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A View from Erika Jonietz

Transplant Recipients Die of Rabies

Three people have died from rabies after receiving organ transplants from an infected donor, the first time the deadly disease has spread this way, reports the Houston Chronicle. An Arkansas man who had shown no symptoms of rabies, such as…

  • July 2, 2004

Three people have died from rabies after receiving organ transplants from an infected donor, the first time the deadly disease has spread this way, reports the Houston Chronicle. An Arkansas man who had shown no symptoms of rabies, such as fever or headaches, died of a brain hemorrhage at Christus St. Michael Health Care Center in Texarkana, TX, and donated his liver, kidneys and lungs. Surgeons performed transplants on three patients at Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas and one patient at the University of Alabama-Birmingham Hospital.

The three Baylor patients then died of rabies within six weeks after being released. (The fourth, who received two lungs, died of complications during surgery.) Organ donors are typically tested for other diseases, including hepatitis B and C, HIV/AIDS, and syphilis, but not rabies. A rabies test is available but typically returns results in 24 to 48 hours.
Transplants need to be done in four hours for lungs, six hours for hearts, and 24 hours for liver and kidneys, according to the Chronicle story.

The incident comes at a time when the transplant screening process is under increasing scrutiny because of the proliferation of emerging diseases, such as West Nile virus and Chagas disease, for which there are no mandatory screening tests.

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