Plasma exchange for refractory pruritus due to drug-induced Chronic Cholestasis following Azithromycin misuse in COVID-19 Infection

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Internal Medicine (East Africa)


Azithromycin can result in severe cholestatic liver disease. We describe two cases of intractable pruritus secondary to drug-induced cholestatic liver injury, unresponsive to symptomatic medical therapy, necessitating and responding well to therapeutic plasma exchange (TPE). The first is a case of a 60-year-old male known to have stable chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) and benign prostatic hyperplasia, and the second is a 46-year-old female known to have primary biliary cirrhosis (PBC) who presented at six weeks and two weeks, respectively, post-mild-COVID-19 pneumonia. Their drug histories were positive for over-the-counter (OCT) azithromycin use during the COVID-19 pneumonia period. They presented with a two-week history of severe itching, associated with sleep deprivation and impaired quality of life. Liver function tests revealed a cholestatic pattern of liver injury. Pruritus remained refractory to multiple lines of treatment including bile acid sequestrants and antihistamines. Rapid and long-lasting relief of the patient’s symptoms was observed after three sessions of TPE. Our cases highlight medically recalcitrant cholestatic pruritus as an adverse effect of antibiotic misuse during the recent COVID-19 pandemic. Sustained symptomatic improvements were seen after TPE.

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