On March 15, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a concerning warning about an organ transplant patient who had died after receiving an organ that had been donated by someone who had been infected with rabies. Although the rabies incubation period is usually shorter, between one to three months, the patient had died more than one year after receiving the infected organ.
According to the CDC, the organ donor died in 2011 after suddenly becoming ill. Rabies was not suspected as a cause of death, and the man’s organs were donated to four people in the U.S., including one patient here in Chicago. The CDC reported that it was not discovered that the donor died of rabies until one of the organ recipients died earlier this month.
The Chicago patient who received an organ from the infected man has since been notified about the issue and the patient is receiving treatment to prevent becoming ill with the virus. Although all of the other patients who received organs from the infected donor have been notified so they can receive anti-rabies shots, the patients and other folks in the U.S. may be concerned about how this incident even happened.
Health officials have stated that it is very rare for someone to become infected with rabies after an organ transplant. In fact, officials claim that this has only happened one other time here in the country. Before organs are transplanted, donated organs undergo a series of screenings and tests so that medical professionals are sure the organs are healthy and safe for patients to receive. Typically, medical professionals do not screen for rabies unless there is reason to suspect that a donor had the virus. When the organ donor died in 2011, no one had suspected that his death was caused by the rabies virus.
It is not clear whether medical negligence was a factor when the donor’s organs were transplanted. It is possible, though, that the donor’s doctors could have missed important signs that would have indicated that the donor died because of rabies.
Source: ABC 7 News, “Northwestern organ transplant patient getting anti-rabies shots,” Sylvia Perez, March 15, 2013
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