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Medical Science Monitor Basic Research


Atypical Reactivation of Varicella Zoster Virus Associated with Pancreatitis in a Heart Transplant Patient

Unusual clinical course, Challenging differential diagnosis, Educational Purpose (only if useful for a systematic review or synthesis)

Christine Shieh, Ashley Barnes, Drew M. Johnson, Ilya M. Danelich, Preethi Pirlamarla, Rene Alvarez, Howard Massey, Mahek Shah

USA Department of Internal Medicine, Thomas Jefferson University, Philadelphia, PA, USA

Am J Case Rep 2020; 21:e923969

DOI: 10.12659/AJCR.923969

Available online: 2020-06-26

Published: 2020-08-12


BACKGROUND: Acute pancreatitis is rare following solid organ transplantation but is associated with high mortality. It has been most commonly reported following renal transplant but can occur with other solid organ transplantations.
CASE REPORT: A 46-year-old male who had an orthotopic heart transplant 6 months ago presented with a 3-week history of abdominal pain. The patient described it as intermittent, sharp, and stabbing, originating in the periumbilical area and radiating to the back. His lipase was elevated at 232 U/L. Given that the patient’s symptoms and lipase were elevated to greater than three times the upper limit of normal, he patient was diagnosed with acute pancreatitis. The patient also mentioned a diffuse itchy rash that started a few days prior to admission. Dermatology was consulted, and given the man’s clinical presentation, there was concern for atypical reactivation of varicella zoster virus (VZV). VZV polymerase chain reaction of the vesicles returned positive. The patient was started on acyclovir and his symptoms improved.
CONCLUSIONS: This is the first reported case of VZV-associated pancreatitis in a heart transplant patient. Our patient presented with acute pancreatitis and was treated supportively. However, he did not receive antiviral treatment until his rash was discovered. Timely treatment of VZV resulted in resolution of both the rash and pancreatitis. Timely diagnosis of pancreatitis and VZV is important to prevent development of multiorgan failure and death.

Keywords: Abdominal Pain, Heart Transplantation, Herpesvirus 3, Human, Immunosuppression, Pancreatitis