Possible viruses after a kidney transplant

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Doctor reviewing medical chart with teen boy

The immunosuppressants you take after transplant make your immune system weaker. A weak immune system can make it easier for you to get sick from viruses that are usually harmless.

Your transplant team will routinely check your urine and blood for:

  • cytomegalovirus (CMV)
  • Epstein Barr Virus (EBV)
  • polyoma virus (BKV)
  • chickenpox (varicella).

Cytomegalovirus (CMV)

If the person who donated your kidney had CM​V, it will be present in the new organ. To stop the virus from causing an infection, you will have to take antiviral medicines for about three to four months after transplant. These antiviral medicines are called ganciclovir or valganciclovir. If you become infected with CMV, you will have to take these medicines more often and for longer until the infection is under control.

Epstein Barr virus (EBV)

This is the virus that can give you mononucleosis (mono). We will treat it in the same way as CMV. If you do get an EBV infection, it could develop into post-transplant lymphoproliferative disease (PTLD). We will watch carefully for any signs of this.

Polyoma virus (BKV)

This is a virus that, in rare cases, can damage the kidney. If we find this virus in your blood during routine testing, we will do a biopsy to see if your kidney is affected. If there is damage to the kidney, we will treat the infection with medicine.

Chickenpox (varicella)

Always tell your transplant team if you come in to contact with chicken pox in the first six months after your transplant.

You do not need to worry about being in contact with chickenpox after the first six months if you had chickenpox or the chicken pox vaccine before your transplant and still have protective antibodies in your blood. Your blood will be checked regularly to make sure you still have antibodies to chicken pox.

If you did not have chickenpox or a chickenpox vaccine, you will need to avoid anyone who has chickenpox so that you do not get sick. The transplant team can write a letter for your school asking other parents to contact the school if their child develops chickenpox.

If you do come in contact with someone with chickenpox, you must have an injection of a medicine called VariZIG® (varicella zoster immunoglobulin) within three days. This will help protect you from a full chickenpox infection.

If you develop a chickenpox infection, you will have to go to hospital for up to a week to get an antiviral medicine called acyclovir. You will usually feel ok during this time.

Shingles (herpes zoster)

Shingles is a painful rash caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox. This rash usually appears in a band or strip on one side of the body or face and turns into a cluster of small, fluid-filled blisters.

If you think that you are developing shingles, call your transplant team right away so that you can get treatment as soon as possible.

What to do if you get sick at home after a transplant

There are a number of things you can do to prevent health problems or deal with them if they do occur. Sometimes, however, you will need to tell your transplant team how you feel so you can get treatment as soon as possible.

When to contact the transplant team

Contact your transplant team if you:

  • feel sharp pain or tenderness over your transplant area
  • have a temperature higher than 38°C (contact the transplant team immediately if your IV line is still in place)
  • are feeling flu-like symptoms such as chills, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, tiredness, headache, dizziness and body aches and pains
  • are passing very little or no urine (pee)
  • feel pain or burning when you urinate (pee)
  • feel the need to urinate more often
  • see blood in your urine
  • have high blood pressure
  • feel pain or more swelling than usual in your feet, calves or upper legs
  • experience chest pain or shortness of breath
  • cough up blood
  • have vomit that looks like ground coffee
  • pass a stool (poo) that is black.

Last updated: November 30th 2017