Acute kidney injury (AKI) associated with severe coronavirus disease 19 (COVID-19) is common and is a significant predictor of morbidity and mortality, especially when dialysis is required. Case reports and autopsy series have revealed that most patients with COVID-19 – associated acute kidney injury have evidence of acute tubular injury and necrosis – not unexpected in critically ill patients. Others have been found to have collapsing glomerulopathy, thrombotic microangiopathy and diverse underlying kidney diseases. A primary kidney pathology related to COVID-19 has not yet emerged. Thus far direct infection of the kidney, or its impact on clinical disease remains controversial. The management of AKI is currently supportive.
The patient presented here was positive for SARS-CoV-2, had severe acute respiratory distress syndrome and multi-organ failure. Within days of admission to the intensive care unit he developed oliguric acute kidney failure requiring dialysis. Acute kidney injury developed in the setting of hemodynamic instability, sepsis and a maculopapular rash. Over the ensuing days the patient also developed transfusion-requiring severe hemolysis which was Coombs negative. Schistocytes were present on the peripheral smear. Given the broad differential diagnoses for acute kidney injury, a kidney biopsy was performed and revealed granulomatous tubulo-interstitial nephritis with some acute tubular injury. Based on the biopsy findings, a decision was taken to adjust medications and initiate corticosteroids for presumed medication-induced interstitial nephritis, hemolysis and maculo-papular rash. The kidney function and hemolysis improved over the subsequent days and the patient was discharged to a rehabilitation facility, no-longer required dialysis.
Acute kidney injury in patients with severe COVID-19 may have multiple causes. We present the first case of granulomatous interstitial nephritis in a patient with COVID-19. Drug-reactions may be more frequent than currently recognized in COVID-19 and are potentially reversible. The kidney biopsy findings in this case led to a change in therapy, which was associated with subsequent patient improvement. Kidney biopsy may therefore have significant value in pulling together a clinical diagnosis, and may impact outcome if a treatable cause is identified.