Viral Issues in Transplant Recipients

Just an informational post because the husband was having trouble coherently explaining this. šŸ™‚

Solid organ transplant recipients obviously take immune suppressive drugs and that makes them more vulnerable to essentially everything that the immune system would usually fight. Viruses. Bacterial infections. Cancers.

A handful of viruses in particular tend to cause more trouble than others – mostly, the type that hang out in your body. A typical person is exposed to these viruses, often doesn’t develop any symptoms – or just mild cold symptoms, and then the virus lies in their body, dormant, for all time. Sometimes, even in healthy people, the viruses can be reactivated. Transplant recipients, because of the suppressed immune system, are more prone to viral reactivation. Also, if they weren’t exposed pre-transplant (obviously more common in kids than adults), their first encounter with one of these viruses can be troublesome.

This article gives a nice run down, if you’re interested in more detailed information using longer words:

We monitor Teddy for three of these viruses on a regular basis (technically, we monitor viral load). Epstein Barr Virus (EBV), Cytomegalovirus (CMV) and BK Virus (which doesn’t actually stand for something – it’s just the initials of the first guy who ever had it).

CMV. I don’t know what to say definitively about Teddy and CMV right now because we’re not entirely sure what’s going on. It looks like his CMV levels go UP every time he has another illness. That’s not ideal, but as long as it comes back down every time, it’s better than not coming down. One of the things that was going on when he was admitted in the spring was that his CMV level was pretty high. Since then, we’ve noticed slight bumps associated with other illnesses. The risks with CMV infection are numerous. Primarily, it can cause rejection. It can also permanently damage the kidney. CMV viremia (for simplicity’s sake, “viremia” would be “high” viral load – what he had in the spring) carries with it a fairly scary mortality rate. CMV is treated by lowering immune suppression and taking a fairly nasty antiviral medication called valgancyclovir, which really does a number on your bone marrow (making you very anemic very quick, at least if you’re Teddy).

EBV. I want to say it was the first year post transplant, T got EBV for the first time. There were a lot of other things going on, and he ended up getting a tonsillectomy and a CT scan – primarily because the biggest risk factor with EBV in an immune suppressed patient is development of PTLD. PTLD – the acronym that strikes fear in the hearts of transplant moms everywhere. PTLD is a pretty aggressive cancer that transplant patients get with an awful mortality rate. It’s pretty rare… but transplant moms are so far past “rare” already – I mean, peds renal transplants are ALSO rare. So at our house, we tend to refer to EBV as “the scary cancer virus.”

BK virus. I know the LEAST about BK because we’ve never had to deal with it. BK virus primarily affects the kidney – causing permanent damage and/or graft loss.


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