Cluster of Symptomatic Graft-to-Host Transmission of Herpes Simplex Virus Type 1 in an Endothelial Keratoplasty Setting

José Afonso Guerra-Assunção, Jeroen J A van Kampen, Sunando Roy, Lies Remeijer, Judy Breuer, Georges M G M Verjans

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review


Purpose: Descemet's membrane endothelial keratoplasty (DMEK) is becoming the gold standard to treat corneal endothelial dysfunctions worldwide. Compared with conventional penetrating keratoplasty, infectious complications after DMEK are ill defined. We describe the clinical picture of 2 DMEK recipients, operated on the same day and in the same clinic, who developed atypical herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) infection in the transplant recipient eye within days post-DMEK. Because recipients received cornea tissue from 2 different donors prepared by the same eye bank, the likelihood of a common HSV-1 source was determined.

Design: Case series.

Participants: Two DMEK recipients who developed atypical intraocular HSV-1 disease shortly after surgery and surplus cornea specimens of 6 donors.

Methods: Surplus cornea donor (pre-DMEK cornea remnants and conditioned cornea storage and transport media) and recipient samples (post-DMEK aqueous humor) were assayed for HSV-1 DNA and infectious virus by real-time polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) and cell culture, respectively. Target-enriched whole viral genome sequencing was performed on HSV-1 DNA-positive ocular specimens.

Main Outcome Measures: Clinical picture of atypical intraocular HSV-1 infection post-DMEK and presence and homology of HSV-1 genomes between ocular specimens of DMEK donors and recipients.

Results: Herpes simplex virus type 1 DNA was detected in aqueous humor and donor cornea specimens of both DMEK cases, but not in the cornea remnants of 6 randomly selected donors processed by the same eye bank. Infectious HSV-1 was isolated from the cornea remnant and corresponding culture medium of 1 cornea donor. Notably, whole-genome sequencing of virus DNA-positive specimens demonstrated exceptionally high genetic similarity between HSV-1 strains in recipient and donor specimens of both DMEK cases.

Conclusions: Data indicate cross-contamination of cornea grafts during DMEK preparation with subsequent graft-to-host HSV-1 transmission that caused atypical sight-threatening herpetic eye disease shortly after DMEK. Ophthalmologists should be aware that HSV-1 transmission by DMEK is possible and can lead to atypical ocular disease, a condition that can easily be prevented by taking appropriate technical and clinical measures at both eye bank and surgical levels.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)100051
JournalOphthalmology Science
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2021


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