Hepatitis E virus infection as a cause of graft hepatitis in liver transplant recipients



Hepatitis E virus (HEV) infection induces self-limiting liver disease in immunocompetent individuals. Cases of chronic hepatitis E have recently been identified in organ transplant recipients. We questioned if chronic hepatitis E plays a role in graft hepatitis after liver transplantation in a low endemic area. Two hundred twenty-six liver transplant recipients, 129 nontransplanted patients with chronic liver disease, and 108 healthy controls were tested for HEV antibodies. HEV RNA was investigated in all sera from transplanted patients. HEV antibodies were detected in 1 healthy control (1%), 4 patients with chronic liver disease (3%), and 10 liver transplant recipients (4%). Three liver transplant patients also tested positive for HEV RNA. Two of them developed persistent viremia with HEV genotype 3. The patients were anti-HEV immunoglobulin G–negative and HEV RNA–negative before transplantation and had an episode of acute hepatitis 5 or 7 months after transplantation, which led to advanced liver fibrosis after 22 months in 1 patient. Seroconversion to anti-HEV occurred not before 4 months after the first detection of HEV RNA. The possibility of reverse zoonotic transmission was experimentally confirmed by the infection of 5 pigs with a patient's serum. The pigs showed histological inflammation in the liver, and HEV RNA was detectable in different organs, including muscle. In conclusion, the prevalence of HEV infection in Central European liver transplant recipients is low; however, chronic hepatitis E may occur and needs to be considered in the differential diagnosis of graft hepatitis. The diagnosis of HEV infection should be based on HEV RNA determination in immunosuppressed patients. We suggest that immunocompromised individuals should avoid eating uncooked meat and contact with possibly HEV-infected animals. Liver Transpl 16:74–82, 2010. © 2009 AASLD.