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Fatal West Nile Virus Encephalitis in a Renal Transplant Recipient

Melissa M. Cushing MD, Daniel J. Brat MD, PhD, Mario I. Mosunjac MD, Randolph A. Hennigar MD, Daniel B. Jernigan MD, MPH, Robert Lanciotti PhD, Lyle R. Petersen MD, MPH, Cynthia Goldsmith MS, Pierre E. Rollin MD, Wun-Ju Shieh MD, PhD, Jeannette Guarner MD, Sherif R. Zaki MD, PhD
DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1309/G23CP54DAR1BCY8L 26-31 First published online: 1 January 2004


West Nile virus (WNV), a mosquito-transmitted single-stranded RNA flavivirus, causes human disease of variable severity. We report clinical and pathologic findings of fatal encephalitis from the transmission of WNV from an organ donor to a kidney transplant recipient. The patient developed a febrile illness 18 days after transplantation, which progressed to encephalitis. Postmortem examination demonstrated extensive viral encephalopathic changes. Immunohistochemical studies highlighted WNV antigens within neurons, especially in the cerebellum and brainstem. Flavivirus virions were detected ultrastructurally within the cerebellum, and WNV was isolated from the brain and the brainstem. Thus, this case demonstrates the first death in the first solid organ transplant–associated transmission of WNV. Immunosuppression of the transplant recipient might have been responsible for the fulminant viral effects. The pathologic diagnosis helped guide subsequent epidemiologic and laboratory studies.

Key Words:
  • West Nile virus
  • Flavivirus
  • Organ transplantation
  • Encephalitis
  • Immunosuppression
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Pathology