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Cytomegalovirus in ulcerative colitis: an evidence-based approach to diagnosis and treatment

Anuraag Jena, Shubhra Mishra, Anupam Kumar Singh, Aravind Sekar &Vishal Sharma

Published Feb Oct 2021, in the Expert Rev Gastroenterol Hepatol


Introduction The detection of cytomegalovirus (CMV) in the setting of inflammatory bowel disease often creates confusion whether CMV is a ‘bystander’ or ‘disease.’

Areas Covered This review discusses the clinical conundrum of CMV in ulcerative colitis, approach to discriminate infection from disease, and therapeutic considerations (immunosuppressive and anti-CMV treatment). CMV disease should be considered in corticosteroid refractory- dependent and thiopurine refractory disease. Endoscopy may reveal deep punched out ulcers, irregular ulcers, or cobble-stoning. The diagnosis rests on the presence and abundance of viral inclusion bodies on hematoxylin and eosin stain, positive immunohistochemistry, and/or positive tissue polymerase chain reaction. CMV disease is associated with worse outcomes including increased colectomy rates.

Expert Opinion

The timing and duration of antiviral drugs in CMV disease is debatable but depends on the load of CMV in tissue. In high-grade infection, CMV needs to be treated while increasing immunosuppression may work in the setting of low-grade infection. Ganciclovir is the drug of choice for treatment of CMV disease. Tumor necrosis factor inhibitors may be useful for treating underlying disease activity in the setting of CMV. Other emerging therapies include fecal microbiota transplantation. Randomized studies are necessary to define the best timing and duration of anti-CMV therapy.


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