Patients with chronic liver disease can develop hepatic decompensation during systemic infections. Although gram-negative and gram-positive bacteria are well recognized as causes of decompensation, the effect of influenza virus infection on patients with chronic liver disease is poorly documented.
Retrospective analysis of patients with positive viral cultures who were seen at a liver transplantation clinic in a tertiary care referral center during the 1997-1998 influenza A (H3N2) epidemic in San Diego, Calif.
Three patients with end-stage liver disease (1 with Wilson disease and 2 with alcoholic liver disease) developed hepatic decompensation and required hospitalization during infection with influenza A. Two patients had biochemical and clinical evidence of hepatic decompensation, including ascites, hepatic encephalopathy, and peripheral edema, and the third had acute hepatocellular damage, with elevated levels of aminotransferases. Viral hepatitis serologic test results, acetaminophen levels, drug and alcohol screening findings, and bacterial and fungal cultures were negative in all 3 patients. Hepatic decompensation resolved without the need for transplantation in the 2 patients with liver failure, and all patients recovered to their baseline liver function levels within 1 month of onset of acute illness.
Influenza A infection can cause hepatic decompensation and hospitalization in patients having cirrhosis or who are awaiting liver transplantation. Effective prevention with vaccination and early recognition and treatment of influenza are strongly recommended in these individuals.