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Viral infections affecting the skin in organ transplant recipients: epidemiology and current management strategies.

Author(s): Tan HH, Goh CL

Affiliation(s): National Skin Centre, Singapore.

Publication date & source: 2006, Am J Clin Dermatol., 7(1):13-29.

Publication type: Review

Viral skin infections are common findings in organ transplant recipients. The most important etiological agents are the group of human herpesviruses (HHV), human papillomaviruses (HPV), and molluscum contagiosum virus. HHV that are important in this group of patients are herpes simplex virus (HSV) types 1 and 2, varicella-zoster virus (VZV), cytomegalovirus (CMV), Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), HHV-6 and -7, and HHV-8, which causes Kaposi sarcoma (KS). HSV infections are characterized by their ability to establish latency and then reactivate at a later date. The most common manifestations of HSV infection in organ transplant recipients are mucocutaneous lesions of the oropharynx or genital regions. Treatment is usually with acyclovir, valaciclovir, or famciclovir. Acyclovir resistance may arise although the majority of acyclovir-resistant strains have been isolated from AIDS patients and not organ transplant recipients. In such cases, alternatives such as foscarnet, cidofovir, or trifluridine may have to be considered. VZV causes chickenpox as well as herpes zoster. In organ transplant recipients, recurrent herpes zoster can occur. Acute chickenpox in organ transplant patients should be treated with intravenous acyclovir. CMV infection occurs in 20-60% of all transplant recipients. Cutaneous manifestations, which include nonspecific macular rashes, ulcers, purpuric eruptions, and vesiculobullous lesions, are seen in 10-20% of patients with systemic infection and signify a poor prognosis. The present gold standard for treatment is ganciclovir, but newer drugs such as valganciclovir appear promising. EBV is responsible for some cases of post-transplant lymphoproliferative disorder, which represents the greatest risk of serious EBV disease in transplant recipients. HHV-6 and HHV-7 are two relatively newly discovered viruses and, at present, the body of information concerning these two agents is still fairly limited. KS is caused by HHV-8, which is the most recently discovered lymphotrophic HHV. Iatrogenic KS is seen in solid-organ transplant recipients, with a prevalence of 0.5-5% depending on the patient's country of origin. HPV is ubiquitous, and organ transplant recipients may never totally clear HPV infections, which are the most frequently recurring infections in renal transplant recipients. HPV infection in transplant recipients is important because of its link to the development of certain skin cancers, in particular, squamous cell carcinoma. Regular surveillance, sun avoidance, and patient education are important aspects of the management strategy.

Page last updated: 2006-11-04

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