Kaposi's sarcoma-associated herpesvirus, but not Epstein-Barr virus, co-infection associates with coronavirus disease 2019 severity and outcome in South African patients

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In South Africa, the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic is occurring against the backdrop of high Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), tuberculosis and non-communicable disease burdens as well as prevalent herpesviruses infections such as Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) and Kaposi's sarcoma-associated herpesvirus (KSHV). As part of an observational study of adults admitted to Groote Schuur Hospital, Cape Town, South Africa during the period June-August 2020 and assessed for Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) infection, we measured KSHV serology and KSHV and EBV viral load (VL) in peripheral blood in relation to COVID-19 severity and outcome. A total of 104 patients with PCR-confirmed SARS-CoV-2 infection were included in this study. 61% were men and 39% women with a median age of 53 years (range 21-86). 29.8% (95% CI: 21.7-39.1%) of the cohort was HIV positive and 41.1% (95% CI: 31.6-51.1%) were KSHV seropositive. EBV VL was detectable in 84.4% (95% CI: 76.1-84.4%) of the cohort while KSHV DNA was detected in 20.6% (95% CI: 13.6-29.2%), with dual EBV/KSHV infection in 17.7% (95% CI: 11.1-26.2%). On enrollment, 48 [46.2% (95% CI: 36.8-55.7%)] COVID-19 patients were classified as severe on the WHO ordinal scale reflecting oxygen therapy and supportive care requirements and 30 of these patients [28.8% (95% CI: 20.8-38.0%)] later died. In COVID-19 patients, detectable KSHV VL was associated with death after adjusting for age, sex, HIV status and detectable EBV VL [p = 0.036, adjusted OR = 3.17 (95% CI: 1.08-9.32)]. Furthermore, in HIV negative COVID-19 patients, there was a trend indicating that KSHV VL may be related to COVID-19 disease severity [p = 0.054, unstandardized co-efficient 0.86 (95% CI: -0.015-1.74)] in addition to death [p = 0.008, adjusted OR = 7.34 (95% CI: 1.69-31.49)]. While the design of our study cannot distinguish if disease synergy exists between COVID-19 and KSHV nor if either viral infection is indeed fueling the other, these data point to a potential contribution of KSHV infection to COVID-19 outcome, or SARS-CoV-2 infection to KSHV reactivation, particularly in the South African context of high disease burden, that warrants further investigation.

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Volume 12
Pages 795555
Available online
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