We describe four solid-organ transplant recipients with donor-derived West Nile virus (WNV) infection (encephalitis 3, asymptomatic 1) from a common donor residing in a region of increased WNV activity. All four transplant recipients had molecular evidence of WNV infection in their serum and/or cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) by reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) testing. Serum from the organ donor was positive for WNV IgM but negative for WNV RNA, whereas his lymph node and spleen tissues tested positive for WNV by RT-PCR. Combination therapy included intravenous immunoglobulin (4 cases), interferon (3 cases), fresh frozen plasma with WNV IgG (2 cases), and ribavirin (1 case). Two of the four transplant recipients survived.
Review of the 20 published cases of organ-derived WNV infection found that this infection is associated with a high incidence of neuroinvasive disease (70%) and severe morbidity and mortality (30%). Median time to onset of symptomatic WNV infection was 13 days after transplantation (range 5–37 days). Initial unexplained fever unresponsive to antibiotic therapy followed by rapid onset of neurologic deficits was the most common clinical presentation. Confirmation of infection was made by testing serum and CSF for both WNV RNA by RT-PCR and WNV IgM by serological assays. Treatment usually included supportive care, reduction of immunosuppression, and frequent intravenous immunoglobulin. The often negative results for WNV by current RT-PCR and serological assays and the absence of clinical signs of acute infection in donors contribute to the sporadic occurrence of donor-derived WNV infection. Potential organ donors should be assessed for unexplained fever and neurological symptoms, particularly if they reside in areas of increased WNV activity.