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Original Contribution
December 2007

Central Nervous System Infections in Heart Transplant Recipients

Author Affiliations

Author Affiliations: Department of Neurology, Division of Critical Care Neurology (Drs van de Beek and Wijdicks), Department of Medicine, Division of Infectious Diseases, and Department of Laboratory Medicine and Pathology, Division of Clinical Microbiology (Dr Patel), and Department of Medicine, Division of Cardiovascular Medicine (Drs Daly and McGregor), Mayo Clinic College of Medicine, Rochester, Minnesota.

Arch Neurol. 2007;64(12):1715-1720. doi:10.1001/archneur.64.12.noc70065

Objective  To study central nervous system infections after heart transplantations.

Design  Retrospective cohort study.

Setting  Cardiac Transplant Program at Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minnesota.

Patients  Three hundred fifteen consecutive patients who underwent heart transplantation from January 1988 through June 2006.

Results  Central nervous system infections developed in 8 patients (3%), all of whom presented within the first 4 years after transplantation. The most common presentations were acute or subacute confusion or headache (88%), often without the classic symptoms of fever and neck stiffness. Direct cerebrospinal fluid examination was unrevealing in most cases, though cerebrospinal fluid protein levels were elevated in all patients with infections. Diagnoses included cryptococcal meningitis (n = 3), progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy (n = 2), varicella-zoster virus encephalitis (n = 2), and Aspergillus fumigatus infection (n = 1). Three of 8 patients died (38%) and 2 (25%) survived with mild sequelae. Central nervous system infection was a significant predictor of mortality (hazard ratio, 4.39; 95% confidence interval, 1.72-11.18; P = .002).

Conclusions  Central nervous system infections are rare but devastating complications of heart transplantations. Recognition of these infections is difficult owing to a paucity of clinical manifestations. We report here, for the first time, varicella-zoster virus central nervous system infection in heart transplantations.Published online October 8, 2007 (doi:10.1001/archneur.64.12.noc70065).