Heart transplants from donors with hepatitis C appear safe

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One-year survival rates are similar for transplant patients who receive a heart from a donor with hepatitis C or one without the infectious virus, a new study finds.

The researchers suggest that using hearts from donors with hepatitis C, a viral infection of the liver, may be safe and could help reduce a U.S. organ shortage.


The study included nearly 7,900 adults with heart failure who received heart transplants at 128 U.S. medical centers. Just over 4 percent received hearts from donors with hepatitis C.

A year after their transplant, 90 percent of patients whose donors had hepatitis C and 91 percent of patients whose donors were not infected were still alive, the findings showed.

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The two groups also had similar rates of drug-treated organ rejection, stroke and kidney dialysis to remove toxins from the blood, according to findings published Jan. 8 in the Journal of the American Heart Association.

"We are encouraged by these results and believe this is a landmark change in our ability to better meet the demand for heart transplantation by increasing the donor supply," lead author Dr. Arman Kilic said in a journal news release. Kilic is co-director of the Center for Cardiovascular Outcomes and Innovation at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

"It is our hope that more centers will use hepatitis C-positive donors for heart transplantation," Kilic added.

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More than 6 million people in the United States have heart failure and more than 900,000 new cases are diagnosed every year, according to the American Heart Association.

While lifestyle changes and medications can help manage mild cases, patients with severe heart failure may need a transplant.

The researchers noted several limitations to their study, including a lack of information about the type of hepatitis C infection donors had, past treatment and whether organ recipients later developed hepatitis C.

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The study also was limited to one-year survival and included only a small number of patients with hearts from donors with hepatitis C.

More information

The U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute has more on heart transplant.

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