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Leukocyte count in COVID-19: an important consideration

To the Editor,

Dear Sir,

In December 2019, an outbreak of pneumonia associated with high mortality was noticed in Wuhan city, China. Thereafter, the World Health Organization (WHO) confirmed the novel coronavirus named SARS-CoV-2 was responsible for the clinical features and declared this as COVID-19 [1].

The virus attaches to angiotensin-converting enzyme-2 (ACE) receptors on various types of cells including type 2 pneumocytes, renal epithelial cells, and lymphocytes. Furthermore, the virus can lead to exaggerated inflammatory response known as cytokine storm that is characterized by increased interleukin (IL)-2, IL-7, granulocyte colony-stimulating factor (GCSF), interferon-γ inducible protein 10, monocyte chemo-attractant protein-1, macrophage inflammatory protein 1-α, and tumor necrosis factor-α. It is responsible for the development of acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) and multiple organ failure [2,3,4].

Several studies demonstrated that neutrophilia that might be related to the cytokine storm (absolute neutrophil count above the normal range; 3–7.5 × 109/L) and/or lymphocytopenia (lymphocyte count < 1.5 × 109/L) were present in severe cases of COVID-19 pneumonia and were associated with poor prognosis. Neutrophil to lymphocyte ratio (NLR) has also been found to predict disease severity in the early stages of SARS CoV-2 infection. In contrast, small studies reported a significant reduction in granulocytes in severe as compared to non-severe patients [5].

In conclusion, from the previous evidence, the following points should be taken in consideration:

  1. 1.

    Patients with COVID-19 pneumonia may have normal (4–11 × 109/L), low, or high leukocyte count. This may further help in following the progression of the disease and help in the decision regarding treatment strategy. Physicians must be aware of the cytokine storm and avoid the use of granulocyte colony-stimulating factor for the leukopenia associated with SARS CoV-2 as it may worsen the condition with early development of ARDS.

  2. 2.

    Lymphocytopenia is a reliable indicator of early SARS CoV-2 infection and helps in tracing of contacts besides assessment of disease progression along the course of COVID-19 pneumonia. Further studies are needed to evaluate its role in immune-compromised patients especially those having human immune-deficiency syndrome. Declaration of the effect of SARS CoV-2 on different subsets of T lymphocytes warrants future studies.

  3. 3.

    The interpretation of NLR in the follow-up of patients with COVID-19 should consider the use of corticosteroids and the occurrence of bacterial co-infection that could interfere with the result.

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Abbreviations

WHO:

World Health Organization

SARS-CoV-2:

Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus-2

COVID-19:

Coronavirus disease 2019

ACE:

Angiotensin-converting enzyme

IL:

Interleukin

GCSF:

Granulocyte colony-stimulating factor

ARDS:

Acute respiratory distress syndrome

NLR:

Neutrophil to lymphocyte ratio

References

  1. 1.

    He F, Deng Y, Li W (2020) Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19): what we know? J Med Virol 92(7):719–725. https://doi.org/10.1002/jmv.25766

  2. 2.

    Huang C, Wang Y, Li X, Ren L, Zhao J, Hu Y et al (2020)  Clinical features of patients infected with 2019 novel coronavirus in Wuhan, China. Lancet 395:497–506

  3. 3.

    Li X, Geng M, Peng Y, Meng L, Lu S (2020) Molecular immune pathogenesis and diagnosis of COVID-19. J Pharm Anal 10(2):102–108. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jpha.2020.03.001

  4. 4.

    Rothan HA, Byrareddy SN (2020) The epidemiology and pathogenesis of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak. J Autoimmun 109:102433

  5. 5.

    Khartabil TA, Russcher H, van der Ven A, de Rijke YB (2020) A summary of the diagnostic and prognostic value of hemocytometry markers in COVID-19 patients. Critical Reviews in Clinical Laboratory Sciences. https://doi.org/10.1080/10408363.2020.1774736

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Acknowledgements

I am thankful to all my professors who supported my knowledge in COVID-19.

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Concept of the letter, literature review, and writing the original draft: S.S. The author read and approved the final manuscript.

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Correspondence to Samah Selim.

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Selim, S. Leukocyte count in COVID-19: an important consideration. Egypt J Bronchol 14, 43 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1186/s43168-020-00045-8

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