Concept

Overwhelming post-splenectomy infection

Summary
An overwhelming post-splenectomy infection (OPSI) is a rare but rapidly fatal infection occurring in individuals following removal (or permanent dysfunction) of the spleen. The infections are typically characterized by either meningitis or sepsis, and are caused by encapsulated organisms including Streptococcus pneumoniae. It is a medical emergency and requires immediate treatment. Death has been reported to occur within 12 hours. The spleen is necessary for protection against encapsulated bacteria (see Mechanism) and as such when removed by splenectomy it can lead to rapid unchallenged infection by encapsulated bacteria. The rapid progression from mild viral symptoms to sepsis is one of the things that makes OPSI particularly dangerous. Another source of infection are species of Babesia, which are tick-borne parasites that cause babesiosis. Infection with Capnocytophaga canimorsus after dog bites can also cause the condition. OPSI may initially present with mild viral symptoms such as fever or coughing, however later in infection symptoms may include shakes, shivers, chills, diarrhea, vomiting, malaise, myalgia, headache and abdominal pain. The disease progresses rapidly from the above mentioned symptoms to coma to refractory septic shock and finally death in as little as 24 hours. The spleen contains many macrophages (part of the reticuloendothelial system), which are immune cells that phagocytose (eat) and destroy bacteria. In particular, these macrophages are activated when bacteria are bound by IgG antibodies (IgG1 or IgG3) or the complement component C3b. These types of antibodies and complement are immune substances called opsonizers, molecules that bind to the surface of bacteria to facilitate phagocytosis. When the spleen is no longer present (asplenia), IgG and C3b are still bound to bacteria, but they cannot be removed from the blood circulation due to the loss of the splenic macrophages. Hence the bacteria are free to cause infection.
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