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Open Access Research article

The risk of infections in hematologic patients treated with rituximab is not influenced by cumulative rituximab dosage - a single center experience

Johanna C Nissen1, Margit Hummel2, Joachim Brade3, Jens Kruth2, Wolf-Karsten Hofmann2, Dieter Buchheidt2* and Mark Reinwald2

Author Affiliations

1 Institute of Clinical Radiology and Nuclear Medicine, Mannheim University Hospital, Theodor-Kutzer-Ufer 1-3, Mannheim, Germany

2 Department of Hematology and Oncology, Medical Faculty Mannheim, University of Heidelberg, Theodor-Kutzer-Ufer 1-3, Mannheim, Germany

3 Department of Medical Statistics and Biomathematics, Medical Faculty Mannheim, University of Heidelberg, Theodor-Kutzer-Ufer 1-3, Mannheim, Germany

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BMC Infectious Diseases 2014, 14:364  doi:10.1186/1471-2334-14-364

Published: 3 July 2014

Abstract

Background

Rituximab, a monoclonal antibody directed against CD20, is approved for the treatment of CD20-positive B-cell Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and rheumatologic disorders. Due to its potent activity in depleting CD20-positive lymphocytes, the influence on opportunistic infections is still under discussion. Thus, we analyzed the impact of rituximab either as monotherapy or in combination with other chemotherapeutic regimens to elucidate its role in contributing to infectious complications.

Methods

The records of consecutive patients (n = 125, 141 treatment episodes) treated with rituximab alone or in combination with chemotherapy and corticosteroids were analyzed retrospectively for the incidence, spectrum and outcome of infections during treatment and 6 months after the last course of rituximab. Univariate analysis of cofactors such as steroid medication, antiinfective prophylaxis, underlying disease and remission status were performed.

Results

Altogether 80 therapy episodes were associated with infections, the median number of infections per patient being 1 (range 1–7). The number of infectious complications was significantly higher in patients receiving a combination of rituximab and chemotherapy compared to rituximab monotherapy (p < 0.001). There was no statistically significant difference regarding number of rituximab courses or cumulative rituximab dosage between episodes with and without infections, respectively.Mean cumulative prednisone dosage between the cohort with infections and the one without infections showed a trend towards higher dosage of prednisone in the patients with infections (mean difference 441 mg, p > 0.14).

Conclusions

Rituximab in induction treatment, either as monotherapy or combined with chemotherapy by itself does not increase the incidence or change the spectrum of infections in hematologic patients. However the possible influence of higher dosages of concomitant steroid medication on frequency of infections suggests that a heightened awareness of the potential for infectious complications should be applied to patients receiving higher doses of glucocorticoids in combination with other therapeutic regimens.