Fatal West Nile Virus Encephalitis in a Renal Transplant Recipient

Melissa M. Cushing*, Daniel J. Brat, Mario I. Mosunjac, Randolph A. Hennigar, Daniel B. Jernigan, Robert Lanciotti, Lyle R. Petersen, Cynthia Goldsmith, Pierre E. Rollin, Wun Ju Shieh, Jeannette Guarner, Sherif R. Zaki

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

56 Scopus citations


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.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)26-31
Number of pages6
JournalAmerican Journal of Clinical Pathology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2004


  • Encephalitis
  • Flavivirus
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Immunosuppression
  • Organ transplantation
  • Pathology
  • West Nile virus

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine


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