Boris Johnson Syndrome

The other day, I was thinking about Boris Johnson, the UK Prime Minister – how he went from having symptoms for about 10 days only to then be put on oxygen and into the ICU. He may be experiencing a secondary phase of the disease, where ones own immune system overreacts to the COVID-19 virus and attacks the lungs. Some patients will seem to improve only to suddenly become seriously ill and find themselves in the ICU requiring oxygen and/or put on a ventilator.

In these instances, rather than defending the body, the immune system’s response turns and actually attacks its own organs. This is also what seems to have happened with the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic and with both SARS and MERS (both of which are caused by a coronavirus). The name for this immune response is a “Cytokine Storm” or “Cytokine Release Syndrome”. You may hear of this in the news in reference to COVID-19 and new cancer treatments. Interferon, interleukins, TNF (Tumor Necrosis Factor), lymphokines colony stimulating factor, etc. – these are not chemotherapy drugs. They are chemicals produced by our own body that create the inflammation that attacks and causes this secondary phase, which infrequently causes our own immune system to turn on us. So, this is not just an antibiotic, anti-malarial medication fix.

It is far more complex and may require multiple anti-inflammatory medications and anti-cytokine medications, like Humira and Enbrel. These drugs are advertised to treat those with Crohn’s disease and arthritis; however, something they don’t tell you in the commercials is that they cost about $5,000 per dose.

Stay tune for more on future treatment and, in the meantime, wear your face mask and practice social distancing (especially teens and young adults)! Remember 80% of people have mild symptoms, and at present we think 5% are asymptomatic carriers, we don’t know who it is so we all need masks when we leave our house wear a mask regardless of where you are going.

I’ll leave you with this hilarious YouTube video – I’m actually off to make my own with my wife, daughter, and our ‘puppy’!

Be well and stay safe! 

Lester Hartman, MD MPH
“Proactive in your child’s care. Empowering families for over 60 years.”

Follow me on Twitter @DrHartmanWMPEDS