Chronic Hepatitis E in Heart Transplant Recipients


Heiner Wedemeyer,


Chronic courses of hepatitis E virus (HEV) infections have been described in immunosuppressed patients. We aimed to study the role of HEV infections in heart transplant recipients (HTR). 274 HTR were prospectively screened for HEV infection using an anti-HEV-IgG ELISA and HEV-PCR. In addition, 137 patients undergoing cardiac surgery (non-HTR) and 537 healthy subjects were studied cross-sectionally. The anti-HEV-IgG seroprevalence was 11% in HTR, 7% in non-HTR and 2% in healthy controls (HTR vs. healthy controls p<0.0001; non-HTR vs. healthy controls p<0.01). Anti-HEV tested positive in 4.0% in control cohorts of other immunocompromised patients (n = 474). Four HTR (1.5%) were chronically infected with HEV as shown by HEV-PCR and all four patients had liver transaminases of >200 IU/L and histological or clinical evidence of advanced liver disease. In three patients ribavirin treatment was successful with a sustained biochemical and virological response while treatment failed in one cirrhotic patient after ribavirin dose reduction. Heart transplant recipients and patients undergoing cardiac surgery have an increased risk for HEV infections. Chronic hepatitis E may explain elevated liver enzymes in heart transplant recipients. Treatment of HEV infection with ribavirin is effective but the optimal dose and duration of ribavirin therapy remains to be determined.