Severe Combined Immunodeficiency (SCID) is a rare, inherited condition resulting in a weak immune system that is unable to fight off even mild infections. It is considered to be the most serious primary immunodeficiency disease (PIDD).
SCID is caused by a genetic defect that affects the function of white blood cells, specifically T cells. Depending on the type of SCID, other types of white blood cells including B cells and NK cells can also be affected. White blood cells play important roles in helping the immune system battle bacteria, viruses and fungi that cause infections.
Symptoms of the disease are frequently first noticed very early in life. Infants with SCID often suffer from recurrent, severe respiratory infections and growth failure. These infections are usually serious and may even be life-threatening. Still, it may require several hospitalizations before SCID is diagnosed.
There are several forms of SCID. The most common type is linked to a problem in a gene on the X chromosome, affecting only males. Women may carry the condition. Other forms of SCID are caused by a variety of other genetic defects.
SCID Symptoms & Diagnosis
In addition to frequent and often very severe respiratory infections, other symptoms of SCID in infants may include poor growth, severe rashes that look like eczema, chronic diarrhea, recurrent viral infections and recurrent thrush in the mouth.
One unusual infection that can be present with SCID early on is pneumocystis pneumonia. Presence of this infection is a red flag for the need to evaluate the immune system for SCID.
Early detection of SCID is extremely important. A complete blood count looking for decreased white blood cells (lymphocytes) may be the first laboratory clue to the diagnosis and prompts further workup to evaluate the immune system. Treating the disease in the first months of life offers a very positive success rate in helping to combat SCID.
A diagnosis of SCID can be made in utero, which is especially helpful if there is a family history of immunodeficiency diseases.
SCID Treatment & Management
The only cure currently and routinely available for SCID is bone marrow transplant, which provides a new immune system to the patient. Gene therapy treatment of SCID has also been successful in clinical trials, but not without complications.
Research on gene therapy for SCID is continuing and may one day be a good option. If you think your child may have SCID, prompt evaluation by an immunology specialist is crucial for early treatment.
Other forms of immunodeficiency may not require bone marrow transplantation.
To learn more about PIDDs visit the Immune Deficiency Foundation website.