Presence of viremia during febrile neutropenic episodes in patients undergoing chemotherapy for malignant neoplasms
The importance of viral infections as a leading cause of morbidity and mortality is well documented in severely immunosuppressed patients undergoing allogeneic stem cell transplantation. By contrast, viral infections generally receive less attention in patients with malignant disorders undergoing chemotherapy, where the onset of neutropenic fever is mostly associated with bacterial or fungal infections, and screening for viral infections is not routinely performed. To address the occurrence of invasive viral infections in a clinical setting commonly associated with less pronounced immunosuppression, we have prospectively screened 237 febrile neutropenic episodes in pediatric (n = 77) and adult (n = 69) patients undergoing intensive chemotherapy, primarily for treatment of acute leukemia. Serial peripheral blood specimens were tested by RQ-PCR assays for the presence and quantity of the clinically relevant viruses CMV, EBV, HHV6 and HAdV, commonly reactivated in highly immunocompromised patients. Viremia was documented in 36 (15%) episodes investigated, including the detection of HHV6 (n = 14), EBV (n = 15), CMV (n = 6), or HAdV (n = 1). While low or intermediate levels of viremia (<104 virus copies/mL) were commonly associated with bacterial or fungal co-infection, viremia at higher levels (>104 copies/mL) was documented in patients without evidence for other infections, raising the possibility that at least in some instances the onset of fever may have been attributable to the virus detected. The observations suggest that viral infections, potentially resulting from reactivation, might also play a clinically relevant role in patients receiving chemotherapy for treatment of malignant neoplasms, and routine screening for viremia in this clinical setting might be warranted.