I have just had a lung transplant. I’m in great shape and plan to stay that way. At the clinic, I often hear about the “donor virus,” and would like to know more about it. Where does it come from? Is it contagious? What are the symptoms? How can it be eradicated?
Many viruses can be transmitted through lung and other transplants. In theory, donors could transmit HIV (AIDS virus) and hepatitis B and C viruses to receivers, but in practice, we check to make sure the donors are not carriers (if they are, their organ donation is contraindicated).
The virus you’re talking about is probably the cytomegalovirus (CMV), which is a very common contagious virus; about a third of the population will have contracted this virus in the course of a lifetime. Most of the time, the initial infection is not too severe and sometimes resembles mononucleosis. The symptoms may disappear fairly quickly, but a minute quantity of the virus may remain in the body, where it is kept under control by the immune system and does not cause any problems.
However, in the case of transplantation, the cytomegalovirus can make the recipients very sick, especially the first time they are infected by it. Organ recipients are more vulnerable to the cytomegalovirus because their defence systems are weakened by the immunosuppressants they take to prevent rejection of the transplanted organs. Symptoms of infection include pneumonia, hepatitis or inexplicable fever. Primary infection is very serious, occurring the first time the organ recipient is exposed to the cytomegalovirus. The secondary spread can also be very serious because it reactivates the virus in recipients who have contracted it in the past.
The infection is treated with antiviral antibiotics, which are very effective and play a major role in preventing cytomegaloviral infections in organ recipients.