Life (Basel). 2021 Mar 20;11(3):258. doi: 10.3390/life11030258.
BACKGROUND: The human anti-IL-6 receptor antibody tocilizumab (TCZ) has been approved for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and giant cell arteritis (GCA). It is observed that CRP levels drop quickly after starting TCZ treatment. This may lead to misinterpretation of laboratory results when accessing the patient with infectious disease while on TCZ. We conducted this study to report cases treated with tocilizumab who developed serious infections with special reference to levels of CRP and to review the literature on the effect of tocilizumab on acute phase response (APR) during infections.
METHODS: The files of RA and GCA patients hospitalized in the Tel Aviv medical center between 2009-2019 were reviewed. Cases of patients with RA and GCA treated with tocilizumab who were hospitalized due to severe infections were reviewed with special emphasis on the duration of treatment, type of infection, and APR.
RESULTS: We identified nine admissions. Seven patients were treated with tocilizumab for RA, two for GCA. The diagnosis was pneumonia in three cases, osteomyelitis in one, cellulitis in one, endocarditis due to Whipple disease in one, abscess of cervix uteri in one, meningitis in one, and perforated diverticulitis in one. The mean CRP levels on admission were 4.75 mg/L (normal range, up to 5 mg/L). All cases were diagnosed correctly on admission.
CONCLUSIONS: CRP levels may not correctly reflect the severity of infectious diseases during tocilizumab treatment. Increased awareness of the masking effect of tocilizumab on the APR during infection is needed in order to avoid a delay in the diagnosis.