The first data on myocardial injury linked with COVID-19 disease during the start of the pandemic in Wuhan, China serves as a “wake up call” for clinicians and the general public on what the United States and other Western countries can expect as the SARS-CoV-2 virus spreads and case numbers mount: a potentially “daunting” toll of deaths as an infection with a tendency to be most severe in patients with underlying cardiovascular disease hits populations that include large numbers of such patients.
“A consistent picture emerges” from two reports on a total of 603 COVID-19 patients treated at two academic hospitals in Wuhan, which described “remarkably similar characteristics of patients who develop myocardial injury” associated with their infection. “Patients who develop myocardial injury with COVID-19 have clinical evidence of higher acuity, with a higher incidence of acute respiratory distress syndrome and more frequent need for assisted ventilation than those without myocardial injury, and the patients who are more prone to have myocardial injury are “older patients with preexisting cardiovascular complications and diabetes,” Robert O. Bonow, MD, and coauthors wrote in an editorial published online (JAMA Cardiol. 2020 Mar 27. doi: 10.1001/jamacardio.2020.1105).
These new findings have special relevance to the United States and other Western countries because of their substantial numbers of elderly patients with cardiovascular diseases, said Dr. Bonow, professor of medicine at Northwestern University, Chicago, and coauthors.
One of the two reports cited in the editorial reviewed 416 patients hospitalized at Renmin Hospital in Wuhan during the period of Jan. 20 to Feb. 10, 2020, with confirmed COVID-19 disease, and found that 20% of the cohort had evidence of cardiac injury, defined as blood levels of the high-sensitivity troponin I cardiac biomarker above the 99th-percentile upper reference limit, regardless of new abnormalities in electrocardiography and echocardiography.
The analysis also showed that patients with myocardial injury had a significantly higher in-hospital mortality rate, 51%, compared with a 5% mortality rate among patients without myocardial injury, and among patients with myocardial injury those with elevated high-sensitivity troponin I had an even higher mortality rate (JAMA Cardiol. 2020 Mar 25. doi: 10.1001/jamacardio.2020.0950).
A second review of 187 confirmed COVID-19 cases at Seventh Hospital in Wuhan during the period of Jan. 23 to Feb. 23, 2020, showed similar findings, with a 28% prevalence of myocardial injury at admission based on an elevated level of plasma troponin T (TnT), and 35% had cardiovascular disease (CVD) including hypertension, coronary heart disease, and cardiomyopathy. Elevated TnT levels and CVD at entry each linked with substantially increased mortality. The incidence of death among patients with elevated TnT and no underlying CVD was 38% compared with 8% among patients without elevated TnT or underlying CVD. Among patients admitted with underlying CVD those who also had an elevated TnT had a 69% death rate during hospitalization compared with a 13% rate in those without TnT elevation (JAMA Cardiol. 2020 Mar 27. doi: 10.1001/jamacardio.2020.1017).
Dr. Bonow and coauthors noted that patients with chronic coronary artery disease have a heightened risk for developing acute coronary syndrome during acute infection, potentially resulting from a severe increase in myocardial demand during infection, or severe systemic inflammatory stress that could result in atherosclerotic plaque instability and rupture as well as vascular and myocardial inflammation.
In addition, patients with heart failure are prone to hemodynamic instability during severe infection. “Thus it is anticipated that patients with underlying cardiovascular diseases, which are more prevalent in older adults, would be susceptible to higher risks of adverse outcomes and death during the severe and aggressive inflammatory responses to COVID-19 than individuals who are younger and healthier,” they wrote.
They also cited the potential for acute or fulminant myocarditis as well as new-onset heart failure caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19 disease based on experience with the related Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus. Another concerning observation is that the SARS-CoV-2 virus binds to the angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 protein on cell surfaces as its main entry receptor, “raising the possibility of direct viral infection of vascular endothelium and myocardium,” a process that itself could produce myocardial injury and myocarditis.
These new findings from COVID-19 patients in Wuhan represent early data from what has become a global pandemic, and raise questions about generalizability, but for the time being a key message from these early cases is that prevention of SARS-CoV-2 infection is paramount. “Until we know more, the populations described in these primary data reports should be most observant of strict hand hygiene, social distancing, and, where available, COVID-19 testing,” the authors said.
Dr. Bonow and coauthors had no disclosures.