Types of Infections After Stem Cell or Organ Transplants

Because of medications people must take after a stem cell or organ transplant, their immune system may be weakened. This makes them more susceptible to infections. NYU Langone physicians are experienced in identifying and managing infections after a transplant procedure. The following types of infection are the most common.

Staphylococcal Infection

Staphylococcal infections, also known simply as “staph infections,” involve a type of bacterium commonly found on the skin and in the noses of healthy people. There are more than 30 different types of staphylococcus bacteria. Most types are harmless, but the type that most commonly causes severe disease in humans is called Staphylococcus aureus. It can cause infection when it gets into a wound or into the bloodstream when someone has a central venous catheter. It can also infect someone whose immune system is weakened.

Staph infections are usually limited to a small area of skin. You may develop a boil, a tender, pink bump about the size of a pea; a painful rash called impetigo; or cellulitis, an infection of the deeper layers of the skin, which causes redness, swelling, or skin ulcers.

Staphylococcus may also release toxins into the bloodstream, potentially causing blood poisoning or a life-threatening condition called toxic shock syndrome. Staphylococcus aureus in the bloodstream may enter internal organs, including bones and joints, and cause serious infections.

Infection with methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) is particularly hard to treat because it is resistant to many antibiotic medications. MRSA may result in a more serious infection than those caused by types of bacteria that respond to antibiotics.

E. coli Infection

Escherichia coli, or E. coli, are bacteria found in the digestive tract as well as the environment. The bacteria can live in the intestines without causing disease. But if food or water is contaminated by certain strains of E. coli, they can cause food poisoning or gastroenteritis, the main symptoms of which are vomiting and diarrhea.

Mycobacterial Infection

Mycobacterium is the type of bacteria that causes tuberculosis, a serious infectious disease worldwide that is less common in the United States than in many countries. Tuberculosis usually affects the lungs but can also involve lymph nodes, skin, and soft tissue, such as tendons, ligaments, fat, and muscles.

The nontuberculous mycobacteria normally found in water, soil, and dust rarely cause human disease unless a person has a suppressed immune system. If mycobacteria enter your body through a cut or open wound, prosthetic joints or other implants, or by inhaling contaminated water into the lungs, this can result in infections that are difficult to treat.

Fungal Infection

Fungi are a natural part of the environment and live on the skin and many indoor and outdoor surfaces, including ventilation duct systems. Dust, soil, moss, and manure can harbor fungi, which can easily be spread by inhalation of fungal spores.

Lungs and sinuses are the common sites of such infection among people receiving immunosuppressive medications. They can also rarely enter the body through cuts and wounds.

Fungal infections in people who have compromised immune systems can be serious and even life threatening. Symptoms include coughing, fever, and chest or sinus pain. If the infection develops into fungal pneumonia, people may experience cough, fever, chills, fatigue, chest pain, or coughing up blood.

Fungal infections can occur days, weeks, or months after a transplant. Aspergillosis, an infection with Aspergillus, a mold, is the most common type of fungal infection in people who have had a transplant. People who have been in the hospital for a long time, or those who have had a central venous catheter for an extended length of time may develop Candida, or yeast, infections of the bloodstream.

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