MAR 12, 2017 5:27 PM PDT

Transplant Patients Fall Victim to the Common Cold

WRITTEN BY: Kara Marker

While a common cold is a relatively minor nuisance for people with healthy immune systems, bone marrow transplant patients recuperating from the procedure catching this infection could get severely sick, even develop pneumonia.

Rhinovirus is the most common pathogen causing the common cold.

From the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, researchers are focused on prevention. Rhinovirus, which is usually the pathogen responsible for a cold, easily infects transplant patients because they are dangerously vulnerable from a compromised immune system, both from their original disease and from immunosuppressant drugs to ensure a safe transplant and prevent donor bone marrow from being rejected.

"This is such a prevalent virus ... about 25 percent of stem cell transplant patients get infected [with rhinovirus] during the first year," explained infectious disease specialist Dr. Michael Boeckh from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. "The virus was always considered kind of a common cold, a mild virus. People shrugged their shoulders.”

But Boeckh’s research is focused on showing how dangerous rhinovirus can be, especially for immunocompromised patients. His study, a reflective analysis of nearly 700 transplant patients who also tested positive for rhinovirus, was the first to “definitively link the virus to pneumonia.”

Compared to other viruses that also cause severe pneumonia, namely influenza virus, parainfluenza virus, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), rhinovirus led to pneumonia less often - about 15 percent of the time as opposed to RSV causing pneumonia 30 percent of the time.

Although statistically rhinovirus does not cause pneumonia as often as viruses like RSV, it remains the most common cause of pneumonia simply because the virus is common and pervasive year-round, where viruses like RSV are only common during certain times of the year.

Boeckh also stressed the importance of prevention for at-risk patients and providing ample research to support it. "Just to treat people like you and me who are irritated by the sniffles, that's not good enough for the market," he explained. "For a company or anybody to step forward and say, 'I'm going to make this a priority,' you have to show that there's a real disease.”

According to Boeckh, rhinovirus “can't be disregarded as a common cold virus,” and bone marrow transplant patients are not the only ones with susceptible immune systems to be worried about.

The present study was published in the journal Haematologica.

Source: Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center

About the Author
  • I am a scientific journalist and enthusiast, especially in the realm of biomedicine. I am passionate about conveying the truth in scientific phenomena and subsequently improving health and public awareness. Sometimes scientific research needs a translator to effectively communicate the scientific jargon present in significant findings. I plan to be that translating communicator, and I hope to decrease the spread of misrepresented scientific phenomena! Check out my science blog: ScienceKara.com.
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