BK virus causes kidney problems for patients with organ transplants.

The virus causes a condition called BK Viral Nephritis or BKVN. Immune suppression or anti-rejection medicines put you at greater risk for infection. These medicines decrease your body’s ability to fight infection. If you had a virus before the transplant, a weakened immune system may result in the virus becoming active again.

The BK virus causes the tubes in the kidneys that allow urine to drain to the bladder (ureters) to swell. This makes it hard to urinate. You may want to go to the bathroom but feel like you cannot empty your bladder. As the virus spreads, the bladder can also be injured. In the most serious cases, BK can spread to the eyes, lungs or brain.

If you have any of these signs, contact your transplant coordinator:
  • Increase in blood urea nitrogen (BUN) or creatinine lab values, which may indicate a decrease in kidney function
  • Pain, discomfort or problems urinating
  • Urinating, but not able to empty the bladder completely
  • Blood in urine, or a reddish-brown color
  • Changes in vital signs (blood pressure, pulse, temperature)
  • Weight gain of two or more pounds over one or two days
  • Pain in the abdomen (stomach) area or lower back

Diagnosis

You will have blood and urine tests done. A kidney biopsy that removes a sample of kidney tissue will be taken. For more information, read the handout, "Transplant Kidney Biopsy."

Treatment

There are several courses of treatment for BK virus. Your doctor may:
  • Change your anti-rejection medicines
  • Give medicines to boost your immune system
  • Give you antiviral medicines to lower the amount of viruses in the body
  • Give you antibiotics if a secondary infection has occurred

Why seek treatment at Ohio State

Ohio State is recognized by U.S.News & World Report as one of the nation's best hospitals for urology and nephrology. Schedule an appointment with Ohio State's urology and kidney experts by calling 614-293-8155. Specially trained experts at Ohio State’s Comprehensive Transplant Center on Kinnear Rd. also provide thorough evaluation and testing.

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