Skip to main content

Coronavirus disease 2019 outcomes in heart transplant recipients: a single-center case series

Abstract

Background

With the rapidly expanding pandemic of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus-2, a chronic immunosuppressed state in solid organ transplant recipients is a concern. We reported coronavirus disease 2019 in heart transplant recipients and described the patients’ course from diagnosis to either hospital admission or improvement in symptoms.

Case presentation

This study retrospectively identified 13 white (Iranian) heart transplant patients with coronavirus disease 2019 between December 2019 and October 2020. The mean age of patients was 43.7 years (19–65 years); seven (70%) were men. Laboratory and treatment data were collected for those admitted or managed as outpatients. Outcomes were also recorded for all patients. This report demonstrates a range of symptoms, clinical severity, and disease course in heart transplant recipients with coronavirus disease 2019, including ten hospitalized patients and three patients, managed entirely in the outpatient setting. One patient passed away, and none of them experienced an episode of clinically overt rejection.

Conclusions

We would like to emphasize the importance of being alert in these patients to consider testing in a broad range of clinical presentations and gathering more data for better management.

Peer Review reports

Introduction

The recently novel coronavirus, severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus-2 (SARS-CoV-2), emerged in China in December 2019 and caused a highly contagious disease called coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) [1]. In less than 3 months, it spread throughout the globe and was declared a global pandemic by the World Health Organization on 11 March 2020 [2]. To date, COVID-19 has affected over 9 million people worldwide. The clinical manifestations of COVID-19 range from minimally symptomatic individuals to severe courses with the requirement of invasive mechanical ventilation and multiorgan failure [3, 4].

Risk factors for morbidity and mortality include older age, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, chronic respiratory disease, hypertension, obesity, and cancer. A particular concern also exists regarding the vulnerability of pharmacologically immunosuppressed patients before or during this pandemic [3, 5]. Thus, solid organ transplant (SOT) recipients, including heart transplant (HTx) recipients, are considered to be vulnerable to COVID-19 infection because of immunosuppression and the presence of comorbidities. Epidemiologic and clinical characteristics of HTx recipients during the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic are largely unknown [6].

The following report describes 13 cases of HTx recipients with laboratory‐confirmed SARS‐CoV‐2 and reviews the clinical presentations, treatment strategies, and short‐term outcomes.

Case presentation

Patient population

In this single-center case series of 135 recipients of HTx, 25 confirmed COVID-19 recipients from December 2019 to October 2020 were presented, but information of only 13 patients was available. Demographic data including age, sex, and medical history were collected for each patient. Clinical presentations and laboratory data, therapeutic management, and outcomes were collected and analyzed for those admitted to our hospital or managed as outpatients. Nasopharyngeal swab RT-PCR testing was done in all of the patients with first mild symptoms and also in patients who were in touch with definite COVID-19 patients.

Statistical analyses

All quantitative variables are expressed as means.

Results

Demographic data

In this case series, we presented 13 patients with laboratory‐confirmed SARS‐CoV‐2. The mean age of patients was 43.7 years (19–65 years); seven (70%) were men. Previous history of diabetes mellitus was most frequently reported (three patients, 37.5%). Three patients (25%) had hypertension, and two patients had chronic kidney disease (Table 1).

Table 1 Patient characteristics, symptoms, treatment, and outcomes

Clinical presentation and laboratory findings

The mean time between the transplantation and COVID-19 diagnosis was 6.4 years (1–12 years). Clinical presentations included fever (6, 50%), dyspnea or cough (7, 53.8%), myalgia or malaise (5, 38.4%), and gastrointestinal symptoms (3, 23%); and two (15.3%) patients were asymptomatic. Ten patients (76.9%) were admitted, three (23%) were managed as outpatients, and two (15.3%) of the inpatients required admission to the intensive care unit (ICU) (Table 1).

Notably, mean white blood cell count was about 4500/μL (1500–8000/μL), with a mean absolute lymphocyte count of 1000/μL (300–3200/μL). High-sensitivity C-reactive protein and erythrocyte sedimentation rate were greater than normal in all admitted patients. One patient had severe creatinine elevation termed acute on chronic kidney failure. All patients had a normal echocardiogram during hospitalization.

Treatment and outcome

The therapeutic management involved an immunosuppressive regimen and supportive care in 13 patients. Supplemental oxygen was required in six of the hospitalized patients. Routine immunosuppressive regimens in HTx recipients included calcineurin inhibitors (cyclosporine, tacrolimus), mycophenolate, and corticosteroid. Three patients received cyclosporine, tacrolimus was administered in ten, mycophenolate mofetil in six, mycophenolate sodium in seven, and methylprednisolone in five cases. During infection with COVID-19, mycophenolate was discontinued in nine admitted patients for at least 1 week, and the dosage of calcineurin inhibitors was reduced to a lower limit of suitable blood level for transplant age in eight cases. All of the patients received azithromycin, nine admitted patients with pulmonary involvement received remdesivir 200 mg stat on the first day, and then 100 mg daily for four consecutive days. Tocilizumab was administered in one patient and interferon beta in another one. Two patients underwent intravenous immunoglobulin therapy, seven patients with mild pulmonary involvement received intravenous dexamethasone instead of oral prednisolone, and five patients with moderate-to-severe pulmonary involvement received pulse therapy with methylprednisolone.

Twelve patients survived, but one of the ICU admitted patients underwent hemodialysis and finally died from respiratory and kidney failure. None of the survived patients experienced an episode of clinically overt rejection (Table 1).

Discussion

The COVID‐19 pandemic has presented the medical community with unique challenges and severely impacts large parts of the world. Further development of this disease cannot be predicted, and especially knowledge regarding outcomes of at‐risk patients such as transplant recipients is still evolving [7]. The immunosuppressants used to prevent and treat rejection in transplant recipients leave patients susceptible to infectious complications, of which pulmonary infections are the leading cause of morbidity and mortality [8].

The first case of COVID-19 in HTx was a 51-year-old man with a severe presentation from China [9]. Available reports of COVID‐19 in SOT recipients from China, Italy, France, Germany, the USA, and Spain highlight variable presentations and outcomes, despite immunosuppression [4, 10,11,12,13,14,15,16,17,18,19,20,21]. There are no published reports of COVID‐19 in the heart transplant recipient population in Iran. This study reviews clinical parameters and outcomes of 13 cases of HTx recipients with laboratory‐confirmed SARS‐CoV‐2 followed by our transplant center in Tehran, Iran. These cases presented with a range of severity of clinical presentations and course of hospitalization, including ten patients requiring admission and three managed as outpatients. Despite risk factors for severe disease, including older age, immunosuppression, and other comorbidities, most of the patients had mild symptoms, but one (7.6%) of them died from respiratory and kidney failure. In a study conducted in Spain with 18 SOT [kidney (44.4%), liver (33.3%), and heart (22.2%)] recipients diagnosed with COVID-19, the case fatality rate was 27.8% [22]. Based on another cohort from the USA, with 90 patients, the mortality rate was 18% [23].

The general approach followed in the published reports was to decrease or hold the immunosuppressant [7]. In this series, we held mycophenolate mofetil in six patients, and this was due to concern for the worsening of COVID‐19 disease. Despite all require maintenance immunosuppression that predisposes recipients to greater infectious risk, immunosuppression has also been theorized to be protective against cytokine storm [24]. It should be noted as a limitation that this case series presents a small number of patients, which limits the ability to evaluate the efficacy of the treatment strategy. It will certainly be beneficial to collaborate with other high-volume centers to gather more data on the disease and gain better insight into the clinical course and optimal management of this disease in these immunocompromised patients.

Conclusion

We presented our experience of HTx recipients who acquired the SARS‐CoV‐2 virus at a tertiary care transplant center. This study reflected the diagnosis and management of COVID‐19 in immunocompromised patients. We would like to emphasize the importance of being alert in these patients to consider testing in a broad range of clinical presentations—even in asymptomatic patients that have been in contact with definite cases—and gathering more data for better management.

Availability of data and materials

The data are available in Table 1.

Abbreviations

COVID‐19:

Coronavirus disease 2019

HTx:

Heart transplant recipients

SARS‐CoV‐2:

Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus-2

SOT:

Solid organ transplantation

References

  1. 1.

    Ahmadi ZH, Mousavizadeh M, Nikpajouh A, Bahsir M, Hosseini S. COVID-19: a perspective from Iran. J Card Surg. 2020. https://doi.org/10.1111/jocs.15054.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  2. 2.

    Lone SA, Ahmad A. COVID-19 pandemic—an African perspective. Emerg Microbes Infect. 2020. https://doi.org/10.1080/22221751.2020.1775132.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  3. 3.

    Carey SA, Afzal A, Jamil A, Williams S, Gottlieb RL. Outpatient COVID-19 surveillance testing in orthotopic heart transplant recipients. Clin Transpl. 2020. https://doi.org/10.1111/ctr.14105.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. 4.

    Rivinius R, Kaya Z, Schramm R, et al. COVID-19 among heart transplant recipients in Germany: a multicenter survey. Clin Res Cardiol. 2020. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00392-020-01722-w.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  5. 5.

    Thng ZX, De Smet MD, Lee CS, et al. COVID-19 and immunosuppression: a review of current clinical experiences and implications for ophthalmology patients taking immunosuppressive drugs. Br J Ophthalmol. 2020. https://doi.org/10.1136/bjophthalmol-2020-316586.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  6. 6.

    Sharma P, Chen V, Fung CM, et al. COVID-19 outcomes among solid organ transplant recipients. Transplantation. 2020. https://doi.org/10.1097/tp.0000000000003447.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  7. 7.

    Lee H, Mantell BS, Richmond ME, et al. Varying presentations of COVID-19 in young heart transplant recipients: a case series. Pediatr Transplant. 2020. https://doi.org/10.1111/petr.13780.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  8. 8.

    Duncan MD, Wilkes DS. Transplant-related immunosuppression: a review of immunosuppression and pulmonary infections. Proc Am Thorac Soc. 2005. https://doi.org/10.1513/pats.200507-073JS.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  9. 9.

    Li F, Cai J, Dong N. First cases of COVID-19 in heart transplantation from China. J Hear Lung Transpl. 2020. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.healun.2020.03.006.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. 10.

    Zhu L, Xu X, Ma K, et al. Successful recovery of COVID-19 pneumonia in a renal transplant recipient with long-term immunosuppression. Am J Transpl. 2020. https://doi.org/10.1111/ajt.15869.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. 11.

    Qin J, Wang H, Qin X, et al. Perioperative presentation of COVID-19 disease in a liver transplant recipient. Hepatology. 2020. https://doi.org/10.1002/hep.31257.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  12. 12.

    Seminari E, Colaneri M, Sambo M, et al. SARS CoV-2 infection in a renal-transplanted patient: a case report. Am J Transpl. 2020. https://doi.org/10.1111/ajt.15902.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. 13.

    Liu B, Wang Y, Zhao Y, Shi H, Zeng F, Chen Z. Successful treatment of severe COVID-19 pneumonia in a liver transplant recipient. Am J Transpl. 2020. https://doi.org/10.1111/ajt.15901.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. 14.

    Chen S, Yin Q, Shi H, et al. A familial cluster, including a kidney transplant recipient, of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) in Wuhan, China. Am J Transpl. 2020;1:11. https://doi.org/10.1111/ajt.15903.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  15. 15.

    Zhang H, Chen Y, Yuan Q, et al. Identification of kidney transplant recipients with coronavirus disease 2019. Eur Urol. 2020. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.eururo.2020.03.030.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  16. 16.

    Wang J, Li X, Cao G, Wu X, Wang Z, Yan T. COVID-19 in a kidney transplant patient. Eur Urol. 2020. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.eururo.2020.03.036.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  17. 17.

    Ning L, Liu L, Li W, et al. Novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) infection in a renal transplant recipient: case report. Am J Transpl. 2020. https://doi.org/10.1111/ajt.15897.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. 18.

    Bussalino E, De Maria A, Russo R, Paoletti E. Immunosuppressive therapy maintenance in a kidney transplant recipient with SARS-CoV-2 pneumonia: a case report. Am J Transpl. 2020. https://doi.org/10.1111/ajt.15920.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  19. 19.

    Marx D, Moulin B, Fafi-Kremer S, et al. First case of COVID-19 in a kidney transplant recipient treated with belatacept. Am J Transpl. 2020. https://doi.org/10.1111/ajt.15919.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  20. 20.

    Al-Darzi W, Aurora L, Michaels A, et al. Heart transplant recipients with confirmed 2019 novel coronavirus infection: the Detroit experience. Clin Transpl. 2020. https://doi.org/10.1111/ctr.14091.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  21. 21.

    García-Cosío MD, Flores Hernán M, Caravaca Pérez P, López-Medrano F, Arribas F, Delgado Jiménez J. Heart transplantation during the coronavirus disease 2019 pandemic: follow-up organization and characteristics of infected patients. Rev Española Cardiol (English Ed 2020). 2019. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.rec.2020.08.011.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  22. 22.

    Fernández-Ruiz M, Andrés A, Loinaz C, et al. COVID-19 in solid organ transplant recipients: a single-center case series from Spain. Am J Transpl. 2020. https://doi.org/10.1111/ajt.15929.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. 23.

    Pereira MR, Mohan S, Cohen DJ, et al. COVID-19 in solid organ transplant recipients: initial report from the US epicenter. Am J Transpl. 2020. https://doi.org/10.1111/ajt.15941.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. 24.

    Latif F, Farr MA, Clerkin KJ, et al. Characteristics and outcomes of recipients of heart transplant with coronavirus disease 2019. JAMA Cardiol. 2020. https://doi.org/10.1001/jamacardio.2020.2159.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgements

Not applicable

Funding

This study was not supported by any funding.

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Contributions

FN participated in the research design; SS participated in the research design, performance of the research, and writing of the paper; BS-K participated in the research design; PT participated in the research design; LS participated in the performance of the research; SN participated in the writing of the paper. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Sima Noorali.

Ethics declarations

Ethics approval and consent to participate

This study followed the principles of the Declaration of Helsinki and was approved by the medical ethics committee. All of the patients signed informed consent according to the medical ethics committee.

Consent for publication

Written informed consent was obtained from the patients for publication of this case series and any accompanying images. A copy of the written consents is available for review by the Editor-in-Chief of this journal.

Competing interests

The authors declare no conflicts of interest.

Additional information

Publisher’s Note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Rights and permissions

Open Access This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons licence, and indicate if changes were made. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article's Creative Commons licence, unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material. If material is not included in the article's Creative Commons licence and your intended use is not permitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will need to obtain permission directly from the copyright holder. To view a copy of this licence, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/. The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver (http://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/) applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated in a credit line to the data.

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Naghashzadeh, F., Shafaghi, S., Sharif-Kashani, B. et al. Coronavirus disease 2019 outcomes in heart transplant recipients: a single-center case series. J Med Case Reports 15, 453 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1186/s13256-021-03028-5

Download citation

Keywords

  • COVID-19
  • Heart transplantation
  • Solid-organ transplantation
  • Immunosuppression