine storm” has been picked up by the media, it is a concept poorly defined and poorly characterised at the molecular level; it may even be a misnomer. There is still a need for significant research. 

Sinha P, Matthay MA, Calfee CS. Is a “Cytokine Storm” Relevant to COVID-19? JAMA Intern Med. Published online June 30, 2020. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2020.3313