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Cytomegalovirus reactivation in inflammatory bowel disease: an uncommon occurrence related to corticosteroid dependence


Cytomegalovirus promotes mucosal injury in patients with inflammatory bowel disease, historically affecting 10–25% of ulcerative colitis patients with refractory disease. Viral reactivation is likely related to long-term corticosteroid therapy, which is no longer central to maintenance of patients with inflammatory bowel disease. We hypothesize that viral detection rates have decreased in the modern era, reflecting widespread use of immunomodulatory agents to control inflammation. We performed this study to evaluate the relationships between medical regimens and cytomegalovirus detection rates among patients with inflammatory bowel disease. We searched our database for all patients with established inflammatory bowel disease and severe flares diagnosed from 2002 to 2017. Patients maintained with corticosteroid therapy were considered to be corticosteroid-dependent and those treated with other agents were classified as corticosteroid-independent, provided they had not received corticosteroids within 6 months of colonoscopy. Biopsy samples were reviewed for viral inclusions and subjected to cytomegalovirus immunohistochemistry, and rates of viral detection were compared between groups. There were 135 corticosteroid-dependent patients; most had ulcerative colitis flares occurring during the 2002–2009 period. Patients with ulcerative colitis and Crohn disease were equally represented in the corticosteroid-independent group (n = 133) and most were evaluated for disease flares during the 2010–2017 interval. Cytomegalovirus was detected in 13 (8%) cases; 9 (69%) were diagnosed from 2002 to 2009 and all were obtained from corticosteroid-dependent patients (p = < 0.001). We conclude that rates of cytomegalovirus-related enterocolitis are declining among inflammatory bowel disease patients, reflecting a shift away from corticosteroid-based maintenance therapy in favor of more effective agents that do not promote viral reactivation.

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The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Correspondence to Erika Hissong.

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