Background & Aims: Abnormal liver tests are common in patients with severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) infection, but a possible direct role of the virus in liver injury and its association with short-term outcomes are controversial. Therefore, we aimed to compare the pattern of abnormal liver tests in patients with SARS-CoV-2 with those of patients infected with influenza, a non-hepatotropic respiratory virus, and their association with worse outcomes during hospitalisation. Methods: We performed a retrospective cohort study of 1,737 hospitalised patients (865 with influenza and 872 with SARS-CoV-2) in a tertiary medical centre. We defined abnormal liver tests as alanine transaminase or aspartate transaminase ≥40 IU/ml at any time-point during hospitalisation. Results: Abnormal liver tests were mild to moderate in most patients regardless of infection type, but the majority of patients with influenza had a transaminase peak earlier during hospitalisation compared with patients with SARS-CoV-2. Abnormal liver tests correlated with markers of severe disease in either influenza or SARS-CoV-2 infections, and were associated with death, occurring mainly in patients with severe liver test abnormalities (>200 IU/L) (38.7% and 60% of patients with influenza or SARS-CoV-2, respectively). In multivariate analysis, controlling for age, sex, lymphopaenia, and C-reactive protein, liver test abnormalities remained significantly associated with death for influenza (odds ratio 4.344; 95% CI 2.218–8.508) and SARS-CoV-2 (odds ratio 3.898; 95% CI 2.203–6.896). These results were confirmed upon propensity score matching. Conclusions: Abnormal liver tests during hospitalisation with SARS-CoV-2 or influenza infections are common, may differ in their time course, and reflect disease severity. They are associated with worse outcomes, mainly in patients with severe liver test abnormalities, regardless of infection type. Lay summary: Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is a serious global health pandemic, the causative agent of which is severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). Abnormal liver tests are common among SARS-CoV-2 infected patients and are often associated with worse outcomes. Herein, we compare the pattern of abnormal liver tests and their association with disease severity between 2 major non-hepatotropic respiratory viruses: SARS-CoV-2 and influenza. We show that abnormal liver tests are common in both infections, may slightly differ in their kinetics, and are associated with worse outcomes, especially in patients with severe liver test abnormalities. These results strongly suggest that abnormal liver tests in SARS-CoV-2 patients reflect disease severity, rather than a virus-mediated direct liver injury, and should be closely followed in admitted patients.
- Liver injury
- Respiratory tract infections