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What are Transplant-related Infections?

When you receive a transplant, your body may naturally consider the transplanted tissue as foreign and reject it. To prevent this, transplant patients receive medications called anti-rejection medications which suppress the immune system. A suppressed immune system is weakened and can reduce your resistance to infections.

A transplant-related infection may be caused by bacteria, viruses, fungi, or parasites that would normally be kept in check by your immune system. You may experience a mild or severe infection. Infections can be more serious if you have a chronic condition such as diabetes, lung, or heart disease.

Infections are quite common in transplant patients and are the main reason for hospitalization in the first 2 years after transplant surgery. Preventing infection and looking out for signs of infection is highly necessary.

Signs and Symptoms of Transplant-related Infections

Signs of infection following transplant surgery include:

  • Fever
  • Bleeding
  • Redness and drainage at the incision site
  • Nausea and Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Blood-stained vomit
  • Black stools
  • Fatigue
  • Problems with urination
  • Severe headache
  • Nasal congestion, cough
  • Swelling in the hands, feet, or abdomen
  • Chest pain
  • Fainting
  • Confusion
  • Difficulty controlling blood sugar in cases of a pancreas transplant

Preventing Transplant-related Infections

Prior to transplant surgery, your doctor will recommend that you are appropriately vaccinated to improve your immunity against infections. During recovery after transplant surgery, strict sanitary measures are followed in the hospital, and you will be assessed for resistant infections. You are most vulnerable to infections at this time. After you are discharged, you can reduce your risk of infection by:

  • Regular hand washing and use of hand sanitizers
  • Daily shower
  • Regular brushing, flossing, and antiseptic rinses to prevent oral infections
  • Eat fresh and well-cooked food
  • Cleaning well after voiding and bowel movements
  • Avoiding contact with ill individuals
  • Avoiding crowded areas and public transportation if possible
  • Keep your home and surrounding clean
  • Use gloves if you are gardening
  • Get a yearly flu shot

You are also advised to perform a self-examination for growths and lumps on your neck, armpit, and groin on a regular basis and report anything suspicious to your doctor. Women should schedule a breast examinationand Pap smear at least once a year. Men should screen for prostate disease.


If your doctor suspects that you have developed an infection, a few basic tests may be ordered to look for signs of infection and identify the infecting organisms. These include blood, sputum, urine and stool tests and a chest X-ray.


Depending on the type of infection, you may receive antibiotics, antiviral, or antifungal medications. Your doctor will ensure that the prescribed medications do not adversely interact with your immunosuppressant drugs and any other regular medications. Your immunosuppressant drugs are adjusted to achieve a balance so that a transplant rejection is avoided but you still have some immunity against infections. If need be, the dose of your immunosuppressant medications may be temporarily reduced to bring an infection under control.