Background: In December 2019, coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) emerged in Wuhan and rapidly spread throughout China.
Methods: Demographic and clinical data of all confirmed cases with COVID-19 on admission at Tongji Hospital from 10 January to 12 February 2020 were collected and analyzed. The data on laboratory examinations, including peripheral lymphocyte subsets, were analyzed and compared between patients with severe and nonsevere infection.
Results: Of the 452 patients with COVID-19 recruited, 286 were diagnosed as having severe infection. The median age was 58 years and 235 were male. The most common symptoms were fever, shortness of breath, expectoration, fatigue, dry cough, and myalgia. Severe cases tend to have lower lymphocyte counts, higher leukocyte counts and neutrophil-lymphocyte ratio (NLR), as well as lower percentages of monocytes, eosinophils, and basophils. Most severe cases demonstrated elevated levels of infection-related biomarkers and inflammatory cytokines. The number of T cells significantly decreased, and were more impaired in severe cases. Both helper T (Th) cells and suppressor T cells in patients with COVID-19 were below normal levels, with lower levels of Th cells in the severe group. The percentage of naive Th cells increased and memory Th cells decreased in severe cases. Patients with COVID-19 also have lower levels of regulatory T cells, which are more obviously decreased in severe cases.
Conclusions: The novel coronavirus might mainly act on lymphocytes, especially T lymphocytes. Surveillance of NLR and lymphocyte subsets is helpful in the early screening of critical illness, diagnosis, and treatment of COVID-19.
Keywords: COVID-19; T lymphocyte; immune response; lymphocyte subsets.