Hepatitis C study greenlights more heart transplants

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There’s good news for people seeking heart transplants and facing a shortage of donor organs. Transplants from donors with hepatitis C, a curable but debilitating illness, may be a safe option and likely expands the organ transplant pool.

Research found that patients who received heart transplants from donors who had hepatitis C experienced similar outcomes a year after surgery as those whose donors didn’t have hepatitis C. Researchers compared one-year survival, organ rejection, dialysis and incidence of stroke.

The study examined 7,889 U.S. adults who received heart transplants between 2016 and 2018. Slightly more than 4%, or 343, received heart transplants from donors with hepatitis C.

The viral liver infection spreads through contact with contaminated blood, by way of shared needles and from mother to infant during pregnancy and delivery.

Researchers found similar survival rates regardless of whether patients received a heart from a donor with or without hepatitis C – 90% compared to 91%, respectively. There was also little difference between the two groups when comparing the rates of stroke, drug-treated organ rejection and kidney dialysis to remove toxins from the blood.

"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," said Dr. Arman Kilic, lead study author and professor of cardiothoracic surgery at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center in Pennsylvania. "It is our hope that more centers will use hepatitis C-positive donors for heart transplantation."