Your skin naturally has many germs on it. Several people can live with these germs without ever becoming sick. Because of the medicines you take, your immune system isn't easily able to keep those germs from making you sick.

Your immune system identifies foreign proteins, fungi or germs and then makes extra white blood cells to destroy the invaders.

This is how your body builds up immunity to certain diseases. To your immune system, your new heart is a foreign object.

The immunosuppressive medicines and steroids decrease the ability of the white blood cells to do their work.

You need to take the immunosuppressive medicines to prevent rejection of your new heart. In preventing rejection, these medicines also decrease your body's ability to fight off infection.

Symptoms of infection

Symptoms of infection can include:

  • temperature of 100.5 F or higher
  • sore throat
  • cough
  • aching muscles
  • unusual tiredness
  • painful or burning urination
  • urine that is bloody or cloudy
  • redness, drainage or swelling around cuts, scrapes or puncture sites (such as from blood draws)
  • upset stomach, vomiting or diarrhea
  • white patches in your mouth or throat
  • earache

How to prevent infections

  • Wash your hands. This is the most important thing you can do to prevent infections.
  • Keep your home clean and dust free.
  • Try to avoid being in the same room with people who have colds and influenza. Members of your care circle who are sick should wash their hands after blowing their noses. They should cover their mouth when they cough and sneeze. Avoid kissing or having close contact with anyone who is sick.
  • Avoid contact with anyone who has a cold sore.
  • Wear a mask when you are in the hospital or in dusty environments. This is important for the first three months after surgery.
  • You may have pets, but not birds or reptiles.
  • If you have a cat, do not handle the cat litter.
  • Avoid all farm animals.
  • Hunters should not dress their animals.
  • Avoid caves or other areas that may have bats.
  • You need to take antibiotics before you have any dental work, medical procedures or surgery. Call your transplant coordinator for a prescription.
  • If you use well water, use a 1 millimeter micron filter, even if the water tested negative.
  • Get plenty of rest.
  • Eat a healthful diet.
  • Take good care of your body.
  • Cook meat medium rare to well done to destroy harmful bacteria.

Cytomegalovirus (CMV) infection

CMV is a common virus that infects many people. CMV is a member of the herpes virus group.

Once you become infected, the virus stays in your body for the rest of your life without causing damage or illness. You won't get sick with CMV again unless your immune system is weak.

CMV is spread through close contact with an infected person's body fluids (such as saliva, urine, semen or blood). It is also common in people who have had an organ transplant.

Symptoms include:

  • fever
  • loss of appetite
  • feeling tired
  • upset stomach
  • diarrhea

If you think you have CMV, your doctor may do a blood test or take a culture.

You will have an antiviral medicine to prevent or treat CMV.

Source: Allina Health's Patient Education Department, Care After Heart Transplant, cvs-ah-95405 (1/18)
First Published: 01/06/2013
Last Reviewed: 01/19/2018