Haemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis in Malaysian children


Dr Hany Ariffin, Department of Paediatrics, University of Malaya Medical Centre, 50603 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Fax: +6 3 7955 6114; email: hany@um.edu.my


Objectives:  To study the clinical presentation, therapy and outcome of children diagnosed with both primary and secondary haemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis (HLH) at the University of Malaya Medical Centre.

Methods:  All patients diagnosed with HLH between 1998 and 2004 were studied. Clinico-pathological data of these patients were prospectively collected and analysed.

Results:  Thirteen consecutive patients (eight boys) with a median age of 28 months were seen. All patients presented with high-grade unremitting fever and almost all, with hepatosplenomegaly and cytopenias. Neurological manifestations, which ranged from irritability to seizures and coma, were seen in 10 (77%) patients. Other common presenting features include liver dysfunction (46%) and skin rash (38%). All patients were treated using the HLH-94 protocol chemotherapy which consisted of a combination of etoposide, dexamethasone and cyclosporine. Complete response was seen in seven patients while two required bone marrow transplantation and one developed secondary acute myeloid leukaemia. Two patients died before treatment could be commenced. Overall mortality rate in our series was 46%.

Conclusions:  Haemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis is an uncommon disease with a high fatality rate. Due to its protean clinical manifestations, it may be underdiagnosed. Early detection and prompt institution of appropriate therapy is necessary to improve the outcome in affected patients.