From the Journals

Liver transplant doesn’t raise COVID death risk



A history of liver transplant conveyed no increased risk of death from COVID-19 infections, according to data from a multicenter cohort study of 151 transplant recipients who became infected.

Although current data suggest a possible increased risk of adverse outcomes if liver transplant patients develop COVID-19 infections, the effects remain unclear, wrote Gwilym J. Webb, PhD, of the University of Oxford (England) and colleagues.

In a study published in the Lancet Gastroenterology & Hepatology, the researchers identified adults from 18 countries who had laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 infections between March 25, 2020, and June 26, 2020. The average age of the patients was 60 years, and 68% were men. A contemporaneous group of 627 consecutive adults with confirmed COVID-19 infections who had not undergone liver transplants served as controls.

Overall, 28 of the liver transplant patients and 167 of the controls died (19% vs. 27%; P = .046).

In addition, no differences appeared between infected transplant patients and infected controls in terms of hospitalization (82% vs. 76%) and the need for intensive care (31% vs. 30%), although the transplant patients were significantly more likely to require invasive ventilation (20% vs. 5%).

However, in a multivariate analysis, older age, serum creatinine concentration, and the presence of nonliver cancers were independently associated with increased risk of death in the liver transplant patients, with odds ratios of 1.06 for each year increase in age, 1.57 for each mg/dL increase in serum creatinine concentration, and 18.30 with the presence of a nonliver cancer.

The study findings were limited by several factors including the potential overreporting of severe COVID-19 cases because of reporting bias in the transplant registry, as well as the inability of the sample size to rule out mortality differences, the differences in comorbidities between the transplant patients and controls, and the impact of unmeasured confounding variables such as diet, physical activity, or fibrosis or cirrhosis in recipient grafts, the researchers noted. However, the results suggest that a history of liver transplantation does not increase the risk of death following COVID-19 infection, they wrote.

“Thus, traditional risk factors for adverse outcomes from COVID-19 should be preferentially considered when considering the risks and benefits of hospital attendance, immunosuppression, and social-distancing requirements for liver transplant recipients during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic,” they concluded.

Focus on comorbidities and combined transplants

“Given that age and presence of comorbidities were significantly associated with risk of death in the cohorts of patients who had and had not undergone liver transplantation, greater emphasis should be placed on other coexisting comorbidities, rather than transplantation status per se, when risk-stratifying liver transplant recipients,” the researchers noted. “Indirectly, these findings suggest that liver transplantation, where indicated, should not be delayed during the COVID-19 pandemic, and that supportive care should not be limited for patients with existing liver transplants with COVID-19,” they suggested.

Given the high prevalence of COVID-19 in many countries, “it is inevitable that liver transplant patients will become infected,” said Wajahat Mehal, MD, of Yale University, New Haven, Conn., in an interview.

Going forward, “it is important to know the natural history of COVID in the immunocompromised population,” he emphasized.

One of the study limitations was the lack of data on how patients’ immunosuppression regimens were changed, if at all, while they were infected. “Since some other immunocompromised patients have had a higher rate of complications [in the wake of COVID-19 infections], I was pleasantly surprised that liver transplant recipients did so well,” Dr. Mehal said.

Dr. Mehal noted that additional research is needed to promote safety in patients with liver disease in the context of COVID-19. “It would be important to evaluate combined transplants, particularly combined liver/kidney transplants,” he said.

The study was supported by the European Association for the Study of the Liver, the National Institutes of Health, and the United Kingdom National Institute for Health Research. Lead author Dr. Webb had no financial conflicts to disclose. One coauthor disclosed unrelated fees from AbbVie and grants from the Fondation du Centre Hospitalier de l’Université de Montréal. Dr. Mehal had no financial conflicts to disclose.

SOURCE: Webb GJ et al. Lancet Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2020 Aug 28. doi: 10.1016/ S2468-1253(20)30271-5.

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