BACKGROUND: Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) can be associated with life-threatening organ dysfunction due to septic shock, frequently requiring intensive care unit (ICU) admission, respiratory and vasopressor support. Therefore, clear clinical criteria are pivotal for early recognition of patients more likely to need prompt organ support. Although most patients with severe COVID-19 meet the Sepsis-3.0 criteria for septic shock, it has been increasingly recognized that hyperlactatemia is frequently absent, possibly leading to an underestimation of illness severity and mortality risk.
AIM: To identify the proportion of severe COVID-19 patients with vasopressor support requirements, with and without hyperlactatemia, and describe their clinical outcomes and mortality.
METHODS: We performed a single-center prospective cohort study. All adult patients admitted to the ICU with COVID-19 were included in the analysis and were further divided into three groups: Sepsis group, without both criteria; Vasoplegic Shock group, with persistent hypotension and vasopressor support without hyperlactatemia; and Septic Shock 3.0 group, with both criteria. COVID-19 was diagnosed using clinical and radiologic criteria with a severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) positive RT-PCR test.
RESULTS: 118 patients (mean age 63 years, 87% males) were included in the analysis (n = 51 Sepsis group, n = 26 Vasoplegic Shock group, and n = 41 Septic Shock 3.0 group). SOFA score at ICU admission and ICU length of stay were different between the groups (P < 0.001). Mortality was significantly higher in the Vasoplegic Shock and Septic Shock 3.0 groups when compared with the Sepsis group (P < 0.001) without a significant difference between the former two groups (P = 0.713). The log rank tests of Kaplan-Meier survival curves were also different (P = 0.007). Ventilator-free days and vasopressor-free days were different between the Sepsis vs Vasoplegic Shock and Septic Shock 3.0 groups (both P < 0.001), and similar in the last two groups (P = 0.128 and P = 0.133, respectively). Logistic regression identified the maximum dose of vasopressor therapy used (AOR 1.046; 95%CI: 1.012-1.082, P = 0.008) and serum lactate level (AOR 1.542; 95%CI: 1.055-2.255, P = 0.02) as the major explanatory variables of mortality rates (R 2 0.79).
CONCLUSION: In severe COVID-19 patients, the Sepsis 3.0 criteria of septic shock may exclude approximately one third of patients with a similarly high risk of a poor outcome and mortality rate, which should be equally addressed.