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A study was conducted on 102 patients submitted to renal transplant who died and were autopsied at the University Hospital, Faculty of Medicine of Ribeirão Preto, Brazil, from 1968 to 1991. The cause of death, based on a review of medical records and autopsy reports, was assigned to one of the following categories: infectious (69.6%); cardiovascular (12.7%); gastrointestinal (7.8%); graft rejection (6.9%); tumoral (2.0%); and undetermined (1.0%). Among the 71 cases of death caused by infection, 28 (39.4%) showed disseminated agents involving two or more organs. Isolated pneumonia involved 17 patients (23.9%), followed by acute pyelonephritis in the transplanted kidney in 10 patients (14.1%). The most frequent agents were: bacteria (58.0%), divided into 'non-classified' (83.0%), Nocardia (10.6%) and Mycobacterium (6.4%); fungi (27.5%) represented by Cryptococcus (22.7%), Aspergillus, Candida and Pneumocystis carinii (18.1% each), Histoplasma (13.6%), Mucor and Paracoccidioides brasiliensis (4.5% each); viruses (6.2%) represented by Herpes simplex (60.0%); metazoa (5.0%, S. stercoralis), and protozoa (2.5%, T. cruzi). Cytomegalovirus (CMV) was identified in the lungs of 12 patients and was not directly correlated with death but was associated with other agents. In conclusion, immunodepressed patients such as renal transplant recipients should be carefully monitored for infection due to the high mortality rate.